Run for the hillsSawdust 5K draws even more runners to hilly Cloquet course
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Last year’s inaugural Sawdust 5K run helped offset a portion of the costs of the city’s Fourth of July celebration. This year, race organizer Jeff Leno thought a little differently.
The race, held on the morning of the Fourth with 289 runners, still benefited the fireworks display. However, a $5,000 donation by Shamrock Landfill, Inc. to the fireworks display meant the race could now benefit more than one purpose – and Leno jumped at the chance.
“If things are covered (in terms of paying for the celebration), we want to make sure we aren’t throwing money at something because there are plenty of things in town that can use money,” Leno said. “So, I approached [Cloquet High School Athletic Director] Tom Lenarz, and asked he if would be interested in starting a fund for Cloquet High School athletics.”
Leno and his wife, the former Alyson Mielke, both played varsity sports in Cloquet, so the ability to help out his alma mater and the community was a chance not to be missed.
“Different sports can apply for funds available for the Sawdust,” Leno said. “And a portion of the proceeds will go toward offsetting activity fees.”
Recent budgetary pressures forced the Cloquet School Board to raise fees across the board, but with greater increases in the hockey programs.
“There is definitely a need to offset fees at Cloquet High School,” Leno said. “I’ve seen it coaching track. We have kids who can’t afford their activity fees.”
As for the race itself, registration went up from 221 runners last year to 289 this year, and better technology helped the race go off without a hitch.
“We went to chip timing for the runners and online registration,” Leno said. “We are very pleased with the number of runners we had, but we also had a big increase in sponsorships. We think that is due to last year’s run going very well and the proceeds going to a good cause.”
The Sawdust 5K was also one of three Northland 5K races featured in the “Explore Minnesota Challenge,” a statewide race series.
“We ended up drawing people from all over the state, and even more from the Twin Cities than I expected,” Leno said. “I was like ‘wow’ – I didn’t expect that for a 5K. Last year we got people from all over who were coming to town for a different reason and made the race part of their day, but these people were coming specifically for the 5K. It’s nice to think that our race is doing its part to stimulate the local economy.”
Final fundraising totals aren’t in because Leno hasn’t yet received all the bills for the event, but he estimated that approximately $4,000 will be raised – double the amount from last year. Of that amount, about $1,000 will go to the fireworks and the rest to the high school fund.
“We are very happy about that,” he said. “We are really excited to create that relationship with the high school as well.”
The Lenos, who are expecting their first child in September, wanted to give back to the community.
“That is the reason we came back here,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I say this to a lot of people. The community defined us and we wanted to give back in any way we could. This is a perfect opportunity for us to have a local event with local vendors and local sponsors, raising local money and keeping it local.”
Leno’s goal for the event is to reach 400 runners.
“We want to support the community and be one of the premier 5K events in the area,” he said. “People want a nice event they can come to and enjoy. We want to support things like the Fourth of July and Cloquet athletics.”
It’s a good match.