’40 Mile Challenge’ encourages exploration of Big South Fork

Posted on March 24th, 2022 | © DiscoverScott.com | All rights reserved

The Independent Herald has launched a hiking challenge called the 40 Mile Challenge, which encourages visitors to discover and explore the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

The publication has hosted the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge in the past, and explained that the 40 Mile Challenge is similar, but different.

“We have found that hundreds of people start the challenge each year but only a few dozen people finish it,” said IH Publisher Ben Garrett. “The primary reason is that everyone’s interest in hiking piques when the weather starts to warm up after the long winter months, but then quickly fades once summer’s heat arrives. So, we decided to take the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge and condense it.”

The 40 Mile Challenge is about half as long as the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge, beginning the last weekend of March and ending Memorial Day weekend.

“By trimming it down to 10 weeks, we can also mostly avoid trails that were featured on the hiking challenge in 2021, and also stick to trails that are closer to home,” Garrett said. “And if 10 weeks of hiking aren’t enough, we always have the option of doing a second 10-week challenge during the fall foliage season, which is the second-best time for hiking, behind spring.”

The IH bills the challenge as 10 weeks to discover, explore, and fall in love with the Big South Fork NRRA.

“When we did this the first time, back in 2015, it was because we realized how many people who have lived literally in the shadow of the Big South Fork their entire lives really have no idea of some of the neat features that are out there,” Garrett said.

The BSF is the fifth-largest national park in the eastern U.S., encompassing 125,000 acres. The park includes more than 200 miles of trails that are specific to hiking.

“It’s a tremendous resource, and there are tremendous health benefits to hiking,” Garrett said. “Research has proven that brisk walking releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel better and reduce depression and anxiety. And research has also proven that being in the woods does the same thing. So hiking, really, is much more beneficial than walking on a paved walking track for your health.

“So that, really, was the goal,” he added. “Promote healthy lifestyles and also encourage exploration of the Big South Fork. A nice added benefit of the hiking challenge is that it helps people discover what the Big South Fork is all about. And if folks who live in this area fall in love with the BSF, they become promoters of this area and its tourism opportunities.”

Garrett said that more than 600 people hiked to Split Bow Arch on the first week of the 2021 Twenty Week Hiking Challenge.

The concept is relatively simple:

• Each week, a new hike will be posted on the IH’s 40 Mile Challenge page. The trail will usually be posted by Tuesday.

• The trails will start easy — the first week’s hike is only 1.2 miles — to encourage newcomers to hiking to take part. They’ll gradually increase in difficulty, though Garrett said there will not be any strenuous trails, like Honey Creek Loop, included in the challenge.

• Each trail will include a photo-worthy destination, such as an overlook, a waterfall, or a natural rock feature.

• Each week’s hike will include a “Make It Better” option that allows participants to add distance to their hike.

• Each week’s hike will include a place of interest for participants to look for and photograph. They’ll post the photos on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #40MileChallenge to be eligible for prizes along the way.

• There is no timeline for completing the challenge, and it is completely self-guided.