Bob Ross-inspired Happy Little Virtual 5K registration closes March 1

Feb. 19, 2021

a small group of masked women and men stand with planted trees and a Happy Little Trees Ahead green sign at Higgins Lake State Park

"I like trees that don't just look like future telephone poles. They've got character. Some of them, they're like people. Some of them have a few flaws in them, some of them are a little heavier, some are a little skinnier, something like so, and some of them maybe have a little tilt in their world, and that's okay."

- Bob Ross, "The Joy of Painting" series 26, episode 1, “In the Stillness of Morning.”

Bob Ross-inspired Happy Little Virtual 5K registration closes March 1

Public invited to ‘run (or walk) for the trees’ at Michigan state parks; participants can complete their 5K anywhere outdoors

It started in 2019, during the Michigan state parks centennial, as a way to encourage volunteers to help plant trees at state park locations hard hit by invasive pests and tree diseases. Two years later, the partnership between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Bob Ross Inc. is going strong, now with hundreds of volunteers, thousands of 5K race participants and lots of hope on the horizon for the future of “happy little trees” throughout Michigan.

Those who want to be a part of the 2021 Happy Little 5K (April 22-30) need to act fast; registration closes March 1. Last year’s 5K welcomed 20,000 racers. Nearly 75% of them hailed from Michigan, but all 50 states were represented. In response to interest from folks outside the U.S., this year’s 5K has gone international; so far, registrations already include participants from Australia, England and Mexico!

A woman wearing white sunglasses and Happy Little Trees T-shirt smiles and holds up her medal during 2020 race“The Happy Little 5K and the connection to Bob Ross’ love of nature and positivity have helped shine a big spotlight on the importance of tree planting and protection efforts that support the ecology and natural areas at Michigan state parks,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “No matter how or where you choose to complete this ‘run for the trees,’ your participation in this virtual race will make a real difference.”

Participant details, race swag

Earth Day and Arbor Day bookend this state parks-supporting race. Participants can complete their 5K at state parks or anywhere outdoors anytime between April 22-30. The cost is $34 per person, and every participant gets a keepsake Happy Little T-shirt, a commemorative bib number and a finisher’s medal featuring a reproduction of a real Bob Ross painting. The finisher's medal is inspired by the painting Ross did during "The Joy of Painting" series 26, episode 1, “In the Stillness of Morning.”

2021 Happy Little Trees medalThis year, the DNR is offering a special registration rate for groups of 10 or more. For details, email Michelle O’Kelly at

All proceeds for this year’s event will support tree-planting and forest protection efforts (such as invasive plant and forest pest management and early detection surveys) in state parks and recreation areas, including locations affected by tree pests and diseases like emerald ash borer and oak wilt.

Although outdoor exercise offers a great opportunity to remain socially distanced, current public health and safety guidelines must still be followed to help slow the spread of COVID-19. As always, keep at least 6 feet between yourself and people from other households. Better yet, make it a (home) run and start your race by heading out your front door!

Inspiration for the partnership

the green Happy Little Trees Ahead sign featuring tree outlines and the likeness of Bob RossPeople around the world are familiar with the work and personality of Bob Ross, the American painter, art instructor and television host who in the ’80s and ’90s shared his love for painting and the environment with millions of viewers on the PBS show, “The Joy of Painting.” Ross was known for demonstrating seemingly simple brushstrokes that brought gorgeous landscapes – full of happy little trees – to life on the canvas.

During the Michigan state parks centennial in 2019, the DNR Parks and Recreation Division pitched a partnership idea to Bob Ross Inc. to help raise awareness of forest protection efforts to help expand the division’s stewardship efforts. The program is now known as Happy Little Trees.

“It is rare we get to be part of a program that so beautifully exemplifies the Bob Ross legacy and his appreciation for nature as the Happy Little Trees planting program with the Michigan DNR,” said Sarah Strohl, Bob Ross Inc. executive assistant. "It has been such an absolute privilege and a joy and something that Bob would have greatly approved of."

How the program works

Through a partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections, seeds are placed in the care of inmates in one of the department’s correctional education programs where inmates learn horticultural practices and help raise new trees for replanting. Collection of local native seeds is key to growing trees, shrubs, grasses and plant products for use in state parks within the same geographical region to provide the best opportunity to survive and to emulate local plant communities.

Two men and a woman wearing Happy Little T-shirts pose with a tree they are planting at Belle Isle in DetroitThe program has produced more than 100,000 native plants, shrubs and trees since its start in 2004. With support from the Bob Ross partnership, more than 2,100 trees have been planted in 20 state parks across Michigan. The U.S. Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chateau Grand Traverse also have provided significant support for the program. Visitors to state parks where trees have been planted will see bright green “Happy Little Trees Ahead” signs to note the program’s important contributions.

Learn more about the Happy Little 5K and the tree-planting program at And don't forget, registration for this year's race closes March 1!

/Note to editors: Media contact: Michelle O'Kelly, 517-881-5884. Accompanying photos are available below for download. All photos courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources unless stated otherwise. Caption information follows./