By CLINT FOSTER
As fall breezes and cooler temperatures slowly creep back into the hills of North Texas, they herald the return of the Clark Gardens Botanical Park Half Marathon and 5-kilometer run and the ensuing Fall Festival.
Clark Gardens’ gates will open at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, for runners from near and far participating in the half marathon at 8 a.m. and the 5K at 8:30 a.m., both of which are sponsored by Palo Pinto General Hospital. The top male and female and top master male and female runners in both the 5K and half marathon will be awarded hand crafted plaques from local artist Mike Wells, as well as cash prizes for the half marathon winners.
First through third place age-division winners will receive tree saplings, to promote green living. But all participants will receive free admission to the Fall Festival and all half marathon entries and the first 200 5K entries will get free t-shirts.
Last year’s race featured about 150 half marathon runners and nearly 225 in the 5K, according to Clark Gardens Executive Director Carol Montgomery.
She said she hopes to see 200 – the limit for the 13.1-mile race – in this year’s half marathon and even more in the 5K, which winds its way along the Lake Mineral Wells State Park Trailway.
“We want to make it the best small half-marathon in Texas,” Montgomery said. “It’s a great run if you’re running your first half-marathon.”
Montgomery said the race’s picturesque “scenic, countryside roads” along the “rails-to-trails” route is what sets it apart from other half marathons or 5Ks in the area.
“It’s a very scenic, relaxed race,” she said. “You’re not with a lot of people or cars. That’s what we’re aiming to provide as something different. [We also] run through the garden. Most other races that gardens put on don’t run through the gardens, they run from there and back.”
Packet pickup and preregistration for both races are available Friday, Oct. 4, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Clark Gardens. Runners can also register on race day, that Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Preregistration entry fees are $70 for the half marathon and $20 for the 5K, whereas registration fees on race day are $80 for the half marathon and $25 for the 5K. Proceeds from both races will support the outdoor education programs at Clark Gardens.
The festivities continue throughout the day.
After the half marathon and 5K, beginning at 11 a.m. and going until 5 p.m., comes the gardens’ celebration of the fall season – its Fall Festival, or self-proclaimed “Spiciest Festival Around.”
Festival admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids, with children ages 4 and under free.
Headlining the festival is the Chili for Charity chili cook-off. Contestants will compete for cash prizes to benefit the charity of their choice, with winners to be announced at 3 p.m. Festival-goers will also have the chance to sample the chilis of their choice at the minimum price of $3 a bowl. To learn how to register for the chili cook-off, visit clarkgardens.com/events.
Here are some other attractions to look forward to at this year’s festival:
• Live music and entertainment.
• Food and drinks.
• Children’s activities, including clowns, face painting and games.
• Scarecrow Alley.
• Salsa Tasting.
• Plant Sales.
• Shopping in Vendor Plaza.
• Tours of the Gardens, including an old-fashioned hay ride.
• Exhibit of Photography Contest entries.