The French Creek Recreational Trails Inc. is hosting its second annual Trail Blazer 15,000- and 5,000-meter runs Sunday 10 in honor of the late Tom McNally, who was instrumental in the development of Ernst Trail.

The race will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Ernst Conservation Seed facility on Mercer Pike, just south of the center trailhead parking area. The 15K race will commerce first and travel 1/4-mile down Mercer Pike to the Ernst Trail where it turns right onto the trail, heading toward Meadville. The course covers the entire length of the existing trail (approximately nine miles).

A popular local businessman and community sports enthusiast, McNally died in 2008 after a battle with a rare form of cancer; however, the French Creek Recreational Trails Board along with his family wants to keep his vision of the trail alive through this event. All of the proceeds will benefit the Tom McNally Maintenance Fund.

The French Creek Recreational Trails Inc. is a fully volunteer organization that comprises community members. The group is charged with the full operation and maintenance of the Ernst Trail.

The 5K will start about 10 minutes later and take the same course; however, it will turn around after 1.55 miles have been covered and head back to Ernst Conservation Seed, the point of the finish line.

This year’s race is being co-coordinated by three Meadville Area Senior High School students for their senior project: Heather Ziegler, Olivia Raczka Madison Kassab. “We wanted to do something unique for our project and since we are all cross-country runners, we thought taking over this race would be fun as well as a good project,” Ziegler said.

So far, Ziegler, Raczka and Kassab have brought some different elements to the event that its first year did not have. First, the start time was moved from 8 a.m. to 7:30 in an attempt to avoid the heat of the day. Last year’s race was close to the 80-degree mark at the start line. Moving the time ahead by a half hour will help those running the longer race.

Other changes include the addition of a disc jockey at the start/finish area to provide music and entertainment for racers and spectators. Also, the girls are planning a basket raffle to increase revenue for the trails group — including a movie package and a candy basket. Furthermore, they have added to the awards this year by including Masters and Grand Masters awards for both the 5K and 15K. Masters placements are for those ages 40 to 59; Grand Masters are those ages 60 and older.

Registration is still open and available the day of the race from 6 to 7:20 a.m. Forms can also be downloaded at ernsttrail.org.

Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is vice president of The Wesbury Foundation and serves as an officer with the Crawford Health Improvement Coalition.

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