By Scott Sullivan
It was themed “Baldy 2.0” for two reasons:
1) The 19th annual Mt. Baldhead Challenge Saturday was a reboot of the longtime favorite Saugatuck- Douglas road runs, and:
2) Festivities, which drew their best numbers in a decade and raised record proceeds for Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club-sponsored charities, also served as a “trial run,” if you will, for next year’s 20th annual celebration.
Most newly-introduced features worked — 12- and 6-something mile courses, both including a trail loop to the “Crow’s Nest” and back, then ascent of the 302 steps to the top of Mt. Baldhead, handmade art medals for every finisher, post-race beer mimosas and games in Saugatuck’s Wicks Park, multiple design concepts … in grand fashion.
There were learning-curve moments too. A portable sound system microphone jack failed onboard the Harbor Duck, which nonetheless reached mid-river in time for a very-audible Boyce Brothers-fired cannon shot simul-start for both races. Post- race food sales were less than hoped for …
The “B, Y and 5-S” race directors team — Steve Baker, Chris Yoder, Megan Scheerhorn, Jack Sheridan, Gordon Stannis, Jim and Scott Sullivan — were ecstatic afterward.
“Now we’re looking to next year,” Stannis said.
Nathan VanderRoot, 22, of South Haven won the “short” race — which, at an estimated 6.8 miles (that’s just the horizontal part) wasn’t that short — in 47 minutes, 43 seconds. Annie Marie Niemiec, 55, of Holland paced the women in 59:25.
Also claiming limited-edition James Brandess prints of Mt. Baldhead and environs were masters (age 40 and older) champions Jim Springer, 55, of Saugatuck in 50:42 and Jamie VanderWoude, 40, of Grand Rapids (Niemiec was factored out as overall women’s winner) in 1:02:18. There were 228 finishers in that race.
Nick Bedbury, 29, of Holland triumphed in the “extreme” (12-plus-mile) Chal- lenge, which boasted 131 finishers, in 1:13:31. Melissa Moore, 31, of Chicago paced the women in 1:31:09.
Leading the masters were Dan Damaska, 43, of Portage in 1:28:35 and Laurie Birkholz, 43, of Saugatuck in 1:33:47.
Lead race sponsors Cottage Home, Saugatuck Brewing Co., American Lighting Brands, Twisthink, JPD Construction and Raymond James of Holland headed a the many whom donated in-kind, cash or other key event support.
When counts are completed, the 501c3 nonprofit Rotary chapter hopes to clear $15,000-plus to support causes such as Saugatuck High School Interact Club school-building missions in the Dominican Republic, SHS scholarships, Douglas Christian Neighbors food and clothing pantries, and many others.
Essential partners were Saugatuck and Douglas cities, the Saugatuck Township Fire District, Saugatuck Allegan County Sheriff’s deputies, Douglas police, both cities public works departments, Saugatuck Township and many others.
Plan now for the 20th annual Mt. Baldhead Challenge Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.