David Viola is an avid runner who travels with his wife to national and state parks once or twice a year, marking his visits by buying souvenir patches, magnets and pins.
This year, the Palm Beach County resident had to complete 75 miles of physical activity to get a patch from Everglades National Park.
“So, doing what I enjoy and love, I just thought of ‘How cool is that?’,” he says. “You just get something free from the Everglades National Park.”
Viola, 52, is doing the “Iron Ranger Challenge,” a year-long activity marking the park’s 75th anniversary. Participants must document their 75 miles and submit that to park officials to get a patch and a special certificate.
Maria Llorens is another 75-miler. She was working on her miles at the park’s Anhinga trail and was heading home when she saw a bear.
“I was surprised it was so close to a popular trail and was excited to see it because it’s rare to spot them,” says Llorens, 31, who works for We Count, a Florida City organization that advocates on behalf of agricultural workers, day laborers and domestic workers.
The miles can be done anywhere, but Llorens set her own challenge when she decided to participate, saying it allows her time to explore the park and offers opportunities to see wildlife.
“I’m only counting miles within the national park and I can’t count the same trail twice,” says Llorens. “I think I would just get through it really quickly if I was counting other parts of other parks and other outdoor spaces and I want to really dig into the park and get to know it, well, just for fun.”
So far, Llorens has completed six miles.
Alissa Schafer, 35, owner of a strategic communications firm, says she has been doing most of her miles outside the Everglades, usually around her neighborhood in Pembroke Pines and Broward County parks.
“The most recent several miles I actually logged was while I was in Costa Rica,” she says. “I spent a week there, and we did hiking and horseback riding… they have their own national parks. So it’s kind of cool to see like, internationally, that I’m still participating in this sort of challenge because I’m tracking the miles.”
Allyson Gantt, a park ranger, says the challenge is meant to be flexible.
“We’re trying to leave it open to people,” says Gantt.
So far, 10 people have completed the challenge.
Schafer finished her miles at the end of January, saying she was surprised at how much distance she was covering and kept a log on her phone.
“So every time I go for a run, you know, I’m using a running app, and it tells me the exact mileage,” Schafer says. “Otherwise, I’m looking at a map, or I know the distance of what I’m doing. So I’m able to just manually track it.”
Viola finished around the same time as Schafer, saying he exceeded the miles required for the challenge.
“I typically run anywhere from 75 miles to 100 miles a month, and then I bike, you know, probably somewhere about 50 to 70 miles,” he says. “Obviously, it’s a challenge that I typically do on my normal weekly exercise routine anyway.”
Viola and Schafer said they’ve already sent their documentation to the park.
However, Gantt says the certificates and patches aren’t done yet.
“We’re finalizing the logo right now,” Gantt says. “We’re letting them know as soon as we’re able to send it.”