In recent years, putting on a 5K race has become a popular way to raise funds for local organizations. Next week, Riverside-Brookfield High School will jump on that bandwagon – but with a twist.

The starter’s gun will sound on Burling Road in Riverside at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, marking the beginning of what organizers hope will be an annual Bulldog River Run.

A fundraiser for the athletic department at Riverside-Brookfield High School, the race is unique in that the course is primarily off-road.

“I’ve been trying to come up with ways that we can fundraise money for the high school without putting it on the backs of our students,” said Athletic Director Art Ostrow.

So Ostrow reached out to community members, former students and parents who had experience organizing 5K races.

“They jumped on board and it just took off,” said Ostrow.

The race is a partnership of sorts between the high school and the village of Riverside, whose Department of Parks and Recreation is handling registration. Anyone interested in participating (it’s $35 to enter) can sign up online by noon on Oct. 4 at the village’s website (www.riverside.il.us) by clicking on the link for the race on the home page.

Money raised will go directly to the athletic department for their operations.

“Over the last 2-3 years there have been major cuts in supplies,” said Ostrow. “[The school board] has cut 60 percent of our supply budget. This money is not earmarked for any purchase; it would really be to continue to provide kids with what we have over the years.”

The race had its origins in a conversation Ostrow had with Riverside resident Jerry Buttimer in May regarding the possibility of creating a 5K as a fundraiser for athletics at the high school.

Buttimer said he remembered when RBHS held its home cross-country meets in Swan Pond Park and that he’d be interested in creating an event that was river-centric.

“Let’s do something that’s fun and inspiring and celebrates the river,” said Buttimer.

With Swan Pond Park under construction, he expanded the focus to creating a course connected by the Swinging Bridge and Barrypoint Road Bridge. The trouble was that on the south side of the river in Riverside Lawn, the paths were blocked by fallen trees and low-hanging branches.

But Buttimer convinced the trails coordinator (yes, there is such a job) for the Cook County Forest Preserve District to clear a trail that could be used not only for the run, of course, but for recreational walking and jogging.

Buttimer gave assurances that the path could be maintained – trash pickup and periodic pruning – by volunteers. During the summer, the Forest Preserve District sent out a six-person crew, which cleared a path through the woods connecting the two bridges.

It’s a dirt path, with plenty of trip hazards, including tree roots and river rock. But it’s a scenic change of pace from your typical road race, and since much of the course will be run on a natural surface, it should be easier on the runners. Each runner will do two laps of the course to make the 5K distance.

And because Ostrow was able to get the assistance of experienced race organizers like local residents Karen Dziagwa and Tara Gregus, the race will be chip-timed.

According to Ostrow, who said he’s running the race along with his wife, about 250 athletes and National Honor Society members will be out on race day volunteering and serving as course marshals.

Members of the RBHS band will also be scattered along the course, providing musical encouragement to the runners.

Guthrie Park in downtown Riverside will be the base camp for the race this year, but in future years, organizers hope to shift that to Swan Pond, where they can expand the event to include sports demonstration by RBHS athletic teams.

Other future aspects of the Bulldog River Run could include, now that the dam is gone, a kayak race and a rubber duck race.

“I’d like to see where this can go,” said Ostrow, “because it seems like there will be a lot of options.”