BY CAROL SOUTH
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Build memories, burn calories and boost the community: Turkey Trot has it all.
The fifth annual Thanksgiving morning run/walk through Traverse City should draw nearly 3,000 participants while raising money for local nonprofit organizations.
The gathering has become a local institution, and blossomed from 462 people in 2008. That year, inspired by Turkey Trot events in other cities, Brian and Enid Hagerty wondered why Traverse City did not have one.
So they decided to make it happen and in six weeks had pulled it all together.
Each year since, Turkey Trot has grown — from the surprise tripling of their initial hoped-for 150 attendees in 2008 to last year's 2,000 runners and walkers. The event now begins and ends at Thirlby Field to accommodate the crowds. A five-mile run has been added this year to the 5K run/walk.
"People were asking for longer distances," said Enid Hagerty.
Turkey Trot proceeds, drawn from entry fees and a silent auction, have grown accordingly. The estimated five-year total after Thursday's event should surpass $100,000 donated to area charities.
"I really didn't have a clue we'd get this big," said Hagerty, noting that a mascot, "Butterball" the turkey, joins Turkey Trot his year.
"It's nice that people are enjoying it and making it a family tradition," she added.
Tom and Molly Troost and their four children will join the fun for the fifth straight year.
"It's great exercise for later in the day; you don't feel quite as guilty," Tom Troost said.
Troost contrasts the Turkey Trot with some of the more high-profile runs and walks in town over the summer. Thursday's event is like a big neighborhood party.
"The Cherry Festival Run is a lot of fun but there are a lot of people from out of town," he said. "But the Turkey Trot is all locals. It's a wonderful community event."
Major beneficiaries for the 2012 Turkey Trot are the March of Dimes, Traverse City Area Public Schools and Angel Care. Minor charities are Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan, Traverse Region Event Directive and TART Trails. Donations of canned good will be accepted for the St. Francis Food Pantry and of dog food and pet supplies for H.A.N.D.D.S. to the Rescue.
About 20 March of Dimes volunteers are helping out before and during the Turkey Trot event.
"Some of the money stays here and some of the money goes to the national organization for research," said Gina Schulz, the division director for the region, including northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
The volunteer roster kept pace with the expanding Turkey Trot, allowing the Hagertys in recent years to share a Thanksgiving meal with their family and friends. The team still needs road marshal volunteers. Anyone interested should dress warmly for outside duty and arrive at 7:30 a.m. on the north side of Thirlby Field to check in.
TART Trail volunteers shoulder the final Turkey Trot duty: clean up.
"They're our race sweepers: the last people to go through," said Hagerty.