Jess Miller, Naturalist at Mosquito Hill Nature Center, once again organized a flawless experience for snowshoers. Miller, who took over the race directing duties in 2010 from the veteran snowshoer Dennis Raymark, has worked hard to steadily breathe new life into the event and keep it on the map.
“With our beautiful lowland forest, established snowshoe trails, snowshoes on hand, an increased public awareness of snowshoeing, and a love of snowshoeing myself, I couldn’t bear to see the race end so I agreed to take on the challenge,” Miller said.
Aided by an army of fantastic volunteers to pump up the participants, races started midmorning at a 15-minute stagger, with the five-mile taking off first. While the start and finish were staged on a windy highland by the nature center, the course mainly traversed a series of swampy lowland woods that mingled with the winding Wolf River throughout the property. While one can imagine a mosquito mess in the summer months, the winter rendered the lowlands sleepy and a fine jacket from the wind.
In the one mile race, father Jeff Schreiber proved that while he can’t beat his teenage daughter to the car keys, he can still outrun her on snowshoes. Schreiber posted a mile time of 6:47, while Elizabeth took second with a time of 8:20.
While racing is a large part of the experience, Miller is proud that the event is much bigger than “when” someone crosses the finish line. “Our race is probably not like the majority of the other snowshoe races out there,” said Miller. “We cater to everyone…families, kids, first time racers, first time snowshoers, elite racers, elderly racers, slow racers, fast racers…anyone!”
When Miller was asked why having a snowshoe event was so important, she pulled out a participant comment that summarized her feelings. “Saturday, I went outside and ran into that family of four who rented snowshoes and raced. The wife/mom shared that it was their entire family’s first time ever on snowshoes, and that they loved it. They are all about making great memories with their kids, and felt like this was a great piece of that. To have that energy and the love of being active in nature through the Nature Center passed on to just one family….awesome!”
To Miller, there is no greater reward.