Andy Minnis will race in his second Pine Cone Pacer 5K in April, though he uses the term “race” loosely.

An IT analyst with the Nicholas School of the Environment, Minnis finished near the back of the field in last year’s 3.1-mile race through Duke Forest. That was OK, though. The slower he went, the easier it was to enjoy the scenic course that wove through dense forest, crossed streams and passed by meadows strewn with wildflowers.

“I love the whole trail,” Minnis said. “When you’re on it, you travel through all the different land types that we have in North Carolina. You get some sandy soil like the beach. You get a lot of clay, of course. You get some rocky stuff like the mountains.”

In its ninth year, the Pine Cone Pacer 5K Run/Walk usually draws around 100 runners, both serious competitors and people who, like Minnis, are simply enjoying nature. Racers who sign up before April 2 pay $25 and are guaranteed a T-shirt. Those who register on race day pay $35 and will receive shirts while supplies last.

The Pine Cone Pacer is the biggest fund-raiser for the Duke Forest Improvement Fund. The fund helps expand environmental education programs, maintain trails, and improve protection of natural areas. It also pays for projects not covered by the forest’s annual operating budget, like the restoration of the Shepherd Nature Trail, which was completed last year.

“Monies raised through the Pine Cone Pacer are incredibly valuable.  They help support enhancement projects that are win-wins for the ecosystem and the community that loves the forest,” said Sara Childs, director of Duke Forest.

This year’s race starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 14. After the race, competitors can enjoy food, drinks and raffles for prizes such as a meal at the Washington Duke Inn and a special tour of the Duke Lemur Center. Those who want to support the forest but not race can sponsor a decorative longleaf pine cone for $25. It will be displayed at the finish line with the donor’s name.

“It’s a good time because it’s fairly low-key, it’s just a beautiful run through the woods,” Childs said. “There are lots of friendly people around who are just happy to be out there on a lovely spring morning.”

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