Running a 10-kilometer race will burn calories and improve your health. Beyond those benefits, an annual footrace contributes to reforestation and erosion prevention in Monterrey, Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey sponsors this multipurpose event each year, raising money to restore woodlands in the hills surrounding the city. The partnership between the consulate and a Mexican environmental group has put 90,000 trees in the ground, attempting to bring back forests cut down decades ago.

“Trees planted in 2009 are now five feet [1.5 meters] high and they are retaining soil and [carbon dioxide],” said Magdalena Rovalo Merino, a biologist and the director-general of the nongovernmental organization Pronatura Noreste A.C., part of Pronatura Mexico. She said the group hopes the reforestation effort will grow to include 100,000 trees in 2015.

The consulate began sponsoring the Green Race six years ago to help fund the reforestation effort. The race has become popular among the city’s runners, who call it “la carrera del consulado [the Consulate Run].”

Runners head to the finish line in the Green Race, sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey. (USCG-Monterrey)

The city of Monterrey is nestled in a valley. In the mid-20th century, people began settling on the hillsides as well. Homebuilders who cleared trees and built homes failed to foresee that denuded hillsides would lead to erosion and flooding when heavy rains and hurricanes sweep across the eastern city in Nuevo Leon state.

Wildlife was displaced, and the risk of wildfires increased, Rovalo said.

The reforestation supported by the Green Race has met with the sort of disappointments any gardener knows. The oldest trees are well established, Rovalo said, but drought has killed large numbers of the fragile young trees.

As the trees grow, so does the environmental awareness of the city’s citizens, Rovalo said. “We have invited runners and volunteers each year to help us planting the trees.” Media coverage of the Green Race has helped build a better understanding of how deforestation can contribute to larger problems, such as urban air quality and flash flooding.

Volunteers help in the reforestation project. (Pronatura Noreste A.C.)

The reforestation project also has improved Monterrey’s understanding of the complex carbon cycle — that forests absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere help to lessen the heat-trapping phenomenon of the greenhouse effect.

Pronatura has worked for more than 20 years to preserve and restore ecosystems in northwestern Mexico. The organization works in environmental education, endangered species protection and climate change response.

In upcoming projects, Pronatura plans a reforestation project in the San Juan River basin in Nuevo Leon, an important fresh water source for Monterrey, Rovalo said.

The consulate’s sponsorship of the Green Race is one of many initiatives sponsored by embassies and consulates worldwide in the U.S. Department of State’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative.