With a mission to create a community of trail runners who are also passionate activists, Hilary McAllister is the fierce and determined voice encouraging us all to love the wild places we explore.


For Wild Places (FWP) is one of three inaugural recipients of The North Face Explore Fund, a new grant that aims to create access and drive equity in the outdoors. FWP is a not-for-profit that unites the trail-running community to take action and protect places of environmental and cultural significance.

We chatted with the company’s CEO, Hilary McAllister, about how you can protect the environments you run through, why accountability is so important and the exciting next steps for the organisation.

Brooke Nolan: What’s the goal of For Wild Places?

Hilary McAllister: Our mission is to make trail running a meaningful expression of environmental activism so that together, we can help our wild places survive and thrive.

We want to connect the running and trail community with actionable ways to protect places we love and create a community of passionate and informed activists that fight to protect places under threat.


What led you to create For Wild Places?

FWP came about after Takayna Trail 2020 when event co-founder Simon Harris reached out to a bunch of participants after the event who had expressed an interest in being more involved.

The event was in its second year, and it was clear there was a real appetite amongst the outdoor community for more events that focused on raising awareness and funds for key environmental campaigns.

Personally, I felt a real drive to be more active in protecting the environment after the 2019 Federal Election result – and combining sports and activism seemed like a great way to do that.


Hillary McAllister, CEO of For Wild Places

How does For Wild Places create change?

It’s not just the fundraising that is a benefit from holding events like the Pilliga Ultra, but the awareness too. Say we get 150 runners that sign up to take part in the event, and then they reach out to their networks and say ‘I’m running in this place called the Pilliga and it’s facing these issues’. Suddenly thousands of people have heard about it, even if they’re not running. Some donate, but they also learn about the issues.


The Pilliga Ultra


For places like the Pilliga that are out of the way, this leads to more media, and people who live in those areas feel seen, and get more people fighting to protect their homes.

And then, the icing on the cake is actually going to the event, seeing the place that you’ve been talking about and fundraising for – and it all just falls into place. You feel like you’re actually making a difference, which is often very hard to do.


How can the outdoors community be held accountable for its actions when it comes to the environment?

That’s a really big question. And I wish I had a silver bullet, but it’s not that simple. Starting from a broader perspective though I think it’s important to focus on the collective and not the individual.

Don’t scrutinise everything you do. And that’s speaking from experience where I tried to go vegan and not use plastic, and all these different things, which took up so much of my time. It was just really hard because we don’t live in a world that facilitates those things easily.

It’s changing of course. What we do on an individual level matters, but it’s what we do as a collective or as a society that will actually have a more long-term sustainable change, and I think we are slowly transitioning towards that.


Change requires a community effort


Part of accountability on an individual level is people taking the time to educate themselves. That could be listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, and following diverse voices on social media. Get stories directly from the source that aren’t filtered through major media outlets.

We also need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable in terms of taking into account the things that we might have done in the past, and views that we might have had. We need to move forward and say ‘this is how I thought or this is how I used to vote, or this is what I used to do’, but I’ve learned, I’ve educated myself, I’ve evolved. And now I do it this way. You don’t necessarily have to declare that publicly, but knowing and accepting you’ve had that shift in mindset is really powerful.


How can people embrace a learner’s mindset and be open to discussing, understanding, and acting on the challenges faced?

I think it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. For example, it was very interesting with the Black Lives Matter movement, where what happened in Australia was that people were afraid to talk about it because we didn’t want to say the wrong thing. And that’s the opposite of what we should be doing.

I had conversations that challenged what I’d learned at school about First Nations and sovereignty (I grew up in a very white country town). By accepting that, yes, the way I was brought up meant there was some inherent racism, it presented an opportunity to educate myself and learn.

I think in terms of trying to have behaviours change, being curious is a really good place to start. Listen to different people, have empathy, put yourself in that person’s shoes, and understand what it would be like from their perspective.


What have been some of the challenges your organisation has faced?

We’re constantly hampered by a lack of resources. We’re a volunteer-powered organisation, with just a few people employed on a casual basis.


For Wild Places primarily runs off of volunteer support


We have very little ongoing funding and rely on grants and membership to keep the organisation’s metaphorical lights on. We run off the smell of a sweaty t-shirt, but we also want to grow, so we can create a more positive impact, but to do that, we need a sustainable income and that can be really difficult to find.


What’s next for the For Wild Places and how will receiving The North Face Explore Fund grant help you get there?

We’ve been wanting to put on an FWP Camp for a long time, and thanks to The North Face Explore Fund, it’s finally happening. We are hoping this inaugural camp will be the first of many that will combine education, empowerment, and the environment, in a scenic, inspiring and cultural place.

The races are great, but often the focus is on the race itself, whereas a camp gives us a chance to really slow down over a period of several days and bring a smaller group of people together, so you actually have a chance to properly connect.


For Wild Places is adding a campout to its events to encourage greater community connection


It’s awesome to have the support of The North Face, as it’s a legacy brand and this kind of partnership really helps us reach a new audience and gain credibility as a young, growing organisation.

How can We Are Explorers readers help support your cause?

There are so many ways!

In order of effort involved; follow us on social media (@forwildplaces), subscribe to our newsletter, come along to one of our events, or become a member.

In addition to that, picking up a few bits of rubbish next time you’re out on the trails, abiding by the ‘track closed’ sign, and sticking to the trails are all ways you can help protect the natural ecosystems we are so lucky to run, hike, swim, and bike in.