By David Troppens

 Fenton Twp. —  Running traditions lie deep in the tri-county area.

 The AppleFest Run and the Bastille Day Run are two of the area’s greatest traditions. Another one since 2003 has been the Wednesday Night Races at the Park, held at Linden County Park.

 The event is now in its 17th year and going as strong as ever. Some of the racers listed in the results during those early seasons — like Linden varsity cross country coaches Brad Ferrara and Ben Cox — are now helping run the event, but little else has changed in the format.

 For 17 years, the event has given tri-county residents of all ages a chance to run a series of races during the summer. The younger competitors can run as little as a quarter-mile or people can run much as three miles for minimal cost and maximum fun.

 The event has always been a hit with the youngsters, giving children as young as 3 their first chance to run a competitive race and earn a ribbon while doing so.

 Wednesday was the third installment of this season’s race series. The final one is Wednesday with registration starting at 6 p.m. and the races starting at 6:30 p.m., starting with the shortest race.

 “The key is getting young kids out here excited about running,” Cox said. “That’s the best part. Just to see them light up and get excited about running around a field is awesome.”

 The event usually draws about 50 athletes, and is a hit with families. It isn’t uncommon to have children run shorter races while older siblings or parents may run a longer race later during the event. The last week is usually the highest attended, so with good weather its likely Wednesday’s event should eclipse this years 50-something crowds.

 “Consistency and letting the community and kids know that we are here is important,” Ferrara said. “Once they come out, we want to make sure they are having a good time. Our high school does a good job. The kids, the community and the adults always seem to enjoy themselves and that’s important.”

 The event has been aided by the Greater Flint Athletic Club (GFAC) this year. This is the first year the organization has set up a tent with children freebies during the races. The event is run by the Linden Community Education program with the help of Linden’s cross country programs. Many cross country runners help with the race, aiding runners around the course.

 “Our goal is to create camaraderie and community through athletics — running, hiking and swimming in the area,” GFAC youth sports coordinator Lacey Sapkiewicz said. “Specifically, what we are trying to do by partnering with the races is bring out more families and bring the kids out. We are trying to create a whole youth aspect while building a sense of community among the younger population — getting them involved and active. We wanted to partner with Linden because they already have an awesome established race to attract more of our members out here.”

 Sapkiewicz said the relationship has been a success.

 “The reception has been really great,” Sapkiewicz said. “We’ve been trying to cross-promote it on our social media and our Facebook, so we are trying to get the message out. I think the weather in this particular area has been tough. The first couple of weeks were wet and muddy and not it’s incredibly hot. It’s probably impacted the number of people we’ve had come out, but we’ve had a lot of members that have never been to the Linden races before coming out for the first time, and they are excited about that.”

 “It’s been great having their support,” Cox said. “They’ve been coming out to the races and providing a little bit of help. We are merging our messages of getting people active and getting people involved in the community and community events. It’s great having their support.”

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