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Friends of Big Bend pitch in to improve park

Austin triathlete appears on magazine cover

Pam LeBlanc

If you've ever climbed the South Rim or watched the sun set over the Window in the Chisos Mountain Basin, you know Big Bend National Park offers some of the sweetest hiking within a day's drive of Austin.

I met recently with representatives of the Friends of Big Bend National Park, a non-profit group that raises money to improve and maintain the park. Such groups are becoming more and more common, as under-funded parks team with the public to protect natural resources.

Since its formation in 1996, the group has raised more than $1 million for wildlife research at the park, as well as habitat restoration, wayside exhibits and an expansion of the Panther Junction Visitors Center. Most recently, it helped fund new indirect lighting to replace flood lights in the park.

But with two important projects under way, more money is needed, say Courtney Lyons-Garcia, executive director of the Friends group, and Dennis Kearns, a board member.

At about 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park ranks as one of the largest national parks in the country. It's remote. And it can be dangerous, if you head into the back country unprepared.

That's why the Friends' biggest priority is to finish a short orientation film to give visitors a park overview and tell them how to stay safe during their visit.

They've raised $101,000 for the project, but need at least $40,000 more before filming can begin. They hope to finish by late 2011.

Also in the works: a new paleo exhibit at the park, the site of several important dinosaur bone finds, including the skeleton of a massive, plant-eating Alamosaurus that might have weighed more than 50 tons.

"It's an important part of the story of Big Bend, and we're not telling it," Lyons-Garcia says.

Runners should note that the group has revived its popular long-distance trail run, a fundraiser. The Big Bend Ultra Run '11 is scheduled for Jan. 16, 2011. Entry fee is $100 by Dec. 15 or $125 after that, if space is available. To register, go to

Triathlete graces magazine cover

Check out the latest edition of Runner's World Magazine.

Austin's own Desirée Ficker, a professional triathlete who in April became the first woman ever to win the Statesman Capitol 10,000 three years in a row, looks super buff running across the cover of the August issue, which is devoted to half marathons.

Ficker is best known for her second-place finish at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2006, where she set a personal best time of 9 hours and 24 minutes. The following year she came in second at the Austin Marathon, and in 2009 she placed 10th at the ING New York City Marathon.

The cover shot isn't the first for Ficker, who also appeared on the Runner's World cover in 2007. She's also been featured on the cover of a (kind of racy!) issue of Inside Triathlon, Triathlete magazine and a host of smaller publications.

Ficker says she hasn't seen the cover yet, but the Santa Barbara shoot was fun.

"It takes a surprising amount of running to get one single shot!" she said.

Texas gets its own Ironman

Austin triathletes looking for a place to test their endurance won't have to go far starting next spring.

The inaugural Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas is set for May 21 in The Woodlands, just north of Houston. It becomes one of 25 Ironman events around the world.

To officially finish, athletes will have to swim 2.4 miles in Lake Woodlands, cycle 112 miles through the rolling farmland east of the city and run 26.2 miles through The Woodlands, all in under 17 hours.

It costs $600 to enter the race, which is a qualifier for the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Registration is now open at; 445-3994