Who are the turkeys who eliminated the Turkey Trot?
Ask any child on the South Shore and they’ll likely agree that Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year.
For the first time in nearly three decades children won’t have an opportunity to provide the family dinner for Turkey Day.
Four-foot snowstorms never canceled the Turkey Trot, but city budget cuts have eliminated the traditional wholesome event, which attracted more than 200 runners in recent years.
The popular pre-Thanksgiving run mixed friendly competition and got everyone in holiday spirit by awarding such prizes as turkeys, chickens, ducks and pumpkin pies to the top finishers. For $2, children could run for a bird and were treated to a lunch consisting of a hot dog, potato chips and a soft drink.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s inexpensive programs that are being eliminated. Those are the things that benefit a majority of the community,” said John Collins, sports coordinator for the city of South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation, whose department has offered the Trot since 1979. “We had mixed emotions about (cutting it), but the event was costing us money, so we were told by the city council that we need to operate like a business and make money.”
The Turkey Trot, Halloween Carnival and Bijou Fair were sliced as part of the $200,000 recreational cutbacks from the city’s general fund. They haven’t been revenue producers, but in terms of a $1.4 million budget deficit how much of a difference can it make by eliminating these events?
“I’m disappointed that the recreation department is cutting sporting events as a way to (balance the budget). A lot of youth in this community really don’t have a lot to do. You look at this as something that kids participate in more than adults, and it hurts to see it eliminated,” said Austin Angell, a 23-year South Tahoe Middle School cross-country coach who assisted in running seven previous Turkey Trots. “To strip the program because you don’t have enough funding is arbitrary. I know everyone has budget problems.”
A city should be responsible to its children first. By doing away with some of their favorite pastimes, the city is showing the community that children have a low priority here.
Maybe the city could raise the fees for adult softball, volleyball and basketball in the future and use the additional monies to bring back some of these events.
“We had a great time running that program. It’s a great opportunity to show the community what the recreation department can do for them. But it was losing money for us and the bottom line is we can’t afford to do that anymore,” Collins said.
The Turkey Trot’s primary costs are staffing and poultry. In recent years the recreation department has bought the turkeys, but Angell remembers when they were donated along with other prizes.
“I know it’s expensive to put on this stuff, but there are always ways to get donations. People are willing to donate,” Angell said.
Fortunately our small community has two recreation departments. Kahle Community Center and the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department are contemplating starting its own Turkey Trot.
“It would be a major loss to the community as far as not hosting this event any more. Almost everyone has been to the Turkey Trot. We’re looking from the Kahle Park side to figure out how we can keep this event going,” said Anthony Davis, a Kahle recreation leader II, whose job it is to come up with activity ideas and produce them. “Hopefully we can bring something in and change it, and give the community back something that is lost before it is actually lost.”
But Kahle shouldn’t be obligated to make up for the city’s shortcomings. The center provided a pre-Halloween activity – the Harvest Run – on Saturday, giving away pumpkins in the process.
Davis says Kahle can replace the Turkey Trot with volunteer help.
“Volunteers are the key,” he said. “Maybe we can start using other people as volunteers … maybe some of the kids getting in trouble. Instead of cleaning schools, picking up trash on the road, I believe it would be better to have these kids working on some of these events and getting them more involved in our community. Maybe it would turn some of these kids around.”
What do I tell my boys in a few weeks when they ask, “Dad, aren’t you taking us to the Turkey Trot?” I’ll have to tell them, ‘Sorry, you weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the 1980s when the city cared more about its children.’
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