When the Perseverance Run began in 2003, it was organized by a small group of runners who wanted to raise money for the forests they loved.
At the time, the Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) was only three years old and had yet to make its first purchase of forestry-owned land. By 2005, with help from donors, loans and fundraising such as the race, the society was able to buy 72 hectares of forest for $1.2 million and place it under a conservation covenant.
Since that first purchase, the organization has acquired about 221 hectares (545 acres) of forest, according to its website. This includes part of Perseverance Creek, where the trail race got its name.
This year’s Perseverance Trail Run takes place on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 11 a.m. in Cumberland.
The 12-kilometre run weaves its way through a portion of the Cumberland Forest, crossing Perseverance Creek and looping through various trails to finish at No. 6 Mine Park.
Former race directors Sarah Seads and the late Lene Curts took over the race that preceded Perseverance Run from a group of organizers known as the River Rats who put on an annual trail race in Tomato Creek, on the north side of Comox Lake.
The River Rats were formed by a group of community members who shared a passion for building trails, running and mountain biking. At the time, the run was called the Tomato Creek Trail Run.
Though the race was already established when Seads moved here in 2000, it was not yet a fundraiser for the CCFS.
In 2003, Seads was hosting running clinics out of Extreme Runners, a running shop in Courtenay owned by Curts at the time. The River Rats approached the two at the store one day and asked if they wanted to take over the race. They accepted.
“We decided we wanted to move it to Cumberland and make it a fundraiser for the Cumberland Community Forest. That was all we knew. That was our goal, our priority,” said Seads.
Since 2003, one hundred per cent of the race’s donations have gone to the CCFS. Seads said that her and Curts, who was like a sister to her, felt the need to give back to a place they valued.
“It was an offering for our community that we love so much and brought us so much joy.”
Seads remembers the race beginning with 30 to 40 participants. It has since grown, with this year’s registration capping at 650 sign-ups.
Last year, they raised over $30,000 for the CCFS and are on track to surpass that number this year, thanks to an anonymous donor who is matching donations up to $25,000.
The race’s current director, Derek Kaufman, said they are calling the donor the “very generous forest fairy.”
Seads also used the word fairy in her description of the forest.
“It’s like a fairy tale in there, you know,” she said. “You can just feel the foundation is so grounding, I think that’s what it is. And it’s really multi-layered, it’s pristine, there are some sections that are truly pristine.”
According to a baseline inventory prepared for the Village of Cumberland by conservation biologist Tim Ennis, that pristine foundation is home to 11 species at varying levels of risk. The report also found that 16 of the 18 ”ecological communities” mapped within the forest, or 89 per cent, are considered to be ecosystems at risk by the province of B.C.
Cumberland, which is on K’omoks First Nation’s unceded traditional territory, grew in the 19th century for its mining and forestry operations. To facilitate the sale of lumber and coal, the E&N Railway Land Grant, which the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group calls “the great land grab,” effectively stole First Nations territory and placed it into the hands of businessmen like coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, who made a fortune selling the land to forestry companies.
Now, the community’s population is booming once more, growing by 18 per cent from 2016 to 2021, and the community is grappling with this complex history. As the CCFS works to protect more forest surrounding the Perseverance Watershed, people continue to move to the village for its wide array of mountain biking and running trails.
“The race is about a lot more than recreation in the Cumberland Forest – it’s our watershed for the whole Comox Valley,” said Kaufman.
The race is a big family event, geared mainly towards new and recreational runners. The run has a three-kilometre route for runners who are less experienced, but the 12-kilometre route is relatively approachable for new runners, said Kaufman.
“We do have about 160 children registered this year, which is a pretty crazy amount for a trail run,” said Kaufman.
He said most of the kids will participate in the three-kilometre route, but a few will be doing the 12-kilometre.
Seads, who has competed in ultra marathons in the past, is looking forward to enjoying her time running alongside the kids this year.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “I ran the race for the first time in 2021 because I wasn’t race director so I could be out there.”
After the run, there will be a big party in the park, with drinks, food and a DJ.
Registration for the races is sold out, but anyone wanting to support the fundraiser can purchase merchandise or donate via Race Roster.
Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse