By Scott Sullivan
The 19th annual Mt. Baldhead Challenge charity road and trail runs Saturday, Sept. 8, bring new courses and ways to think about our community.
How about we work together to build ourselves as a year-round place to live, visit and do business?
Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club organizers plan to showcase the area’s beauty via unique courses and more attractions, showing how entities with diverse skills and sometimes viewpoints can coalesce to share what we all enjoy with “the world.”
The first 500 runners and walkers to complete the 12.4-mile “extreme” course or 6.4-mile “short” one — which will begin with a 9 a.m. “simul-start” across the river from each other — will receive custom ceramic medals courtesy of Ox-Bow art school and Saugatuck Center for the Arts children.
As also befits an Art Coast of Michigan event, top men’s and women’s overall and masters (age 40 and older) finishers will received limited-edition Mt. Baldhead prints courtesy of Saugatuck artist James Brandess.
Wicks Park in downtown Saugatuck will be ground zero for both races, with the “extreme” one starting and both ending there. “Short” course runners should arrive there no later than 8:30 a.m. to be shuttled by Saugatuck Public Schools buses to their remote start across the Kalamazoo River to where Park and Bliss streets convene.
Both 9 a.m. starts for West Michigan’s Ultimate Multi-Terrain Runs will commence with a mid-river cannon blast from on board the Harbor Duck World War II amphibious vehicle turned-into-a popular local guided touring vessel.
Races will end with medal-draped finishers and friends re-energizing with free post-race goodies, plus Saugatuck Brewing Co.’s new Mt. Baldy Blonde blood-orange brew and other light beer favorites. Hungry to wash it down? Dig into special eats from the Saugatuck gourmet diner GROW.
The “short” race — formerly 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and also named for Mt. Baldhead, even though it never included the 302 steps to the dune’s summit — now will. As will the “extreme” version, now 5K longer than its past 9.3-mile version.
Wait, there’s more. Ox-Bow has cleared a 1-plus-mile trail looping up to what locals know as the Crow’s Nest. Good luck running that, unless you are an Olympian.
Organizers encourage mortals to take time they need to enjoy the experience. Walk where you must, letting speedsters pass. Enjoy wooded “silence” — which soon turns symphonic with birdcalls and sounds from the river glittering far below, leading to the summit. See why the Crow’s Nest view is revered by hikers who have scaled its past trails.
Then come back down and face the steps to the panorama as seen from atop “Baldy.” Whew!
Cheering your achievement atop the sand dune will be live Saugatuck High School band music. Then through dune-ridge trails down to cut through the Dune Ridge development, then keep running riverside through Tower Marina and back to Wicks Park to celebrate what you have done.
Fun will start Friday, Sept. 7, with pre-race packet pickup in Wicks Park from 4 to 7 p.m. A free Little Feet, Big Feat run around the park — as many or few laps as children like — will start at 6 p.m. and offer finishers ribbons and Popsicles afterward.
A first-ever Baldy Bar Crawl Saturday after the race from 4 until 9 p.m. offers participants free Interurban transport between six local favorites — Saugatuck Brewing Co., The BARge, Mermaid, The Butler Borrowed Time and Sandbar (cash only), all pouring Baldy Blonde among other favorites.
Have your server or bartender mark off your complementary punch card and you’ll be entered to win three prizes:
1) A custom Coleman Throwback Cooler, two SBC thermoses and $75 SBC gift card.
2) An insulated 6-pack can sleeve, two SBC tumblers and $50 SBC gift card.
3) Two SBC bottled armors and a $25 gift card.
Event proceeds will go to SHS Interact Club missions to the Dominican Republic, Douglas Christian Neighbors food and clothing pantries, Rotary student scholarships and many others.
Sponsors to date include Cottage Home, Saugatuck Brewing Co., American Lighting Brands, JPD Construction, Raymond James of Holland, Holland Hospital, Twisthink, The Commercial Record, Hilliard Lyons, Gentex, Aquafina, Century 21 Affiliated of Douglas/Bill Underdown, Huntington Bank, Chemical Bank, Lake Michigan Credit Union, James Brandess Studios and Gallery, Spectators Restaurant, Gazelle Sports, the Harbor Duck, Far Gaze Point Cottage, DellaVecchia Dental Services, Wunder Roofing, Shoreline Realtors/Rob Joon, Amazwi Contemporary Art, The Butler and LadyHawk Nutrition.
Essential partners are Saugatuck and Douglas cities, the Saugatuck Township Fire District, Saugat-uck Township, Saugatuck Public Schools, Allegan County Sheriff’s deputies, Douglas Police, both cities’ public works departments, the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau and many others.
Pre-registration through Sept. 6 costs $35 for both races and includes a high-quality “Baldy 2.0” tech shirt. To do so, go to https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Saugatuck/MtBaldheadChallenge or macsportstiming.com. Registration after Sept. 6 or on race day costs $50 for both races.
For more information, visit mtbaldheadchallenge. com, visit the race Facebook page or call (269) 857-2570.