BUFORD - Runners, hikers, nature enthusiasts and pooches will be celebrating the life of Meredith Hope Emerson on Saturday at the very first Ella's 5K and fun run.
Sponsored by Right to Hike Inc., the local nonprofit group started by 20 of Emerson's friends, the event will culminate in a trail dedication to the slain Buford hiker at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center.
"It's the first place I thought about since it meant so much to her," said Right to Hike's vice president and Emerson's best friend Julia Karrenbauer. "It's a prominent spot and a place where people can remember her and the things she enjoyed."
Emerson went missing Jan. 1 of this year while hiking in Blairsville with her dog Ella and was found murdered Jan. 7.
According to Steve Cannon, the director at the environmental and heritage center, Emerson loved visiting with Ella when the center opened and said it only made sense to name the trail "Meredith's Trail."
"It was a great sanctuary and a peaceful place for her," Cannon said. "It was a tragic thing that happened to her, but hopefully through this we'll improve hiker safety and keep her spirit alive."
Karrenbauer said the Environmental and Heritage Center was where Emerson would take her black labrador retriever Ella for her first walks and runs after rescuing the dog from a shelter. It's because of this that all dogs are welcome at Saturday's event. Karrenbauer also said in an article which appeared in the Gwinnett Daily Post on June 10 that Ella's microchip played a key role in helping authorities find Emerson. Because of this, free microchipping for dogs will be provided as
part of Saturday's festivities.
Cannon also said that because of Emerson, the center will continue its mission to improve trail safety for hikers. Part of the funds raised by Right to Hike will go toward the purchase of GPS location devices that will be placed at trail heads for rental. He also said in the future, they'd like to educate the public through programs that will show people how to build shelters, show them which plants are edible and how to know how technical a trail can be.
"Some neat programming will come from this," Cannon said.
Karrenbauer and Cannon both said they are expecting at least 400 visitors Saturday. Karrenbauer also said the group's expectations have been greatly exceeded and that despite the tragedy, Emerson will now leave her mark permanently on Gwinnett County.
"The response to this event has been tremendous so far and we know it will be even stronger with the addition of the trail dedication to Meredith," Right to Hike board member Ronnie Tompson said. "So many people were touched by her story, and this is a way for the community to show their support by continuing her memory."
For more information, visit www.righttohikeinc.com.