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Fredericksburg tames ‘rogue’ turkey-day trot

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The alternative Thanksgiving Day turkey trot in downtown Fredericksburg won’t be allowed to go rogue this year.

City officials started contacting downtown resident Rabah Sbitani on Nov. 7 to tell him the “Thanksgiving Day Trot,” as he called it on his Facebook page, couldn’t go forward without a special-event application.

Economic Development and Tourism Director Karen Hedelt sent a certified letter on Nov. 7 requesting the application. City Attorney Kathleen Dooley followed that up a week later with an email and a second letter.

Dooley noted that city code states that “any event with more than 20 participants, held on city streets, needs a special permit” and that it is a class 3 misdemeanor to “organize, direct or lead an event without a permit.”

A class 3 misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.

Sbitani submitted an application, including the course route and proof of liability insurance for the event, which cost $365. Hedelt notified him in a letter on Wednesday that the application was approved “on a provisional, one-year-only basis.”

Last year, Sbitani announced via Facebook that he would continue his family’s tradition of taking a jog along downtown streets on Thanksgiving morning despite the decision of the YMCA to move the official Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot race to Central Park. Sbitani offered “rogue runner” T-shirts to commemorate his event, which he mapped out over a 5K route.

About 150 people took part in the unofficial event downtown last Thanksgiving, while the YMCA event drew about 3,600 to Central Park for its inaugural run there.

After Sbitani began a Facebook page about this year’s “Thanksgiving Day Trot,” Hedelt said she got questions from city employees about the event because they knew the city’s requirements for other groups that hold runs and walks on city streets and sidewalks.

The concern, she said, is public safety.

In 2011, she approached organizers of the YMCA run after hearing concerns from people who operate large events and people with international experience who participated in the race. They felt the crowds had made it congested and dangerous. Nearly 4000 people ran that year.

“That’s why we said, cap your event, start it in stages or find another location,” Hedelt said.

The YMCA ultimately chose to move its event to Central Park, where the 5K was run last November and will be held again this year. That course can handle up to 8,000 runners, organizer Terry McLaughlin said.

But Sbitani and others missed the tradition of the downtown race.

The YMCA event ran along downtown streets for 19 years. For 17 of them, the race started at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. But its growth led to a new starting point at James Monroe High School for 2010 and 2011.

The YMCA had 2,100 people registered for its 5K race as of Thursday and about 300 registered for the children’s 1-mile and ½-mile runs. McLaughlin expected that number to grow over the next few days.

People can continue to register up until race day. The children’s races are run in heats beginning at 7 a.m. The 5K Turkey Trot starts at 9:05 a.m. All events start at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center.

The city attached nine conditions to the permit for Sbitani’s run. In addition to the insurance, the event is capped at 160 participants, he must have course marshals in vests at all street crossings and a volunteer at the end of the procession. He also is not to promote the event further and it must remain a “casual run/walk/trot” and cannot be timed nor awards given.

Hedelt noted in her letter that, “The purpose of the process is to help protect event participants, organizers, the general public and the city.”

She noted that the late date of the application posed challenges for the city, especially in light of the YMCA event at the same time, which had long ago been approved.

Hedelt said the city’s resources, including fire, police and rescue personnel, are limited and some were already scheduled for the YMCA event.

Sbitani’s event, which he labeled “Turkey Not” in his application, begins at 9 a.m. in front of the downtown library. From there, it travels up Lewis Street to Washington Avenue, then to the Canal Path, onto the Heritage Trail and back to Caroline Street to the library. No streets are to be closed, and participants are to stay on sidewalks and trails, he said.

Sbitani said he supports the YMCA event and simply wanted to uphold his family traditions by continuing something downtown. He said his immediate family and extended family gather at Thanksgiving and enjoy getting outside in the morning.

“I fully support the YMCA run. I think people should go to it. It’s a fun, competitive event,” he said. “My intent has always been to continue my tradition and my family’s tradition. It’s just a family tradition, a community tradition and a downtown tradition.”

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

 

HELP THE FOOD BANK

Rabah Sbitani, with the downtown Thanksgiving Day Trot, is collecting food and donations to benefit the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. Anyone interested can give directly to the Food Bank online at fredfood.org or can drop canned food items at Riverby Books, 805 Caroline St., on Tuesday and Wednesday.

WANT TO RUN?

Registration for the YMCA Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot continues through Nov. 28. For details, pick up registration forms at the YMCA branches or online at racetimingunlimited.org.

The youth races and 5K all begin at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center. However, parking is not available there or at Wegmans, race organizer Terry McLaughlin said.

 

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