Audrey Love

Smoky weather conditions plaguing the Grande Ronde Valley will hopefully dissipate in time for area residents to hit the trails Saturday in support of keeping Union County’s youth drug, tobacco and alcohol-free.

Mt. Emily Recreation Area will host the 21st annual MERA Drug-Free Run, a major fundraiser organized by the Union County Safe Communities Coalition in support of youth substance abuse and prevention activities it sponsors throughout the county. Participants will gather at the Owsley Canyon Trailhead Saturday morning and lace up their running shoes for either a 5K, 10K or one-mile “fun run,” followed by a small awards ceremony.

In two decades, the run has undergone quite a few changes, according to UCSCC’s coordinator, Robin Wortman.

“Years ago the community had the Drug Free Relay, which was a 24-hour event that involved teams making continuous movement around a track,” she said of the run’s origins. “Over the years, the number of hours the relay (was held) decreased (and) three years ago there was construction at Central and the La Grande High School, so we were unable to use our usual venue.”

With no venue and the event’s deadline looming, the coalition had to improvise — and looked to the Blue Mountains for inspiration.

“The committee looked at a variety of options and decided they would like to hold an event at MERA,” she said. “After some research and a lot of discussion, it was decided that we would try the event with an un-timed mile and a 5K and 10K timed trail run.”

The location stuck, and UCSCC has held the event at MERA since 2016.

“Participants seemed to like it, and the venue couldn’t be more beautiful,” Wortman said.

UCSCC designates a committee to organize the event, with coalition members, friends and family volunteering their time to assist with the run. Those who didn’t pre-register will still be able to participate with late registration and packet pickup available from 7:30 a.m. until 8:15 a.m. on race day.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.