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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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Dueling Turkey Trot races planned in Fredericksburg

RELATED: Fallen racer is thankful for rescuers – Last year on Thanksgiving Day, Claude Smoak was saved by strangers after he collapsed during the Turkey Trot.

Runners gather at the start of the Turkey Trot in downtown Fredericksburg in 2009. Photo by Suzanne Carr-Rossi.

There will be two Turkey Trot runs this year in Fredericksburg: the official race that’s expected to draw thousands to Central Park and a “rogue” run that starts at the course’s traditional downtown location.

The Turkey Trot has been in downtown Fredericksburg on Thanksgiving morning the past 19 years. For most of that time, the race started at the headquarters of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library on Caroline Street and wound around downtown. For the past two years, the race has started and ended at James Monroe High School and included Washington Avenue and Sunken Road and the streets in between.

Last year, nearly 4,000 people participated in the five-kilometer Turkey Trot and one-mile youth run. Some residents along the course complained to the city that the large race made it impossible for them to travel to and from their homes for holiday gatherings.

Because of these concerns and anticipated future growth, the Turkey Trot and youth run were moved to Central Park this year. The race will start and finish at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center and include parts of Carl D. Silver Parkway, Trade Street and Central Park Boulevard.

Race director Terry McLaughlin said he liked having the event downtown, but said “we just couldn’t accommodate it” due to the large numbers of runners.

About 3,000 people had signed up for the Turkey Trot as of Tuesday afternoon, along with another 550 for the youth run. More in-person signups are expected Wednesday and Thursday.

McLaughlin encourages people to arrive at least an hour before their race to ensure they can get to the start line on time. He thinks the new course will work well and won’t affect as many residents.

Others aren’t so sure. Many people have expressed dismay about the event moving out of downtown due to the tradition and opportunity to attract visitors into the central business district.

Some people have decided they aren’t going to accept the decision to move the race. Fredericksburg resident Rabah Sbitani started a group on Facebook earlier this month seeking to bring people downtown Thanksgiving morning to run the traditional route.

The Facebook group is called “Downtown Turkey Trot 2012 — Ruffle Some Feathers.” As of Tuesday afternoon, 47 people had indicated on Facebook that they were going.

Sbitani wrote on the public event page that he will begin his five-kilometer run from the library at 9 a.m., the Turkey Trot’s traditional start time. He plans to bring “Turkey Trot Rogue Runner” T-shirts for the first 50 people that come to jog with him.

“If you would like to continue the 20-year tradition of a downtown run, walk, jog, or stroll with the family on Thanksgiving morning in beautiful Downtown Fred…. then stay downtown,” he wrote on the Facebook invite.

Sbitani could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Whether the official Turkey Trot race remains in Central Park in future years is up in the air for now, said Karen Hedelt, Fredericksburg’s economic development and tourism director. She said she understands the resistance from those who want it to stay downtown, and said officials from the city and Rappahannock Area YMCA will evaluate how this year’s event goes.

If the Turkey Trot returns to downtown, Hedelt said, it’s possible the race times would be staggered to accommodate bigger crowds.

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