ROANOKE, Va. -

The path runners follow for the Blue Ridge Marathon is known for it's grueling uphill climb.

Navigating the course is a challenge on its own, which is why volunteers want to make sure it's free of other obstacles like garbage.

"The marathon draws competitors from many other states and some from other countries," said Heidi Ketler, chair of the Roanoke Valley chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  "When (runners) come here to Roanoke, we'd like to just show them the pride we have in this city."

In the weeks leading up to the marathon, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway has spent time cleaning up areas around Mill Mountain.

It's one of many ways the non-profit group works to keep the region's largest national park looking good year-round.

"We carry out a lot of various projects, which are a means of connecting people with the resource that is the Blue Ridge Parkway," Ketler said.

The "friends" organization is a volunteer unit of the National Park Service.  They help employees with a variety of tasks along all 469 miles of the parkway.

"What our volunteers are able to do is alleviate some of the needs that exist," said Fernando Gracia, community outreach director for Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"Recently, some of us got chain saw certified," Ketler said.  "Now we can help clear trails of fallen trees, when the park service needs help with that."

Their work saves the government valuable money and gives citizens a chance to interact with a prominent landmark in their community.

"These are your parks," said Gracia.  "It's all of our responsibility to help maintain them and preserve them for our future generations."