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Lee Benson, Deseret News
Melissa Marsted, author of "Buzzy and the Red Rock Canyons."

PARK CITY — To celebrate turning 50, Melissa Marsted decided to treat herself and signed up to run a 50-kilometer race on Antelope Island.

For some, running 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) all in the same day, let alone year, would not be looked on as an indulgence, but for a woman like Melissa, who started running in high school, then in college at Harvard, and even at the U.S. Olympic Trials (in 1998; she didn’t make the team but she clocked a PR of 2:56), it was about as good a way to welcome the start of the second half as she could think of.

And the thing about running at 50, you’re no longer trying to set world records or make Olympic teams; you can throttle back a little, take it easier, enjoy the journey.

That’s what Melissa was doing that day three years ago on an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake: taking her time, stopping to take pictures, talking to fellow runners, thinking.

The island’s grand desolation got her to thinking about nature. She wasn’t a native of the Mountain West. She grew up in Connecticut, studied classic Greek at Harvard, then lived on the California coast in Santa Barbara until a wildfire destroyed her home and she moved to Utah. It was supposed to be temporary stop gap. But then she started exploring, saw all the national parks and everything in between, and she was hooked.

When she was done with her run, she knew what she wanted to do: she wanted to write a book about Utah’s national parks, and she wanted to write it for kids, to help them appreciate what they have in their own backyard.

She drove to her home in Park City, turned on her laptop, and with the zeal of a convert, started to write.

• • •

“I wrote it in no time; it practically wrote itself,” Melissa remembers as she sits in that same Park City house three years later, holding a copy of “Buzzy and the Red Rock Canyons” in her hand.

Lee Benson, Deseret News
Melissa Marsted, author of "Buzzy and the Red Rock Canyons."

It’s an elegant little book, 51 pages in all, written for kids but with artwork and information for all ages. Clearly it’s a labor of love.

“I’ve just fallen in love with Utah,” says Melissa. “I am constantly pinching myself, that I get to live here, that I get to enjoy the four seasons and all the beauty that surrounds us.”

In her book, the host for the tour around the Beehive State is a bumblebee named Buzzy who buzzes around the national parks of Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion, encountering highlights at each one — from Delicate Arch to Island in the Sky to the Castle to Thor’s Hammer to Kolob Arch — while running into fellow indigenous animals such as magpies, mule deer, desert cottontails, marmots, bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons and spotted owls.

Melissa didn’t have a hard time finding a publisher for her book. She owns Lucky Penny Publications (luckypennypublications.com), a company she founded as an ebook publisher in 2011 to help aspiring writers (like herself) find affordable ways to publish.

Since “Buzzy” was released earlier this year, she has acted as her own distributor, placing it in bookstores and other outlets such as REI along the Wasatch Front and at various places in and near the national parks — giving her a convenient excuse to visit them again and again.

Not only that, “Buzzy” has sequels. Melissa has gone on to write “Casey Cruises California,” featuring a quail named Casey who escorts a tour of nine California national parks, and “Tiny’s Grand Adventure,” featuring Tiny the hummingbird guiding a tour through seven national parks in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

And yes, more are on the way — one from the South Dakota area and another from the Northwest. Before she’s through, Melissa might write about all 58 national parks in the U.S. — and then get started on the monuments.

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“I’ve discovered my life’s purpose,” wrote Melissa this year when Harvard asked her to update her life for the book it was publishing on the 30-year anniversary of alumni who graduated in 1988.

“It is to apply my courage, creativity, intuition and sense of adventure to write or publish outdoor adventure articles and national park books for children, and to advocate for the national park system, public lands, and the humanities while also encouraging individuals, young and old, to explore nature and live a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.”

Not bad, all that coming out of running 50K at 50.