Chapel Hill News

Fundraiser blends tradition, trail run, biscuits

Runners take part in the New Hope Turkey Run on Nov. 12.
Runners take part in the New Hope Turkey Run on Nov. 12. Contributed photo

Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed; Marc Anthony and Cleopatra? Don’t “asp.” Nor did “Brangelina” reflect perfect coupledom, apparently.

No, if ever there was an enduring pair, it was the 35-year marriage of dry, crisp fall air and moist, warm biscuits offered up at the Nov. 12 New Hope Turkey Run, an annual four-mile trail run that raises money for the New Hope Improvement Association.

Canceled only twice – when Duke Forest was closed in 1996 in the wake of Hurricane Fran and in 2000 when the trails were again closed due to an epic ice storm – the event is a beloved and flavorful introduction to autumn, tempting all the senses.

Overall winner Zack Scholl (27:01) and female division winner Millie Long Barritt (29:19) were among those particularly eager to complete the out-and-back course descending from a Whitfield Road trailhead through Duke Forest and be first in line for the sumptuous, homemade breakfast treats awaiting them at the New Hope Fire Station/Community Center.

Scholl was more than a minute ahead of second- and third-place finishers Kevin Rumsey (28:08) and Charlie Schraeder (28:51).

“I did horribly last year due to the hills,” said Scholl, a Duke graduate school student, “so this year I really took advantage of the downhills, because I knew the (last) uphill would hurt me. ... And it did.”

Barritt bested Duke student Sandy Kendall (31:18) and perennial top-three finisher Rietta Couper (31:35).

“It was perfect weather; it felt great,” Barritt said, adding that her training has been alongside – or behind – her young children, who run for the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Pacers Youth Track Club. “My kids are keeping me in shape.”

Also winning prizes, many of them from Timberlyne Shopping Center sponsors like Sage Restaurant, the Chelsea Theater and Margaret’s Cantina, were the oldest male and female runners, Ralph LaForge and Supatra Campbell. Even a year older than their win last year, brother and sister duo Eli Chappell, 7, and Addy Chappell, 5, repeated their 2015 performances as the youngest male and youngest female finishers this year.

Staged in the Korstian Division of Duke Forest, the exact length of the race varies slightly from year to year, so there is no “course record.”

Other changes realized for the 2016 race included the size of the field of racers, which numbered just under 150 this year.

“It’s a little bigger this year,” race director Walter Fowler said. “I put some flyers out, and we had signs at the community center and out at each end of Whitfield Road.”

Pitching in to help with finish line timing this year was National Scholastic Athletics Foundation founder and chairman Jim Spier, who was once also the meet director for the Nike Cross-Country (high school) Nationals.”

But the real stars—if only for the loudest applause at the post-race party—were the biscuit-makers, Jim Worrell, Lee Carter, and Gary and Carolyn Higginbotham.

Fowler admitted that an influx of new talent behind the scenes will be needed at some point.

“We’re going to need to continue to find people from the neighborhoods with marketing degrees so we can ask them to help with advertising,” he said. “The biggest problem, though, is that the biscuit-makers aren’t going to be able to do this forever. Neither am I – I would have stopped doing this if everyone didn’t want to continue to support this.”

The enduring event still owed much to its unofficial matriarch, (Betty) Sue Duncan Whitfield, who died at her home a few years ago. Raised on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, she and her husband – owners of the Hollow Rock County Store on Erwin Road for over 25 years – were the last Whitfields to grace Whitfield Road. She was instrumental both in organizing the NHIA and the Turkey Run. In 2009, she received the Clarence F. Korstian Award in recognition of her exemplary support of Duke Forest.

Having grown up in the area, Millie Long Barritt fondly remembered the Whitfields’ presence at races staged decades ago.

“I ran this as a kid back in the day when Mr. Whitfield started the race with a shotgun,” she said, laughing.

With a bit of new blood, a bit of luck and attention to time-honored culinary arts, the happy “shotgun” marriage of brisk air and a fresh-baked breakfast will be sating appetites for fall fitness and fellowship and celebrating anniversaries for decades to come.