Second annual 5K Ella's Run on Saturday

BUFORD - Julia Karrenbauer called Ella a hero of the story.

The black Labrador retriever was hiking in Blairsville with its owner, Meredith Emerson, when the two went missing New Year's Day 2008.

During extensive searches of the area where the two had been hiking, four or five black labs were found, but none was Ella.

How did rescuers know? Ella was microchipped.

"They found Ella and she was really far away from Blairsville, too far from where a dog could have walked on its own, so they knew they had to refocus their search after they found her," said Karrenbauer, Emerson's former roommate. "The only way they knew it was Ella is because she was microchipped."

Every hero should have something bearing his or her name, and Ella is no exception.

Ella's Run, which is held in memory of Emerson, who was later found dead, and in honor of her faithful canine companion, is set for Saturday. Right to Hike, the volunteer organization established in Emerson's memory, will continue its mission to raise awareness of outdoor safety during the second annual 5K run.

Proceeds from the first event have gone to fund a scholarship, which is now endowed, in Emerson's name at the University of Georgia and toward the purchase of 25 GPS location devices that were donated to Union County Search and Rescue, which headed up the search for Emerson and Ella.

Right to Hike is looking at the possibility of establishing outposts at various stores and other locations near hiking trails at which hikers can check out the devices, similar to a library book, for the duration of their treks in the event they become lost or need to be located.

"If we can prevent one person from having to go through what Meredith had to go through, we feel successful," said Karrenbauer, who is president of the nonprofit organization.

One of Right to Hike's missions in 2010 is to have outdoor lighting installed in the lot where Emerson parked her car before heading out to the trails.

"If it makes a difference, if it makes people feel safer, that's definitely something we are going to look into pretty shortly after Ella's Run is over," Karrenbauer said.

About 400 people were already signed up to run or walk the event. And if the same holds true from last year a large number will register for the 2009 5K on Saturday.

"It could be anywhere from 400 to 800 or more," Karrenbauer said of the expected participation.

Karrenbauer said a special addition to this year's event comes directly from Emerson's father, Dave, who has crafted wooden pieces that will be auctioned off during the run to raise money for Right to Hike.

"We're looking forward to displaying that," she said. "(Meredith's parents) are out in Colorado, so it's their way of being with us on Saturday."

The event has also expanded to include a one-mile fun run/walk, a kids' play area, free food, a pumpkin patch and on-site vendors. Labrador Friends of the South will be offering on-site microchipping for pets.

"People can come out and really just enjoy the day," Karrenbauer said. "It's more than just a run."

SideBar: If You Go

· What: Ella's Run

· When: 10 a.m. Saturday

· Where: Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, 2020 Clean Water Drive in Buford

· Cost: $25 for the 5K and $15 for the fun run/walk

· For more information: Visit www.righttohikeinc.com