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AlderDash fundraiser for IslandWood hits the ground running Sunday

It’s not a walk in the park.

Actually, it’s even better.

IslandWood, the Bainbridge Island-based outdoor learning center, will hold its first-ever AlderDash this weekend.

The fundraiser is a family-friendly walk and run on the trails of the 255-acre campus and along the Bainbridge Island waterfront that’s expected to draw hundreds of attendees on Sunday, Oct. 7.

But organizers of the event note that it’s much more than a chance to strap on the running shoes for a good cause.

The new community event will feature a full, fun day of activities, recreation, food and live music. Performers include Caspar Babypants, the Tall Boys and Johnny Bregar.

Proceeds from the event will support IslandWood’s outdoor learning programs, which help thousands of Seattle-area youth explore the natural world and learn about the environment.

AlderDash, sponsored in part by the Seattle Marathon Association, will include routes of three, six and 13.1 miles.

Maura Ahearne, organizer of the event, said the nonprofit first started talking about a benefit to support the school’s overnight program, but organizers decided it should be more than a race.

“We wanted to create something unique and aligned with IslandWoods’ mission,” Ahearne explained.

“There are countless runs and walks in our region, so we decided to not time the event — so it’s not a race — and we decided to include IslandWood programming.”

Instead of water pit stops along the route, IslandWood will set up “inspiration stations” where participants can pause to meet with members of IslandWood’s education team and kids who have participated in the four-day overnight program to get an idea of the experiential education that’s offered at the learning center. Runners or strollers can get a glimpse of what overnighters experience, and can stop to talk with a naturalist in the bog treehouse, or climb aboard the floating classroom at Mac’s Pond.

“We are hoping that a lot of people who have never been to IslandWood before will come here and start to understand what our school is all about,” Ahearne said.

AlderDash will include routes for all abilities, from the very young to the very old, plus the half-marathon course for semi-serious runners.

Beyond hoofing it through the outdoors, a wide range of activities are also planned.

“It’s not just a kids’ event, it’s not just an adults’ event,” said Thatcher Heldring of IslandWood.

“We do view this as an all-day festival. There’s elements of inspiration, recreation and celebration. We’ve got live music and great food. This really is an all-ages event.”

Caspar Babypants, first famous as Chris Ballew of the alternative rock band Presidents of the United States of America, is slated to perform. Also on the entertainment lineup: the Tall Boys, an old-time string band from Seattle; and Johnny Bregar and the Country Dogs.

The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 7.

Organizers hope the community event will raise $100,000 for the school’s outdoor learning programs.

“We decided to aim high,” Ahearne said.

Walkers and runners can register online at www.AlderDash.org to sign up for a route and raise money for IslandWood through individual or team contributions.

The money will be used to help underwrite program costs for schools in low-income communities that send students to the overnight program.

A fundraising starting point of $250 is being suggested for individual participants, since that’s how much it costs a school to send a child to the four-day overnight program.

“The money raised at AlderDash will underwrite the program itself, everything from expenses to food for the kids, to equipment and materials,” Heldring said.

A big part of the IslandWood experience goes beyond its educational offerings. Deep relationships and new friendships are formed, Heldring said.

The school has also been a life-changing experience for many of the inner-city kids who have visited.

“We’ve had kids who have never been away from home, never gone for a walk in the woods, aren’t aware of how food grows in the garden,” Heldring said.

He noted the common response from kids afterward, made without hesitation: “They say it was the best week of their life.”

“We’ve heard kids say, ‘Before I didn’t like to go outdoors and now I love nature.’

“They say the food was the best food they’ve ever eaten. They talk about science, they talk about, ‘I didn’t know science was fun,’ or ‘I just saw something on a science test and I remembered what I learned at IslandWood,’” Heldring recalled.

To learn more about the school or AlderDash, visit www.islandwood.org.

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