Weekly Feature

2017-06-01 / Front Page

Cross-country trek calls attention to world’s water insecurity

by ALAN RIZZO
Reporter


Walking thousands of miles to raise awareness and funds to fight water insecurity in Tanzania, James Leitner passes through Prospect Park in Buffalo on Tuesday, bound for the Peace Bridge. Leitner is on a 3,215-mile solo trek, which began in Princeton, New Jersey, and will end in San Francisco. 
Photo by Alan Rizzo Walking thousands of miles to raise awareness and funds to fight water insecurity in Tanzania, James Leitner passes through Prospect Park in Buffalo on Tuesday, bound for the Peace Bridge. Leitner is on a 3,215-mile solo trek, which began in Princeton, New Jersey, and will end in San Francisco. Photo by Alan Rizzo Traveling from New Jersey to San Francisco and aiming to increase the visibility of water insecurity worldwide, James Leitner is transporting 90 pounds of water coast to coast — on foot.

When he’s done, he’ll have covered 3,215 miles, the same distance a woman in countries such as Tanzania would walk during a year in search of water. It’s a feat that’s also aimed at raising money to repair 307 broken wells in the Mara Region of Tanzania through the nonprofit Philadelphia Serengeti Alliance.

For Leitner — who passed through Buffalo’s Prospect Park on Tuesday, and through Lancaster, Depew and Cheektowaga during the holiday weekend — the journey is part of a passion for water issues that he developed at age 17.

He said he became interested in the topic as a junior in high school, when doing research for a paper on global issues.

Leitner chose water and was floored when he discovered that 1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to clean drinking water.

“I really had no idea that water was an issue, because it was always readily available and accessible,” he said. “The idea that people didn’t have clean drinking water just really shell-shocked me.”

That discovery fueled a lasting desire to volunteer for nonprofits such as the Philadelphia Serengeti Alliance, and to run marathons with 45-pound containers of water to raise awareness.

On a typical day in his cross-country journey, during which he covers about 22 to 25 miles, Leitner said he’s mostly preoccupied with pulling his 90-pound cart and monitoring his body’s condition, but he also sends texts to his family on breaks, listens to music on Spotify and enjoys the view as he walks, on the recommendation of a fellow trekker.

“He’s done the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, and he pretty much told me to think of [the trip] as a vacation,” he said. “You’re not going by too fast, everyone can talk to you, so just enjoy each part that you see.”

Leitner said that so far, he’s learned to get moving early to beat the heat — 6:30 a.m. on most days — and to plan his lodging in advance, but sometimes there’s no place to stay, and he’s had to rely on the kindness of strangers.

In one instance recently, when he accidentally found himself in the Letchworth State Park visitor’s center due to a GPS miscalculation, Leitner said he met a Wyoming County woman who offered him food and lodging in exchange for sharing his experiences as an environmental science major with her high-school-age son.

“I was like, ‘Yes,’” he said. “It immediately lifted my mood, and I could have teared up from joy.”

From Buffalo, Leitner plans to cross the Peace Bridge into Ontario, Canada, and journey toward Flint, Michigan, where he will stop for a few days to volunteer and learn about local water issues.

He said he ultimately plans to continue working to end water insecurity by doing nonprofit watershed management work in Africa, helping to raise funds in the U.S. and then traveling overseas to help communities install and maintain wells.

“In the end, my personal mission is to help provide people of the globe with clean drinking water,” he said. “Water is something that we don’t think about until it’s really taken away, and it’s absolutely necessary for everything.”

To track Leitner’s cross-country journey on social media, follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/175956796241430/, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missioncleanh2o, and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/missioncleanh2o/?hl=en.

To donate to Leitner’s cause and learn more about his mission, visit http://missioncleanwater.com/.

email: arizzo@beenews.com

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