Stuffing it to calories: Turkey Trot returns for Twin City runners


Runners head into the first turn Thursday at the start of the 10K run during the second annual Twin Cities Turkey Trot in downtown Benton Harbor. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Thanksgiving is a tradition that normally involves family and eating.

A few hundred that found themselves in Benton Harbor on Thursday morning threw in a twist to that tradition. Nearly 400 people from across the country and state ran and walked in the second annual Twin Cities Turkey Trot, which began just outside of Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park.

Among the few who withstood the sobering temperatures were two who were more accustomed to the south.

Alia Adams and Andy Wildman are from Tennessee, but spent the holiday in South Haven to visit with family from Grand Rapids.

The two recently got engaged and chose to celebrate with a run. Wildman and his father actually took on the first Turkey Trot held in Benton Harbor last year. Adams said this was only her second 5K.

“We’re not from Michigan originally,” Wildman said. “I’ve never lived anywhere this cold. I like running and felt this was a good way to get ready for all the calories we’re going to eat later.”

Marianne Groth, president of the SWMI RACERS, organized the 5K and 10K races around several Benton Harbor parks and monuments.

For the second time around, Groth said they were able to get the city to close the route to traffic. The event’s organizers released a survey after last year’s race and found the traffic to be a recurring concern.

This involved changing some of the routes so the city wouldn’t have to close as many streets.

“There’s more room for the runners to go,” Groth said. “On the 10K, we changed it to remove any trail running.”

With more participating in the run this year, Groth said there were more zip codes represented as families from all over the country were in town for Thanksgiving.

Runners came from as far as Alabama and Virginia. Registration was inside the Benton Harbor Public Library.

A few family members from North Carolina came up for the weekend and coordinated with others to wear turkey hats. Some had feathers, while others had drumsticks atop their heads.

Supporting the parks

Turkey Trots have picked up in popularity over the years as a way to exercise together on a day that is predominantly known for eating. Some have taken it a step further by dressing in goofy outfits and costumes for the race.

“The weather is different for people traveling. It can be a big difference,” Groth said. “We had a race like this in Niles, but this one gives people in the St. Joe-Benton Harbor area an opportunity for a closer race.”

Benton Harbor resident Jen Van Beek wore a turkey hat Thursday alongside her family, which included younger participants in strollers.

“I like supporting the parks district, so when the race moved here it was perfect,” Van Beek said.

Groth directs races for a lot of events, which is where she came up with the idea for a Turkey Trot last year.

The race began when the previous president of the Benton Harbor Parks and Recreation Conservancy was looking for a charitable event that would not only raise money, but introduce people to the parks in the area.

Funding raised from the race will go to programming and equipment for the parks as AEP was the title sponsor once more for the Turkey Trot.

“I’m really hoping we get to 500 participants next year,” Groth said. “We got started a little later this year with the change in leadership at the parks conservancy. So, hopefully next year there will be an even bigger outreach.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 25, 2016)


Benton Harbor parks president resigns for ‘personal reasons’

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The president for the Benton Harbor Parks and Recreation Conservancy resigned Monday.

The conservancy’s executive committee made the announcement through a news release, in which Stephannnie Harvey-Vandenberg cited personal reasons for her immediate resignation.

Walt Pullins, executive director of environment of care and hospitality services at Lakeland Health, was named interim president while the board begins its search for a successor to Harvey-Vandenberg.

The conservancy is a nonprofit organization that manages the 13 parks in Benton Harbor.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to beautify this wonderful city,” Harvey-Vandenberg said in the release. “I am proud of the strides that the conservancy has made toward improving local parks and green spaces during my tenure, and am certain that they will enjoy continued success moving forward.”

Harvey-Vandenberg was with the parks conservancy for two years after assuming the role of president in 2013. In her tenure, the conservancy refined its strategic plan and hosted several new events in Benton Harbor, including the Annual Holiday Lighting Ceremony and the Twin Cities Thanksgiving Turkey Trot benefit race.

The conservancy partnered with local businesses and coupled with state funding and matching donations, and made renovations and improvements to Union Park during Harvey-Vandenberg’s presidency.

“The board is extremely thankful for Stephannnie’s time and dedication over the last several years,” Pullins said. “The conservancy has thrived under her leadership. We understand and sympathize with her decision to step down from the presidency and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 28, 2016)

City Center Park rendering includes permanent shelter for events, more green space

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Officials unveiled plans Thursday night for improving the Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park, and more green space is in the cards.

More than 50 residents, city officials and other supporters packed the upstairs portion of The Livery to hear a synopsis of the final renderings, which were put together after three previous meetings used as design and draft workshops.

The project, dubbed Square 1, was taken on six months ago through a PlacePlans grant the city received to create architectural renderings that would improve one of Benton Harbor’s larger parks.

Some of the major changes residents saw from previous versions was permanent shelter for events and the Benton Harbor Farmer’s Market, more green spaces that could serve as play areas, more tables and pulling the parking lot out of the park. The splash pad and ice rink from previous designs were omitted after the steering committee heard a lot of skepticism about the feasibility and maintenance those structures would require.

This was the last of four meetings put on through a PlacePlans grant the city received. The plans and meetings were put together by the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan State University. At the previous workshop, participants reviewed two possible plans and wrote what they liked and didn’t like.

MML Program Coordinator Richard Murphy said the plans are still subject to change.

“There are some of those ideas that were left on the cutting table that would still provide a diverse set of activities without making things too crowded,” Murphy said.

A myriad of ways to pay for the park improvements were given, including crowdfunding within the community, grant programs through the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The city, Benton Harbor Parks and Recreation Conservancy, Kinexus and Cornerstone Alliance have been involved in the project.

While Benton Harbor does not yet have a cost estimate for the Square 1 project, Murphy said that’s what will next be identified before the city goes after grants.

“We’d like to see things start happening next year,” Murphy said. “They might be small things to keep momentum going. It’s definitely a five- to 10-year project in this scope. Our goal is to leave the city with some things they can pursue right away, as far as putting together the funding.”

At the end of the presentation, city officials unfurled a banner for everyone to sign and write down thoughts about the city and the project. On it was the term #BelieveinBH.

Stephannnie Harvey-Vandenberg, president of the parks conservancy, said it was nice to see how well MSU and MML officials listened to residents during the previous workshops.

She said her favorite aspect of the renderings presented Thursday was how inclusive it was for all age groups throughout the region.

“The support has been phenomenal,” Harvey-Vandenberg said. “I’m honored to lead and be a part of this project and make it become a reality to the community. Finishing this project would mean the beginning or being a part of a transformation and revitalization (of Benton Harbor).”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2015)