Commitment to Environment

Commitment to Environment


Great Lakes Endurance has been committed to pioneering race events with minimal to no environmental impact since our first Keweenaw Trail Running Festival in 2000. We led the effort and continue to be recognized as an innovator in conducting ecologically mindful running races.  Our commitment to organizing a ecologically sensitive event was first acknowledged in a feature article by Suzanne Van Dam in Running Times (May, 2005).  In 2008 Runner’s World (November 2008) recognized Great Lakes Endurance as one of the Top Ten Environmental Events in North America.  Of those ten, three were Canadian events.  The Great Lakes Endurance Trail Series was the only event selected from the midwest.  In addition, Trail Runner Magazine (Nov/Dec 2008) awarded Great Lakes Endurance Race Director Jeff Crumbaugh with its inaugural Sprout Award for the Greenest Race Director in North America.

Goal Summary

1.    Financially support land conservation, environmental education, and sustainable silent sport trail construction and maintenance.
2.    Eliminate production of solid waste via use of reusable materials, composting, recycling, or other new creative methods.
3.    Serve only locally grown or organic foods.
4.    Provide runners with race shirts domestically sewn from sustainable fibers (organic cotton, recycled polyester, etc).
5.    Minimize impact on local environment.
6.    Minimize carbon footprint via use of public transportation and/or purchasing carbon offsets.

Our Efforts

Unless you have directed a race you may not be aware of all the garbage that such an event produces. Paper cups, plastic water bottles, orange rinds, banana peels, and the  cardboard boxes that t-shirts and other prizes are shipped in all pile up. We have watched front end loaders clean up the paper cup waste on city streets after an urban marathon - the sight is not pretty - nor is the fact that they will be transported via diesel exhaust spewing trucks to a landfill (which produces methane, hydrogen sulfide and other gases). Even the ubiquitous 100% cotton t-shirts that many races issue to runners  introduce toxins into the environment during their production.  Indeed, just growing cotton uses 10% of all pesticides applied worldwide.  

Prior to our first event we decided to do things differently. We have never produced more than two standard size kitchen bags of trash at our Keweenaw event. In 2004 and 2005 we produced only 1 bag. In 2006 we reduced it to zero.   We kept it at zero in 2007 and 2008.  This is not bad for 300+ runners over two days. Our Navarino Trail Run, Tahqua Trail Run, and Aldo Leopold Half Marathon all produced no landfill contributions in 2008.  Our Grand Island Marathon (500 runners) produced two large bags of trash in 2005, 2006, and 2007.  In 2008 we reduced it to one bag.  Our goal in 2009 is zero.  Our challenge with this event is the fact that it attracts many main stream marathoners who are unfamiliar with recycling, carrying one’s own reusable water bottle, and pack in-pack out ethics.


Great Lakes Endurance contributes race proceeds to organizations involved in land conservancy, environmental education, and sustainable silent sport trail construction or maintenance.  In 2008 Great Lakes Endurance donated funds to the Copper Harbor Trails Association, Michigan Nature Association, The Nature Conservancy, Navarino Nature Center, Whitefish Township Schools (Paradise, MI), Central Elementary School (Munising), River Crossing Middle School (Portage, WI).


All of our events provide runners with shirts made of either organic cotton or recycled plastic. All shirts are sewn in the U.S.   

Why use organic cotton? Organic farming builds and maintains healthy soil by avoiding synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.  Over a half pound of pesticides are required to produce the cotton for one conventional cotton t-shirt. Pesticides are a major pollutant of rivers and lakes.

Why use recycled plastic?
  It keeps plastic beverage bottles from filling up landfills and avoids use of petroleum, the source stock of virgin plastic.  Plastic clothing fibers include polyester, nylon, and polypropylene. Our Grand Island Trail Marathon provides runners with a durable, well sewn Silkweight Capilene shirt made by Patagonia. The smooth, technical fabric is polyester made from recycled source stock (plastic bottles and worn out Capilene polyester clothing).  If and when this shirt wears out it can be returned to Patagonia to be recycled.  Many gear stores that sell Patagonia clothing will also accept old Capilene clothing for recycling.(link to Threads program)

Why use domestically sewn shirts?  Shirts sewn in the U.S. are more expensive because the labor is more expensive, but we believe it is important to pay people a fair, livable wage for their work.  We refuse to purchase shirts made using sweatshop labor. In addition, shirts sewn in the U.S. require less fuel to transport than shirts manufactured in Central America or Asia - decreasing the overall carbon footprint of our event.


Since our first Keweenaw Trail Running Festival back in 2000, we have served runners a breakfast featuring organic and locally grown foods. Organic farming restores and maintains healthy soil. Even more importantly, locally grown foods minimize fossil fuels required to transport foods long distances.  

In 2007 we stepped up our focus on local foods with our inaugural Navarino 15K Trail Run in Northeast Wisconsin. Learning how much petroleum is burned shipping food long distances, we decided to source all of our food within a 100 mile radius of the Navarino Nature Center - the race location. The buffalo and elk burgers were purchased from a ranch only 8 miles away. The whole grain - flax buns were made by Mast Amish bakery 15 miles to the north. The green and purple cabbage was raised by the Mares Family Farm in Clintonville (17 miles southwest). Luke Mehlberg (83 years old) who had been tapping Maples in nearby Pella for over 50 years donated maple syrup. Oakgrove Cheese (Clintonville, 18 miles west), a small local cheese house produced their much loved Longhorn Colby and Aged Sharp Cheddar. Vegetable farmers Bud Newcomb and Jim Schultz donated forearm sized carrots and Michael Paiser provided honey. The Door County Cherry Grower's Cooperative donated cherry cider (55 miles east) and the Wisconsin Cranberry Grower's Association in Babcock (100 miles south west) donated premium cranberries. We ended up with a delicious menu of elk & buffalo burgers on whole grain buns, cole slaw, honey sweetened cranberries, maple baked beans and cherry cider. We anticipated having to struggle to put together a healthy meal with only local foods - and the just the opposite occurred - we ended up with a highly nutritious meal with superb flavor. Local is better! Its better tasting, more nutritious, and better environmentally.

We continued our locovore (local foods) efforts in 2008 with our Aldo Leopold Half Marathon held at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  The chefs from Baraboo’s Java Cafe prepared a lunch for runners including:  Harvest Vegetable Soup, Fresh baked bread, apple cranberry sauce, pumpkin bars, and apple cider.  Just over 90% of the foods were sourced locally.  Four Elements Organic Farm & Orchard  in rural Baraboo (8 miles from the race site) provided all the fruits and vegetables (including pumpkins).  Ski - Hi Fruit Orchards (4 miles away) provided fresh (pressed the day before) apple cider.  In addition we purchased 125 pounds of the much loved Butterkaasse cheese from Cedar Grove Cheese in  Plain, WI (28 miles away) to be used as race awards (one pound blocks).

Our Tahqua Trail Run features pastries made with local and remarkably abundant wild blueberries.  The 25K Tahqua course actually traverses a Jack Pine savannah carpeted with wild blueberry bushes.  The blueberries reach maximum ripeness in mid to late August  - the usual time for the Tahqua Trail Run.  Our Grand Island Trail Marathon is catered by the Marquette Food Co-op and features 80% organic foods.  The cherry juice for both Grand Island and La Demi Grand events is sourced from King Orchards in Traverse City, Michigan.

Food scraps from all of our events are composted.  Navarino has an onsite compost bin used for environmental education purposes.  Food scraps from our Keweenaw, Grand Island, and Devil’s Lake events are given to local organic farmers for composting. Composting ensures that way nutrients are returned to build soil, not a landfill.

Our breakfast at the KTRF is served with real cups, plates, and dinnerware. No Styrofoam, paper plates, or plastic utensils. The local foods meals served at Navarino and Devil’s Lake use biocompostable bagasse  cups, plates, and bowls purchased from the RL Hess Co in Menasha, Wisconsin.  Bagasse is made from sugar cane waste fiber. Used bagasse is added to our food scrap compost. Converting, Inc. of Clintonville, Wisconsin produced a prototype paper plate made from 100% recyclable paperboard which we used at La Demi Grand in 2008.  The net effect of these measures was to prevent landfill contributions and to promote use of products made from recycled fibers - in our case, local paper fiber.  


Aid Stations

Aid stations can produce an enormous amount of garbage. We have always encouraged our participants to carry a water bottle or hydration system to avoid producing paper cup waste. In 2005 we required runners in the Grand Island Trail Marathon to carry one. We simply refilled the water bottles with narrow spout pitchers at each aid station. This was highly successful, indeed we found it worked better than the sloppy paper cup style aid station. Now all of our races 15 Km and over require runners to carry a 20 oz water bottle or similar hydration system. Runners claim it works better than cups in nearly all instances.

In our shorter events we changed from waxed paper cups to biodegradable PLA cups in 2006 and to biocompostable bagasse (faster breakdown) in 2007. We collect these and place them in a biodegradable bag and compost them appropriately.  In 2008 one of our aid station volunteers at Grand Island, Deb LeBlanc, decided to collect all the used bagasse cups used at the 10K aid station and use them as plant plugs for her native plant restoration program.  Deb is a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service and has been working tirelessly to remove invasive plants from Grand Island and restore native plants with regional genotypes to the island.  Reusing the bagasse cups saved her the money she would have used to purchase plant plug containers.  

Our goal has been to achieve waste free aid stations at all of our events.  In the process we have also created more effective aid stations.  We have discovered that requiring runners to carry a water bottle results in less spillage - so there is less waste of fluids.  Also, runners can more acquire more fluid at an aid station and then have access to the fluid between aid stations.  This provides better hydration and refueling to athletes and requires fewer aid stations - which in our case is necessary due to the remote location of our trails.  Finally, this more sustainable aid station design results in a safer event - again because athletes have more continuous access and more abundant quantity of fluids.

Entry Forms

We have used tree free paper and 100% post consumer content recycled paper with soy ink in past years to print entry forms. In 2007 we only printed entry forms for our Navarino race. In 2008 we did not print any entry forms.  Runners could either register online or download an entry form from our website.  In 2009 we have moved entirely to online registration.


We worked with Altran in Munising to set up an efficient public transporation system for runners participating in the Grand Island and La Demi Grand events.  Runners are provided bus transport from their hotel and campground to the ferry dock and back.  In 2009 spectators attending both of these events will be able to ride a new hybrid-electric bus to several checkpoints on the course.  Starting in 2008 Great Lakes Endurance purchased carbon offsets from Native Energy to cover all staff transportation to and from events.

Race Course Marking

We mark all of our race course with reusable wired flags. We never use spray paint or other toxic markings. Our mile markers and directional arrows were constructed from several old sheets of plywood pulled from a trash bin (Cheap and ecological). Our goal is to leave only footprints at the race site. Several hours after the race you can barely tell that an event even occurred.