Grab your running shoes and your competitive spirit, then prepare to get a little muddy
The Trail Blazer Run impacts the life of almost everyone who lives in this area, regardless of whether they’ve ever laced up a pair of running shoes. Funds raised from the event contributed to the creation of the East Branch Brandywine Trail that winds through the woods and fields between Route 322 and the Brandywine Creek, providing a picturesque byway to all who travel past.
Back in 2010, when the trail was under construction, East Bradford Township managers and volunteers were brainstorming creative ways to raise money to match the county and state grant funds allocated for the project, and the idea for a trail run was born. The race was an immediate success. In that inaugural year, participants parked at Paradise Farm Camp and rode in shuttle buses over to the start of the race on the trail, which proved to be a logistical nightmare. The next year, portions of the course were relocated to Valley Creek Road, which was closed off to automobile traffic during the run. Since 2012, the entire race has been staged within the Paradise Farms trail system and facilities.
Over the years, the Trail Blazer Run has matured into the de facto community day for East Bradford, according to Township Director of Parks and Recreation Rich Phifer, who also wears the Race Director hat. “We used to have East Bradford Day up until Trail Blazer took off,” says Phifer. “It is by far our biggest event, in terms of the most participants and volunteers. And it’s still a fundraiser.”
Phifer is excited—and a little nervous—as the event returns for the first time in two years due to the pandemic. “It’s a chance for everyone to see some old friends,” he says, “Plus, we’ve got a new key sponsor.” West Chester’s Artillery Brewing Company will be dispensing the beverages this year, a change about which Phifer is stoked. “The company is definitely emblematic of the small community feel of this run,” he says.
Bellwether runners Kara Rubinich and James Brophy have won their respective women’s and men’s races numerous times over the years. But not everyone is pushing to cross the finish line first. “What’s great to see is the few folks over the age of 80 out there still doing it,” says Phifer.
He is also inspired by the community support. “We have great volunteers that help out and make it possible,” he says. “We need so much support with course marshaling and water stations and registration.” Phifer is quick to point out the loyal sponsors that have kept the event going over the years, too. “All local businesses,” he adds. “It would be impossible to do the event without them. We appreciate them, and many of them are supporting us every year, without even being asked.”
In addition to funding the East Branch Trail, proceeds from the race help to purchase the tools and materials used by volunteers to maintain all the natural trails within Harmony Hill Nature Area. Funds also support a longer-term project as well: Phase 1 of the Plum Run Trail initiative, which will establish a paved trail that connects the south campus of West Chester University to the Strodes Mill Historic District at the intersection of Lenape and Birmingham roads.
The week prior to the Trail Blazer Run is one of Rich Phifer’s favorite times all year. “It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun,” he relates. Being a part of the event has left him with vivid memories, such as the spirited thunderstorm that released a torrential rainfall moments after the starting gun launched runners onto the course in 2019. “I remember the runners coming back drenched and mud soaked,” he recalls. “So many of them told me it was the best run they’d ever had. I was worried they’d be sore about it, that it had rained, but here they were having the time of their lives out there.”
Phifer describes the synergistic magic that takes place on race day. “Once it’s all set up, and all the volunteers are there, and things are functioning. When it’s actually underway,” he reflects. “To look up and see that all the work you’ve done to prepare for it, to see people having a good time. Some people really want to run, sure, but some people just want to see their friends. That’s my favorite part. Knowing we did the best we could for another good run.”
Other Running Events This Summer
What: A 5K run/walk and 2 mile walk that benefits the Scott Elliott Scholarship Fund. Elliott was a beloved coach and mentor in the West Chester swimming community.
When: Saturday, June 4 at 9am
Where: 1100 Shiloh Rd.
Sign up: https://runsignup.com/Race/PA/WestChester/RuntoFindaWayScottStrong
What: Choose from either a 5K or 2K run through the borough. All proceeds benefit the Headstrong Foundation and Family Service Chester County.
When: Saturday, June 4 at 10am
Where: Intersection of Church and Market Streets
Sign up: https://runsignup.com/Race/PA/WestChester/PennFusionCARES5K
What: Races run in heats based on ability, with $6,000 in prize money for elite racers if men break 4:00 and women break 4:35 for the mile.
When: Thursday, August 11 at 6:30pm
Where: Henderson High School
Sign up: https://runsignup.com/Race/PA/WestChester/TheWestChesterMile