SHIRLEY -- Do you love the smell of crisp autumn air? Does it invigorate you to get out in nature, take a brisk walk or go for a run? Would you like the opportunity to help children?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then get online at www.holdenwoodtrailrun.org and sign up for the seventh annual Holdenwood Trail Run for Education, which takes place Sunday, Sept. 29.

Holdenwood is located behind the Shirley Center Common at 1 Parker Road. Packet pickup and late registration are available on race day at 8 a.m. The 2K Run/Walk begins at 10 a.m., and the 5K and 10K begin at 11 a.m.

The event is a fundraiser for the Ayer-Shirley Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is supported by donations from individuals, businesses and organizations committed to improving the quality of education in the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District. Through a granting process, ASEF disperses its tax-deductible donations to create specific new programs and professional training aimed at enriching the education of students in the region.

The annual Janis Bresnahan 5K race in Ayer and the Holdenwood Trail Run in Shirley are the major fundraising events for the charity.

"Over the past seven years, the Shirley event has donated approximately $50,000 to this great cause, and we hope to grow that in the years to come," said Jason Rakip, Holdenwood Trail Run co-director.


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"There is a very dedicated group of individuals that make this race happen every year. The race was the brainchild of its founder, Sue Heinz. She passed the baton to Kristan Burpo, who passed it to Matt Korhonen and me.

"This year's crew also includes Jason Cashton, Meredith Marcinkewicz, who never met a charity for kids she didn't help, Kate Robinson, Vajrang and Kranti Parvate and Maureen Kilcommins, our ASEF representative and treasurer," Rakip added. "There are many others who have volunteered to help as well."

Rakip said he took up the challenge to help run the event because he loves Shirley and Holdenwood, and has twins in the school system.

"I am an avid runner, and appreciate that I live adjacent to this amazing property owned by the Holden family," he said. "They are so generous every year to open their beautiful grounds and clean up their trails for us to use as a fundraiser to help our local students.

"I have volunteered to help with this race for years, and my friend, Matt Korhonen, and I agreed to take the reins and keep it going two years ago," he added. "It's a lot of work, but it's a labor of love. The kids in our schools gain so many extra special opportunities through our fundraising efforts that they would not normally have access to."

Those opportunities include spelling bees, visits to Nature's Classroom, music and arts enrichment, science programs and technology, such as document cameras and interactive white boards.

"It's just a great day for the community," Korhonen said. "To be outdoors on a beautiful day, surrounded by friends and neighbors with their kids, enjoying the grounds and raising money for a great cause -- that's what it's all about."

While the event is designed for folks of all fitness levels, this year the committee added an additional challenge for runners by adding a 10K (6.2-mile) run through the woods.

Holdenwood is a privately owned conservation area of almost 200 acres, running through the heart of Shirley Center. It is a combination of wooded natural landscape and planned design with gardens and a system of trails.

The property is located behind the Shirley Center Common, a Local and National Register Historic District with a Meeting House, Town Hall and burial ground at the confluence of five scenic roadways: Parker, Whitney, Center, Brown and Horse Pond. 

"This event is great in that you can sign up to run or walk a 2K (1.2 miles) or 5K (3.1 miles) through the forest or challenge yourself with a 10K run," Cashton said.

The 10K, dubbed "The Bull Run Run" after its sponsor, The Bull Run Restaurant, "is expected to attract more participants than ever who are excited to get out into the woods, have a blast and help a great cause," Cashton said.

The first 200 registrants for any of the three races will receive a free, navy-blue, long-sleeve, technical running T-shirt. The first 300 will receive a high-quality running cap courtesy of All Star Sports. All finishers are welcome to bring their race bibs to The Bull Run after the race for a free beer (if 21 or older) or ice cream.

The online registration fees are $25 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under, and $1 for those 65 and older. Day-of-the-race fees are $5 more for all categories except for seniors.

"Our charity benefits from registrations -- the more walkers/runners the better -- as well as donations from very generous sponsors," Rakip said.

Platinum race sponsors are The Bull Run Restaurant and All Star Sports.

Gold sponsors include the Nashoba Club Restaurant, Bemis, Fidelity, SQUG, Phoenix Park, Shirley Charitable Foundation, Duval Sign Company and Solomon Sports.

Silver Sponsors include Devens Grille, CH Robinson, Boston Financial, Bodylines Pilates, Evans on the Common, Squannacook River Runners Club, Pinard's Landscaping, Dr. Arthur Eddy, Shirley Fuel & Gas Co., Robin Terhune Photography, Shirley EMS, Acton EMS, Shirley Boy Scouts Troop 7 and an anonymous donor.

"We have so many amazing sponsors and volunteers every year and have such a blast at the race," Rakip said. "It's great to see 3- and 4-year-olds finishing their 2K, walkers and runners enjoying the finish of the 5K, and this year it will be fun to see who finishes our first-ever 10K race first. It will be such a great day, and we hope to have a great turnout."

Race details and a link to registration are available at www.holdenwoodtrailrun.org.