Everyone experiences nature differently. Some people walk. Some watch from their birdfeeders. Others, like my cousin, run to the top of mountains and madly twerk. While we haven’t seen any mad twerking at Audubon (yet), we have seen several visitors running and speed walking on the trails lately.

Most of the runners have been showing up earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the weather is cooler. Those times also provide some of the best times to see wildlife.

Many animals are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Some call those periods of time “the gloaming”, when the world is gray just as the sun is rising and setting. Beavers are one of the many animals that early morning walkers and runners may see.

Volunteers work to get the Spatterdock Bridge straightened and repaired before the Wild 5k, thanks to a JEP Cummins Community Grant.

Their lodge, a gigantic pile of sticks on one of the islands in Big Pond, is visible from the Big Pond Dike. Early in the morning, visitors have reported seeing beavers swimming in the water or gnawing down trees. The early bird sees the beaver.

Speaking of early birds, another sight people have seen is the Common Gallinule, which has been nesting in the middle of Big Pond. This bird, fondly called a pond monkey by some of our Water Chestnut Control crew, is deep black with a bright red face. Their monkey-like call echoes out of the pond to the trails on either side.

There is a lot to be said for trail running besides seeing wildlife or hearing “pond monkeys”. It adds a different perspective to the trails when you move quickly. Sometimes you startle animals that weren’t prepared for you to appear so quickly and catch a glimpse of a fox or a fawn. The pure zoned-out Zen-like moments of running through the woods can well be worth it. And, of course, there is always the opportunity to madly twerk where no one is watching.

For those who spend a lot of time running on roads, a run through nature can be a great change of pace from the usual houses, yards, and dogs.

Audubon Community Nature Center is hosting its Annual Wild 5K race in a virtual format starting on Saturday, July 18 and running through Sunday July 26. Runners and walkers can register online at auduboncnc.org/wild5k and run or walk the course anytime during daylight hours that week.

While the timing and reporting for the race are happening virtually online, the actual race will still be set up at the Audubon Community Nature Center. The trail winds through fields and forests, past ponds, and over boardwalks.

Fittingly, the money raised from the Wild 5k goes to support those very same trails, ponds, and boardwalks. This year, half of one of the longest boardwalks was redone with the help of a JEP Cummins Community Grant and a lot of sweat and muscle power from volunteers who pushed to get the bridge repaired before the Wild 5k.

The Wild 5k is a great way to enjoy the trails in a new way. Get a group of friends together to walk or run the route. Because it is virtual, you can do the route every day and submit your best time. Make Audubon a part of your life in a different way.

You can even get a “Virtually the Best Wild 5k ever” t-shirt to prove that you did it.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are

still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop and Day Camps are open. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Jeff Tome is a Senior Nature Educator at ACNC.