Some people flip sausages to raise funds for projects, others help people in need, but Kylie Cowan and the Friends of the Larapinta Trail have become trail guardians – for one of the most iconic trails in the world.
The Larapinta Trail traverses a 223km route from the Historic Telegraph Station at Alice Springs to the lofty summit of Mt Sonder in the MacDonnell Ranges.
And is where we are lucky to host Run Larapinta, a four-day, four-stage trail running stage race along its most spectacular sections each August.
In conjunction with NT Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Friends of Larapinta Trail hosts working bees, special events and activities to promote and maintain the Larapinta Trail and its facilities for runners, walkers and future generations to enjoy.
If it wasn’t for the Friends, it’s hard to imagine how the trail would look or if visitors’ experiences would be as enriching.
We caught up with Kylie Cowan to find out how it all began, the value of people power and the pride and happiness felt in caring for nature.
Q) You are part of a not-for-profit group – The Friends of the Larapinta Trail, how did you get involved, and have you been there from the start in 2011 of the group?
My husband was part of the original committee that began Friends of the Larapinta Trail in 2011. I could see they had lots of great ideas and events in place, but like all fledgling groups needed some more hands on deck to make things happen. I have some basic graphic design skills, so I offered to start making the newsletters, promotional flyers etc and at my first meeting somehow I ended up being Secretary!
Q) You have also volunteered at Run Larapinta; did this differ to the type of roles you’re involved in with the Friends?
Yes it did – many of our members are new to bushwalking or they have bushwalking skills but haven’t tackled any of the Larapinta Trail, and would like to do it with other walkers. We try to provide opportunities for people to become safe, well equipped and competent bushwalkers in a social environment that is fun and supportive. All of the Friends committee and the active members who help us with events, logistics, walks, market stalls and fundraising are all volunteers. I think we do a really great job given we all work and have busy lives, but it was really interesting to see a professional event organiser like Rapid Ascent in action! The participants were all very fit and experienced in Trail Running and knew how to manage their nutrition and any blisters, aches and pains. It was good to see how the safety briefings, logistics, first aid, presentations etc worked as well.
Q) What was it like being part of an event that couldn’t be as great without all the work the Friends do for the trail? It must have felt very rewarding to see so many keen runners getting so much enjoyment out of visiting your region and experiencing the beauty and the challenges of the Larapinta Trail?
At first I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see people running so quickly over the country that we encourage people to take their time on…. To see people out there enjoying the experience, having some reflection time and admiring the views is a great thing. I think a lot of bushwalkers probably find it hard to understand the appeal of running and potentially missing those things. But trail running is all of that, with a big dose of challenge and adrenaline thrown in! I’d never done any Trail running in an event before Run Larapinta (I did stages 1 and 3 of the short course, then volunteered at a water point on stage 4), and I’d never done any Trail running with other people. I didn’t really know how other people did it e.g. did they walk the hard bits or were they so fit they could sprint up hills and so sure footed that they could negotiate tricky declines at speed?! The one thing I was so blown away by (and so glad to see) was that every time there was a high point or stunning view, people were stopping to take it all in, get photos and have a chat with their fellow runners. I thought it might have been so competitive that people wouldn’t do that, but the comradery and encouragement was amazing – everyone was so incredibly friendly and absolutely raved about the Trail. Hearing people talk so enthusiastically about the scenery and the Trail itself was hugely rewarding and it’s great to see people out there enjoying the Larapinta Trail in so many different ways – bushwalking, running, painting, meditating and fundraising for various causes.
Q) How about the people you’ve met through your work, have you made some great friends through volunteering?
Some of the people I’ve met through the Friends are so inspirational. They’ll make a cake to bring to a working bee, donate time or money, sell raffle tickets, or give up their weekends to lead a walk… I’ve learnt heaps from them and I think that people that bushwalk are nearly always awesome! I love it when you are walking with someone and slowly their life stories and experiences make themselves known… you get to know people on a really different level. Anyone who gives up their own time to help a club or cause they believe is a pretty special person. All clubs rely on people power and I really don’t know how the world would function without willing volunteers.
Q) What would you say are the best things about volunteering - Can you pinpoint a favourite moment or memory, or are there too many to mention?
I really like to see people getting outdoors and doing things they might not otherwise do if a group like the Friends of the Larapinta Trail didn’t exist. I love it when we can help answer questions and make people more prepared for their walk or help them make the most of the time they have on the Trail. I really like it when people say they like our newsletter because I put lots of hours into it and we have so many brilliant photos to share and inspire people with! One of the best things last year is to see the progress of all of the people who’ve joined in for some or all of our progressive walk of the whole trail. They had some varied weather (to say the least!) which led to some interesting challenges but they embraced it all and finished each section with a smile on their faces. I think the people that are new to bushwalking have done so well and a big part of that is due to the dedication and complete selflessness of their amazing walk leader Susan Chambers, who volunteered SO much of her time to make it possible.
Q) Volunteering for a cause like the Friends or Run Larapinta can require quite a bit of someone’s time and effort, how do you go about keeping a balance between all the different elements in life like paid work, rest, family, friends and hobbies?
I’m not sure that I do! I have two kids and I work 4 days a week… we camp and bushwalk and the kids have afterschool activities and friends, so ‘busy’ is an understatement. We moved back into Alice Springs in December 2015 after living on various National Parks in Central Australia for 9.5 years (my husband is a Park Ranger), so that took some getting used to. There is always so much to do and in Alice Springs we have such a fantastic array of festivals, events, shows, sporting clubs, social activities and places to explore. I think that being busy is an ok thing, but as long as it is busy doing the things that are important and that you love.
Q) And finally, would you recommend volunteering to others? And where is a good place to start?
Yes! Even if it’s some one-off help or you start out small, your help is VERY much appreciated! Find something you believe is a good cause, or something you feel passionate about and simply say, how can I help? People sometimes don’t think they have the right ‘skills’, but everyone can do something. You’ll never be turned away and as a volunteer every hour you contribute is appreciated. The phrase ‘many hands make light work’ is completely true and somewhere someone could use your help - You never know, you might get something out of it too….
Check out the latest news from The Larapinta Trail here.
To find out more, get involved through volunteering or help through a donation head to the Friends of Larapinta Trail website.
And to discover more about Run Larapinta click through to RunLarapinta.com.au.