How Protect Our Winters (POW) Engages Trail Runners in Climate Change Policy

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.

Protecting the trails and environment is our responsibility as a trail running community to ensure we can continue running on the trails we love. In the spirit of the American Trail Running Association’s (ATRA) 2020 theme, Climate Action, I interviewed Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run winners Clare Gallagher and Stephanie Howe to learn more about Protect Our Winters (POW), one of the country’s leading organizations for the advancement of climate change policy through the outdoor sports community. During this conversation I learned about POW’s current mission and programs, their resources for trail runners, and advice for trail runners who want to get more involved in protecting the trails and taking climate action.

Stephanie Howe winning the 2014 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Photo Stephanie Deveau.

[TAYTE] Tell me about Protect Our Winters and how it started.
[GALLAGHER & HOWE] POW started with professional snowboarder, Jeremy Jones, who was riding all over the world and noticing how snowpack and glaciers were decreasing. The lines he rode early in his career were disappearing. He created POW so that the outdoor sports industry could have a voice in the climate change conversation. Today, POW is an organization for all outdoor enthusiasts, including trail runners, climbers and snow sport athletes. POW teaches us how to become effective climate advocates and gives us ways to get involved, such as by commenting on public records, educating ourselves on the latest sciences and learning who represents us in the government.

[TAYTE] Both of you are accomplished professional trail runners. What other elite trail runners are part of POW Trail and how do you balance your goals for POW with your racing goals?
[GALLAGHER] The original POW Trail “team” started as the two of us, Dakota Jones, Joe Grant, Mike Foote, Anton Krupicka, and Abby Levene. Since then it’s expanded to a wide variety of trail runners from across the world. Our goals for POW are intertwined with our goals as runners. It’s a privilege to be able to run on protected lands and to breathe clean air. I cannot stand idly by, hoping someone else will advocate for the earth. As a professional runner with a platform, I want to be an example for other runners on how important it is to pay our dues for what we take from the sport and hobby of running. We cannot just “take, take, take” and think the world is going to save itself. POW Trail has the mentality: if you love to run, please join us in advocating for the climate and the earth so that we can continue to run.

[HOWE] I have always been a lover of the outdoors and doing what I can to protect the earth. It’s been hard as an individual person, trying to make an impact or to have my voice heard. Becoming a part of POW Trail has linked me with like-minded runners and outdoor enthusiasts. Together we can use our collective voices and actions to put policy in place to protect our earth. As Clare mentioned, too many runners take our privilege to run and recreate in the outdoors for granted. We need to give a voice to Mother Earth and protect what’s important to us.

Clare Gallagher at the 2018 Trail World Championships. Photo Prozis.

[TAYTE] As trail runners, many of us are passionate about protecting our trails, but may not know where to start. What should be the first steps for trail runners looking to protect the trails they love?
[GALLAGHER & HOWE] The first step is distinguishing between trail work and climate work. Both are important, but the latter receives less attention from the trail running community. Trail maintenance opportunities are plentiful in most areas. We can also clean up our local trails on our own time as this is important and necessary work.

POW, on the other hand, focuses on climate change advocacy. Climate advocacy is about policy and putting bills, measures, and candidates into roles that protect the climate. The best thing we can do as trail runners is to learn about politics, especially those in our respective states. Know who your politicians are, what the measures and bills are, and how you should vote to make climate a priority.

The POW website tells you how to comment on climate bills and how to call your congressperson about why you value acting on climate. If you take it a step further, you can sign up for public hearings about climate bills at your state capitol or figure out what’s happening at your city council level. One resource at the local level to check out is Find someone in your community who is in the climate scene. Email that person and ask her/him what actions can make a difference. POW makes federal climate action easy with digital ways to get involved. Above all, voting people into office who care about climate change is the single biggest action we can do to protect our ability to run into the future. Elections this fall are incredibly important for our future.

Climate Action Pro Tip: Are you an athlete ready to get involved? Download POW’s new Athlete Alliance Onboarding Deck (PDF).

Stephanie Howe in her hometown of Bend, Oregon. Photo R. Bolt.

[TAYTE] What resources or programs does POW offer to trail runners and race directors?
[GALLAGHER & HOWE] We have a POW Trail Volunteer Toolkit on ways to get involved, including posting on social media about why you should care about climate, writing an op-ed in your local newspaper, volunteering for POW at a race, encouraging other runners to ensure they’re registered to vote and informed on which candidates care about protecting our climate. We also have a Race Director Toolkit with plenty of ways to reduce an event’s carbon footprint and for ways to encourage the race community to get educated and involved with POW. Tayte, your article on how to go cupless at races is also a great resource we’ve shared widely!

[TAYTE] POW is a community of athletes, scientists, creatives and business leaders. How do these groups work together and why is it beneficial not just to be a group of “scientists” or just “athletes?”
[GALLAGHER & HOWE] We are stronger together. We all come to the table with different backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and skill sets. Working together to solve the climate crisis is how we will make progress. It’s important to align together and support each other in this initiative. Personal experiences (trail runners), climate science and facts (scientists), and politicians (policy and legislature) are all integral to protecting the earth.

[TAYTE] What are some of POW’s 2020 goals and campaigns?
[GALLAGHER & HOWE] The major initiative for 2020 is to GET OUT AND VOTE! Vote climate champions into office that will put policy in place to protect the earth. That’s the primary goal. Find out who’s running for office at the state level or city council. Every candidate must have a position on climate and if they don’t, ask where it is!

Clare Gallagher winning the 2019 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.