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High Country Running: Shifting landscapes

High Country Running: Shifting landscapes

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Shifting landscapes

Staci Whitman has been running across Flagstaff’s shifting landscapes for about 20 years.

I love where I live. I can be running on a trail in less than five minutes (well, 10 minutes on a slower day). When we first moved to this house, I fell in love with getting lost on the running trails behind it and then trying to figure out how they all connected to make a path back home.

Two years ago, the U.S. Forest Service started a large forest-thinning project in Flagstaff to improve watershed management below the San Francisco Peaks, as well as to improve the overgrown forest’s health and decrease the possibility of devastation from fire, which all residents know looms as a frightening possibility.

I watched in horror as big rigs came onto the landscape to make temporary roads along many of the trails I loved to run. It was scary to see so many trees being taken down and piled into 15-foot stacks over the newly exposed forest floor. It felt as if the ground was shifting under my feet as each new run revealed a change in the familiar landscape I had come to love and rely on.

This last spring, however, as this project came to a close, I saw the expected increase in runoff along with other benefits.

New flowers not seen in the past were blooming, as the sunlight could now reach the forest floor, allowing new life to appear.

Boulders previously hidden by thick trees were revealed, adding new visual texture to the trail.

The picture-perfect Peaks could be seen at every turn.

Those temporary roads that had been cut into the earth to allow trucks to haul the newly harvested trees were plowed under, and as the seasons continue to change, they blend more and more into the natural landscape.

We know that change is inevitable. Changes to the things we hold in high value and love can throw us off course and fill us with fear. This year has provided us with many reasons to fear, and in many cases, this fear has led to anger and even hate. We’ve felt our health, climate and political landscapes shift under our feet with every new calendar day in 2020.

It’s been one scary year, but I will take a lesson from my trail running. I will try to move forward into 2021 with the hope that all these shifting landscapes will somehow clear our own “forest floors” and allow new light and insight to shine through, bringing forth new solutions to old problems.

I’d like to think that, like wildflowers, the best part of our humanity — human kindness — will spring up to propel us forward through change to a more beautiful future.

Staci Whitman is a fourth-generation native to the Flagstaff community and a physical therapist at Flagstaff Medical Center who has been an avid runner for about 20 years. She enjoys both road and trail running and is a regular participant in the Flagstaff Summer Series.

What are your running dreams for 2021? Send your story to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at


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