Madison Heights gets moving with ‘Run for the Health of It’ 5K

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published March 20, 2024

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Each spring in Madison Heights, runners and walkers both casual and competitive meet up at the local nature center for the city’s annual 5K.

Called the Madison Heights “Run for the Health of It” 5K Run/Walk, this year’s event will start at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, at the Red Oaks Nature Center, located at 30300 Hales St. in Suarez Friendship Woods. Check-in begins at 7:15 a.m., with a $35 entry fee prior to race day and a $40 fee the day of the race. Attendees are asked to park at the Red Oaks Waterpark, across the street on the other side of 13 Mile Road west of Dequindre Road.   

“Our 5K is one of the first major running events in the area each year,” said Sean Fleming, a member of the Madison Heights City Council. “This is a great way to start getting back outside with other people. It’s like a kickoff for the running community, and for people who just want to get back to exercising outdoors. It’s a great way to combat stress and clear the mind, helping with mental health, and to break out of your wintertime blues.”

The park presents a scenic starting and ending point for a route that will take participants on a whirlwind tour of the city’s north end. From the nature center, runners and walkers will proceed north toward 13 Mile and turn left, proceed across the Red Oaks Golf Course, exit out and around the baseball complex at John Page Middle School, snake through the neighborhood into the Simonds Elementary parking lot, and from there take the nature center trail back to where the race started.

“I think the highlights of the route are the unique perspective you get on the city,” said Brooke Heisler, the city’s recreation supervisor, in an email. “You get to see the golf course, even if you aren’t a golfer. You can go through the baseball complex and not know how to throw a ball. You can walk or run and have your neighbors cheering you on. I think this course encompasses some of the best things Madison Heights has to offer.”

Anyone who is able to walk is eligible to participate. For those feeling competitive, there will be awards in different categories for men and women, as well as a top three in a variety of age groups that begin with those 12 and younger and extend in four-year increments to those 75 and older.

Heisler noted that the city has held the 5K for nearly 20 years now.

“This event has always been very popular, with almost 200 walkers/runners (each year),” Heisler said. “We have made sure to update our shirts and add small things that make a big difference, such as different food and different vendors at the race.”

Rickey Busler, with RE/MAX First, has been the event’s naming sponsor for the last four years. In addition to helping fund the event, he shows up bright and early to help set up, Heisler said.

The Madison Heights Community Coalition donates the snacks. Volunteers show up before sunrise to set up and stay well after the event for cleanup.

Other groups that have consistently helped make the 5K possible include GFL Environmental, Madison Heights Chiropractic, and Team Rehabilitation, a physical therapy firm in Madison Heights.

“I would encourage anyone who wants to come to give it a try,” Heisler said. “This is a zero pressure 5K, where you can walk with people in your community or challenge yourself to set a new goal and run the 5K. It’s a truly rewarding experience, and a unique way to see the city.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said the 5K is also an opportunity to appreciate the Red Oaks Nature Center — a hidden gem in the city of Madison Heights.

“Our nature center is a wonderful place where community members of all ages and abilities can enjoy fresh air and nature right in our backyard,” Grafstein said in an email. “It’s a safe place where everyone can explore at their leisure and connect with almost 40 acres of natural beauty.”

She said the park, shaded by old-growth trees, is a comfortable place to run and bike during the hot summer months. She also noted the abundance of wildlife to see there, including deer.

“The nature center also offers educational programs for individuals or groups, with the ability to tailor programs for scouts or other groups. These programs promote a better understanding of the natural world, and help foster a sense of stewardship,” she said. “When my children were younger, we participated in scout events at the library, and one year we tapped trees (at the nature center) to make maple syrup.”

Fleming said he wants to see the city expand its recreational offerings this year, especially for children in the community. He also said the late Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray should be remembered for his work brokering the lease deal with the county that saved the nature center during the worst of the Great Recession, when the city could no longer afford operating it.

“It might be a neat idea to someday rename the race in Gary’s honor,” Fleming said. “He did so much for the nature center, and for all of the parks in our city.”