CLINE: A legacy of love for Right to Hike

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

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Having participated the past couple of years in both Ella’s Run and the group’s annual golf tournament, I’m always impressed by the way Right to Hike does things. The organization, created to honor the memory of Meredith Hope Emerson, consistently gets its message out in a way that both inspires folks to move forward while at the same time remembering a young woman who was lost way too soon.

For the uninitiated, Ella’s Run is named after Emerson’s dog, a black lab, and is a 5K race that emphasizes the runners’ dogs as much as the runners themselves. This past Saturday, the sixth annual event was held at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, a place where Emerson and Ella would go for runs. Emerson was a lover of the outdoors, which is why her friends thought the best way to remember her was by making the outdoors, and hiking in particular, safer for everyone.

To that end, the group has raised enough money to install emergency solar/wireless phones at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill, on the Suwanee Greenway and at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center. The group said it has plans to add six more phones in the Gwinnett area over the coming months, a continuation of its mission statement after Emerson was abducted while hiking in the woods, and her life later taken.

The group also uses proceeds from events like Ella’s Run to fund the Meredith Hope Emerson Memorial Award for Study Abroad, which is now endowed at the University of Georgia. In a nod to Emerson’s love of French literature, the yearly $1,000 scholarship is given for French-language study in a French-speaking country. A unique way to honor a very unique person.

To me, that’s where Right to Hike stands out — hitting the right notes of helping and healing, of being fun yet poignant. The organization is led by a younger group than most nonprofits, which may account for the laid-back and enjoyable vibe that seems to permeate their events, though I’m sure the presence of the fun-loving dogs doesn’t hurt, either.

But no matter what their age, the group succeeds in one thing above all — honoring and remembering a dear friend. And while that says very much about the person Meredith Hope Emerson was, it also says a lot about the friends who love her.

That legacy — not only of Emerson, but of friendship itself — is carried on at events like Ella’s Run. And that love is what makes Right to Hike stand out.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.