Ithaca Rotary Rally enters sixth year of family fun

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This Sunday, Aug. 11, dozens of cars will line up at Maguire Toyota on a scavenger hunt for a good cause - the Ithaca Rotary Club’s 6th annual Rotary Rally.

Participants in the rally set out in their cars, following clues through over 30 miles of country roads in and around Tompkins County to discover new places, answer riddles, pick up scavenger hunt items and take pictures at unexplored locations.

The starting line this year is at the rally’s first-ever sponsor, Maguire Toyota, on 370 Elmira Rd. in Ithaca, with departure anytime between 1 and 2 p.m. The proceeds from the registration fees benefit the Ithaca Rotary Club’s community service programs and efforts.

Kelly Buck, chair of the Rotary Road Rally, said she introduced the idea of the rally to the Rotary six years ago because she saw it as a fun, unique way for Rotary to raise money. Since the event is meant to be pure enjoyment, Buck said, it helps to draw more people than traditional fundraising events.

“It has grown in popularity and in numbers from the beginnings,” Buck said. “It’s a Sunday afternoon driving around back roads that you never knew were there, following clues, taking selfies, picking up scavenger hunt items, and then, we all end up together for drinks and dinner at a cool place at the end.”

Another unique aspect to this event is that, after the original starting banner was purchased, the rally costs the Rotary nothing to put on, with everything provided by volunteers, donations and one sponsor.

The course for the rally changes every year, and this year, the journey starts at Maguire, where families register (if they have not already done so ahead of time), take a goodie bag with clues inside and follow the clues in order and fulfilling any instructions along the way.

Buck said she and the rest of the rally committee try to pick an area of the county that they have not covered and that many people probably have not traversed regularly, meaning there are plenty of back roads. She said this helps people to see the county in a different light.

“Getting off the main highways and seeing some of the back roads introduces people to something new in our area, and it brings people together to go out and have a good time,” Buck said.

Cars who complete the course on time are eligible for prizes, all donated by businesses and others in the community, which have in the past included tickets to Cinemapolis, ski lift tickets at Greek Peak, an overnight stay at Hampton Inn, dinner for two, a four pack of wine and other perks.

Brett Bossard, executive director at Cinemapolis and past president of Rotary, said providing tickets as prizes incentivizes participation in the rally and helps promote Cinemapolis.

“We’re getting our name out there by giving prizes and it’s also helping out a good cause, and I think that’s a lot of what Cinemapolis does,” Bossard said. “It’s entertainment, but it’s also a resource for our community, so I think there’s a lot of synergy and commonality what we’re doing and what happens on the road rally.” 

As a past participant in the rally himself, Bossard said he has enjoyed hunting for clues in his car. The rally, he said, helped him see things in the county he has not before or just appreciate the beauty that he had taken for granted.

“It’s just the idea of taking what, in many cases, are roads that we’ve all driven down maybe hundreds of times and looking at it from a new perspective, taking our time and really taking a good look at this place we live,” Bossard said. “It’s easy to take the beauty of the Finger Lakes for granted a lot just when you live here all the time. … It’s a fun way to rediscover your own back yard.”

Frank Towner, current Rotary president, said the rally helps draw attention to the good work the Rotary is doing in the community.

“It exposes rotary,” Towner said. “For me, this year, that’s part of my goal, exposing rotary, making it irresistible so people go out.”

The rally meshes well with the Rotary’s international mission of uniting people of different backgrounds and cultures, Towner said.

The YMCA in Ithaca, of which he is an avid participant, has been the starting line for a past rally, and Towner said this has allowed him to see how many different people come out to drive and have fun.

“It’s connecting people who might not otherwise know about Rotary,” Towner said. “You might know somebody, but … you spend time with them in a car, that’s how you really get to know someone.”

It also aligns with the overall motto of the Rotary and what Buck has always strived to do with her time there, she said.

“Rotary’s motto is service above self, and this is my small way of trying to reach that by volunteering my own time and running this on a Sunday, basically my day off, so that we can raise money to help our club help others,” she said.

In years past, many participants have worn team clothing or decorated their car, Buck said, which earns them points as well as helps make the rally that much more enjoyable.

Last year, Rotary raised over $1,200 from the rally, and Buck said she is hoping to meet or exceed that amount this year. Towner said that he is confident the rally will continue for years to come.

“It will and it should. Kelly is the manager of it. She’s the motivator,” Towner said. “Things get done by people who are motivated in that area. … As long as Kelly’s here, I think it’ll live.”

The registration table for the rally opens at 1 p.m. for one hour, and cars must be on the track by 2 p.m. to participate. Cost for the rally is $20 per adult, $10 children 12 to 18 and free 11 and younger. Cars must cross the finish line by 4 p.m. to be eligible for prizes. The event is scheduled to conclude by 6 p.m.

The Rotary Rally will finish with the checkered flag at a “mystery” restaurant for prizes, drinks and dinner (pay on your own). Advance registration is encouraged but not required. More information and registration forms may be found at https://portal.clubrunner.ca/2079/stories/road-rally-2019. 

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