By Betsy Natter

Three Montgomery County agencies have partnered to sponsor the 2nd annual Montgomery County Trail Challenge, an outdoor initiative to encourage residents to get outdoors and explore the community via the county’s vast network of trails and parks. The County Health Department in cooperation with the County Planning Commission (MCPC), and the Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites Division began the program last year to improve the health of families and lower the risk of heart disease and related health issues, such as Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.

The Trail Challenge consists of 13 trails as well as the county’s historical sites. Participation in the Trail Challenge is easy. Simply download and print out a trail card from the county website or pick one up at a participating location (many area YMCAs, public libraries or parks). Select a trail to walk or bike and look for the unique shape which is mounted in the trailhead parking lot or on trailhead posts. Each trail has been assigned its own shape; a star, sun, moon or tree, etc. Identify and record the shape on your trail challenge card, then get out and enjoy the beauty of MontCo.

It is not necessary to walk the entire length of each trail, but participants will be awarded achievements based on the number of trails or historic sites they visit over the seven-month period that the challenge is active. Those who complete five trails will be deemed “Explorers” and receive a patch. “Adventurers” will have completed 10 trails and will be recognized with a medal, and the true “Trailblazers” will have visited all thirteen challenge trails in addition to two additional trails, historic sites or county parks and earned a cooler backpack!

Participants also have the option of biking over the nearly 90 miles of trails. For non-bike-owners, the county has partnered with Zagster to offer bike rentals at three locations. The bike-share service offers annual memberships or one-day passes for rentals. They operate using a smart phone app and all instructions and billing can be handling on the go. Zagster bike rental locations for the Trail Challenge are in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, Norristown Farm Park and on the Pennypack Trail. Click here for complete information on Zagster bike rentals.

When you’ve completed your challenge card, drop it into one of the boxes located near the main office in one of the county parks or submit your entry online at http://www.montcopa.org/trailchallenge. The MontCo Trail Challenge is free and open to everyone. The program runs from May through Dec. 3, 2017.

Survey results from last year’s challenge showed that over 1,500 participants not only enjoyed the county trails, but exercised more than usual, visited a park or trail for the first time or learned something new about their community. County officials are hoping that this year’s challenge will achieve the same great success and are encouraging the community to share their experiences out on the trails over social media. When posting photos and awards please use the hashtag #MontcoTrailChallenge.