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Right to Hike run gaining momentum

Last year, Right To Hike hosted Ella's Run, a 5K race to raise funds for the organization and honor the memory of Meredith Emerson. More than 600 people showed up, many just to hang out, show their respect and be part of the experience.

With that in mind, organizers have added to this year's event, making it more of a festival in addition to a road race. The idea is to allow more people to participate, so from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, there will be a live band, food vendors, a pumpkin patch and more as Ella's Run enters its second year.

"I think a lot of people were here last year hanging around, and there were a lot more families than we expected," said Julia Karrenbauer, president of Right To Hike and a friend of Emerson's. "So we decided to make it a family day instead of just watching a race. Wer'e trying to make it bigger and more special every year."

They do so to honor Emerson, who went missing Jan. 1, 2008, while hiking and was found murdered seven days later. Ella is the name of Emerson's dog, a black Lab, and in that spirit Labrador Friends of the South will be on hand Saturday and will have adoptable dogs. The group will also provide cut rates - $25 - on micro-chipping for pets.

"Last year, Ella's Run ... was an unbelievable display of community support," Karrenbauer said. "Everyone there was touched by Meredith and her story. They brought their families and their dogs, we could feel Meredith's smile at every moment of the event.

"And we're looking forward to this year as a celebration and seeing all the people and dogs out."

Though this is the second year the event has been held, emotions still run strong. Many of the volunteers were friends with Emerson, including Amiee Hoecker.

"I think it's going to be emotional each year," she said. "It's not my goal just to help the organization, but that people not forget her. She was an amazing person.

"We're doing what she would have done if she were here. It feels good that we're making a difference and making something positive out of a horrible situation."

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.

SideBar: If you go

· What: Ella's Run

· When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

· Where: Gwinnett Heritage and Environmental Center, Buford

· More info: www.righttohikeinc.com