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Hidden Gem organizers address route, closures, safety ahead of Sept. 11 race in Flossmoor

Tom Dobrez, co-founder of Flossmoor’s Future and one of the organizers of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, talks to a group of residents who came out to Wiley’s on Thursday, July 29, to learn more about the race. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicel)

If there is one message Sam Cutrara cannot emphasize enough leading up to the Hidden Gem Half Marathon on Sept. 11 in Flossmoor, it is this.

“Residents, if you have to get out, the only way to go is north of Flossmoor Road or south of Flossmoor Road,” said Cutrara, one of the event’s organizers. “Never go toward Flossmoor Road, because you’re never going to get anywhere.”

Of course, Cutrara would prefer people simply stick around for the race.

“We want to try to avoid a lot of movement during the race,” he said. “We really don’t want them out in their cars. … I’d prefer if you cheered as opposed to left.”

Deputy Chief Clint Wagner talks about safety measures being taken for the 2021 Hidden Gem Half Marathon in Flossmoor. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)

Of course, reality being what it is, some people may need to get somewhere early that morning. So organizers are working to ensure Flossmoor residents are as prepared as possible for the return of the Hidden Gem.

A community meeting was held Thursday, July 29, at Wiley’s Grill to inform residents about closures, safety measures and race day preparedness. Organizers also took questions from the community during the meeting.

The inaugural Hidden Gem drew more than 600 runners, and the course highlighted Flossmoor’s neighborhoods, schools, churches, parks, sculptures and businesses. But it also left some residents trapped during portions of the race by road closures both on major thoroughfares and in neighborhoods. Those closures are an inevitability for the 13.1-mile race through the village, but police are working to ensure emergency routes will remain available across the village. 

Organizers, meanwhile, are trying to make sure there are no surprises.

Tom Dobrez, another organizer, said community feedback following the 2019 Hidden Gem guided the changes that have been made to this year’s race.

The orange barricades on the map depict where “significant closures” are expected to be on race day for the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, but traffic will be restricted along most of the route at various times throughout the morning Sept. 11. (Provided image)

“We did do an extensive survey of both the runners and our citizens afterwards,” Dobrez said. “We took a lot of notes, and we have tried to incorporate those excellent suggestions.”

One of the efforts they made involved door hangers to notify residents whose streets are on the route, inviting them to the meeting to learn more. Signs will also be posted ahead of the race to remind people of the closures on Sept. 11.

Deputy Police Chief Clint Wagner also spoke to safety efforts at the community meeting, noting a complete action plan will be unveiled as soon as it is finalized, but police may do K-9 sweeps, put drones in the air, and bring in additional police and security for the event.

“It is Sept. 11,” Wagner said of the event. “It’s the 20th anniversary. For those volunteering, we have to keep mindful that we still have to keep our safety awareness very high that day. It’s going to be a good day. We’re going to keep it positive. But we have to keep that in mind.”

Wagner answered a question about unattended bags by telling residents they should never approach bags on their own but notify police. He noted the Hidden Gem is not considered a major target, but as its popularity increases so, too, will the risks.

“We will take every precaution before this event to make sure those things are minimized as much as possible,” Wagner said. “We are doing a lot of things to mitigate those risks and keep it down. We will do everything we possibly can to keep everybody safe.”

Dobrez added that Flossmoor School District 161 has offered its buildings should an evacuation of the route be necessarily for any reason.

“It takes more than a village to put this on,” he said.

A closer look at closures
Major road closures are expected to start at 7 a.m. the day of the race, with the half marathon slated to start at 7:30 a.m. Neighborhood road closures times vary (see below) based on weather and speed of the runners, in addition to where neighborhoods fall on the route. All roads are expected to open “no later than noon,” though many should reopen “much sooner,” organizers said. 

Cutrara walked people through the road closures during the meeting, noting it takes more than 200 volunteers, 30 police officers, a fire department and medical professional to make the event successful.

“One of the hardest parts of that is keeping the residents inside those boundaries happy and content and understanding of what we’re trying to do to make it all work,” he said.

The race is to start near downtown Flossmoor, heading west on Flossmoor Road. Racers will go through Ballantrae early in the race, so it will be the first area to eventually reopen once all of the runners get through the neighborhood.

“The thought process on going west first is the hope that we can eventually get Governors Highway open again, because that’s a major thoroughfare through the whole South Suburbs,” Cutrara said.

Homewood-Flossmoor High School, which Cutrara called a highlight of the race, will see roads around the campus, including Kedzie Avenue, closed in certain directions.

“Those are hard closures,” Cutrara said. “You won’t be able to go through there until all of the racers go through.”

Cutrara noted Flossmoor’s Heather Hill residents will also undoubtedly be impacted by the race route. Police will have special exits for emergencies. Organizers are also working with Flossmoor police to waive ticketing overnight before the race, so that anyone who needs to get out in the morning can move their vehicle the night before — though there is absolutely no parking allowed on the race route itself. Police will help people who need to walk to their vehicles.

“We’re going around the outskirts of Heather Hill, and that makes it difficult for our residents,” Cutrara explained. “That is a very difficult subdivision for this race. Our goal there is to keep people from going to Flossmoor Road.

“Just remember: Don’t go toward Flossmoor Road.”

Wagner noted the finish line was moved to near the library to allow staff for downtown businesses the access they need based on feedback from the 2019 survey. He said they will continue to adapt up until race day to make the Hidden Gem something that works for runners, residents and businesses.

“We’re trying to accommodate this and be as fluid as possible but still keep the mindset of safety in place,” he said. “It is a work in progress, and we’re constantly learning.”

Leading up to the race
Before the half marathon itself, organizers are bringing back Bike the Gem, a police-escorted community ride of the 13.1-mile course that Dobrez called the “surprise breakout hit” of 2019, with more than 220 people taking part. That takes place from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Aug. 7. Participants must register ahead of time, sign a waiver and wear a helmet on the day of the race. It ends at Flossmoor Station for a post-ride party, where the Hidden Gem Kolsch will be on tap.

A Gem volunteer meeting is also slated for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, for general volunteers, and 7-8 p.m. for marshals. That, too, will take place at Wiley’s Grill, 800 Kedzie Ave.

Maggie Bachus said they still have a small need for volunteers, who can register online and get a T-shirt for their efforts. But people are also welcome to simply cheer on the race from the end of their driveways.

“I am here to invite every one of you and anyone you know to volunteer, to go out at the end of your driveways, to get involved, because the reason why we brought the Gem to Flossmoor is to connect all of our neighbors, and let everyone know we want to connect with each other in whatever way you feel most comfortable,” Bachus said. “Everyone should have a role. And if you don’t want to, at least you are invited to.”

For more information, visit hiddengemhalf.com.

Approximate road closure times

  • Kedzie (Flossmoor Road to 193rd Street) – 7-9:30 a.m.
  • Governors Highway (Heather to Flossmoor Road) – 7-9:45 a.m.
  • Flossmoor Road (west of Governors Highway) 7–9:45 a.m.
  • Flossmoor Road (east of Governors Highway) 7–11:15 a.m.
  • Baythorne – 7:30-8:15 a.m.
  • Ballantrae – 7:45 – 9 a.m.
  • Flossmoor Hills – 7:50-9:15 a.m.
  • Braemar Road – 8-9:45 a.m.
  • Heather Hill – 8:15-10:30 a.m.
  • Estates Section – 8:15-10:45 a.m.
  • Flossmoor Park – 8:30-11:15 a.m.
  • Old Flossmoor – 8:45-11:30 a.m.

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