By Dan Guttenplan
---- — John Wile directed the inaugural Turkey Trot at Maudslay State Park in 1989 with a skeleton crew of volunteers. The race drew 65 runners, each of whom crossed the finish line to find a volunteer handing out popsicle sticks to record the order of finish.
Wile will direct the 25th annual Maudslay Turkey Trot Thursday. Since the race’s inception, it has grown into a chip-timed event for more than 1,500 runners. It has also spawned another race at Pipestave Hill in West Newbury, the Winner’s Circle Running Club Wild Turkey Trot, which draws 500 runners of its own.
“That first year, it was pretty cold out,” Wile said. “We had the old printer and popsicle sticks, and we put the sticks on a tree to post results. Initially, it was a benefit race, and I picked something out of thin air — the Newburyport Boosters. I gave them $200, which is the amount we raised minus expenses.”
Wile’s Turkey Trot races have raised more than $200,000 for local charities over the last 25 years. The proceeds from this year’s race will go to the Pettengill House, Our Neighbor’s Table, Opportunity Works, Maudslay Trust, Newburyport Enrichment Fund and Salvation Army.
Wile, a longtime member of Winner’s Circle Running Club, started Joppa Flats Running Club in 2011 along with a few other former WCRC members. The self-proclaimed founding fathers, who also include Bob Manning, John Leary, John Gangemi, Mike Fiene, Gary Passler and Eric Grelle, started the club in hopes of designating more money from races like the Turkey Trot to charities.
“The premise of the race was to donate all of our money after expenses to local charities,” Wile said. “People can get out, get a little exercise, say hi to people who are home for the holidays, and they know that charity is the essence.”
When Wile started Joppa Flats Running Club in 2011, the Winner’s Circle started a race of its own at Pipestave Hill in West Newbury. In his third year as Wild Turkey Trot race director, Scott Walsh says there is no bad blood between the Winner’s Circle members and the Joppa Flats founding fathers.
“I don’t see the other race being a rivalry,” Walsh said. “I never have. My focus has been establishing a community event in West Newbury for Greater Newburyport and Greater Haverhill. The Joppa Flats group wanted to take that race and do it themselves. We said, ‘Fine, go for it.’
“It’s been refreshing because it was getting too crowded at Maudslay,” Walsh said. “We’ve had runners thank us for moving it. Pipestave is a runner’s course, it’s not as crowded, more wide-open.”
The Wild Turkey Trot will offer $100 prizes for the male and female winners, as well as an added bonus this year of $100 for any male or female who can break the courses records. Tim Murtagh set the course record for men in 2011, finishing in 16:48. Stacia Theriault set the women’s record the same year in 21:56.
The Wild Turkey Trot, sponsored by Panera Bread, will raise money for the West Newbury Historical Society.
“Some of the money goes back to the (Winner’s Circle Running Club) to fund some our summer programs, like the Hershey (youth track program),” Walsh said.
The Turkey Trots
The 25th annual Maudslay Turkey Trot
When: Thanksgiving, 8:20 a.m.
Where: Maudslay State Park, Newburyport
Expected runners: 1,500
Early number pick-up: Wednesday (4-7 p.m.) at North End Boat Club
The Winner’s Circle Running Club Wild Turkey Trot
When: Thanksgiving, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Pipestave Hill. West Newbury
Expected runners: 500
Early number pick-up: Wednesday (6-9 p.m.) at Winner’s Circle Running Club