Wild runners raise funds for Search and Rescue team

A pair of participants cross the finish line and complete the SAR Wild Run in Shaver Lake on Aug. 13, 2017. The annual race is put on to raise awareness and funds for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team. (Photo by Valerie Shelton/Clovis Roundup)

The sixth annual SAR Wild Run, held Sunday, Aug. 13 in Shaver Lake, hosted a crowd of marathon runners who participated in the scenic jog to raise funds for the volunteer crews of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team.

At 7:30 a.m., runners began the course with a mile descent down to the water’s edge of the lake. From there, the breathtaking trail through the Sierra National Forest took a steep turn as runners went uphill for mile No. 2 along a series of switchbacks on the mountainside. After reaching the peak, participants then headed back toward the start-turned-finish line, where each received a Bigfoot medallion.

Tyler Stjerne, a mountaineering search and rescue team member, said when the annual event first started six years ago, it was a simple fundraiser for the mountaineering team and both cyclists and runners took part. Over the years, he said, it has grown and the cyclist portion has been eliminated to make room for an increasing number of runners and walkers wanting to take part in the trail half marathon, 10K, 5K wild run and two-mile family hike. The half marathon, he said, has been the most popular event. Altogether, this year’s event capped out with the maximum 1,000 participants.

This increase, Stjerne said, has allowed the mountaineering squad to share the funds raised with other search and rescue units, including the air squadron, jeep unit and posse (search and rescue team on horseback). In 2016, the event raised between $20,000 and $25,000, which went toward training new volunteers and keeping current volunteers up to date on training and certifications, such as first aid.

While raising funds is one aim of the growing event, Stjerne said the goal is to spread awareness, not only about what the search and rescue team does, but about how hikers can be prepared to prevent getting lost in the wilderness.

“The primary goal of the event is to raise awareness and talk to people about what they should do if they get lost in the forest,” Stjerne said. “There are preparations people should make before going on a hike to prevent getting lost, like leaving a detailed plan that shows where they are going and when they are expected home with a neighbor. That way if they do get lost we know where to look and are more likely to find them.”

The fundraiser is not only a good way for the search and rescue team to connect with the community and provide safety tips, but it is also a means for promoting a healthy lifestyle—the kind of lifestyle Stjerne said search and rescue volunteers, specifically mountaineers who carry heavy packs into the forest and do steep climbs when tracking lost persons, need to have in order to save lives.

“The event itself is healthy, fun and challenging, and as mountaineers, fitness is important because we need to be in tip-top shape,” he said.

Logistically, Stjerne said hosting a marathon in the forest isn’t easy. Finding spaces for people to park, for example, is an added challenge that’s not often a huge concern in cities with ample community parking lots. Also, this year the search and rescue team had to spend extra time clearing the trails of debris caused by loggers removing trees damaged by the bark beetle.

“We were prepping the trail for weeks because the bark beetles really did a number on the trees and there has been extra logging going on to get the dead and dying trees out and that destroyed parts of the trail,” Stjerne said. “We had to rebuild the trails back to good condition, which was necessary for the event but is also good for everyone in the community and visitors who use the trail.”

Even with the added challenge of cleaning up the trail, Stjerne said the benefits of having the event in the hills outweigh the difficulties. The temperature, for one, is 20 degrees cooler with a high of 75 degrees, compared to sweltering triple digits on the Valley floor which would certainly deter runners. The scenery also can’t be beat, Stjerne said, noting the blue skies overhead, the scent and shade of the evergreen trees in the forest and, of course, the beautiful—and currently full—Shaver Lake.

“It is beautiful for people coming up out of the Valley and we’re proud to showcase it,” he said.

Of course, Valley residents weren’t the only ones to travel to Shaver Lake for Sunday’s run. Participants hailed from over 70 counties and at least five states, Stjerne said, with two participants traveling all the way from London, England.

Wherever they came from, near or far, all participants were able to enjoy the beauty of Shaver Lake while running for a good cause.