AURORA – The fifth annual Aurora Tavern Trek is still on, but with some changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Shanholtzer, a Class of 1990 alum and president of the Aurora Alumni Association, said that the Trek had about 150 people registered as of July 9, the deadline day.

"If COVID was not the issue, we would easily have 350 participants and tickets would have sold out in a matter of days," Shanholtzer said.

Due to the smaller anticipated number of participants, he said the association did not order as many T-shirts as in prior years. However, those interested in participating may still put their names on a waiting list by contacting Shanholtzer at aurorahighschoolalumni@gmail.com. 

A big change for this year is that the Trek, which has previously taken place on one night, will be extended over six weeks to allow for easier compliance with social distancing, Shanholtzer said. The event will start July 25 and end on Labor Day, Sept. 7.

This is the Alumni Association’s major fundraiser, Shanholtzer added; last year the association gave out more than $6,000 in scholarships, with much of the money coming from the Tavern Trek.

"We also feel that this is a great community event," he said. "Lots of people benefit. The restaurants in particular this year will benefit. The reason we modified the trek was to help out our community, stay safe and still raise a little money for the Class of 2021."

Funds raised from the Trek also go to other alumni events such as the annual hall of fame induction ceremony, Shanholtzer added.

Participating establishments so far include Papous, El Camino, Bertram Inn, 1815 Tavern, Mad Jack’s, Mason Jar, James Place, and Ol’ Chefskis Barbecue; however, Shanholtzer noted the list could change. He said the the Trek will not be stopping at the Aurora Inn this year, as a fire at the end of February damaged the venue’s kitchen.

Tickets for the event cost $25 and come with an invitation to purchase pre-sale tickets for next year. Participants must be 21 or older.

Once registered, Trekkers will pick up their T-shirt at one of two participating venues, along with a "passport," used to keep track of stamps or signatures from each establishment they visit. Participants must wear their T-shirt to order specials being offered for the event. New this year, take-out orders will count in completing passports. At the end of the Trek, the passports go into a drawing for prizes, including restaurant gift cards and other items.

Shanholtzer said the Trek got started following a suggestion by Tom Courtad (’95), who had returned to Aurora after spending time in Santa Barbara, California, where a similar event took place.

"We said, ‘Hey, let’s try it,’ and we decided to get volunteers to drive vans so people would be safe around the community. Last year, Ganley donated vans ... Liberty has donated as well," Shanholtzer said. 

He noted that the extended format may be even better appreciated by participating establishments, which have suffered a major loss of business during the cornonavirus pandemic.

"I really think that this is going to give them some business back," he said. "You can stretch it out over six weeks — instead of coming in for one drink or one appetizer, people might stay for dinner."

He also thanked Mark Godale (’89) for his efforts in designing this year’s Tavern Trek T-Shirt, as well as The Odyssey Printwear for being a sponsor.

Visit www.auroraohioalumni.com/ or the alumni association’s Facebook page for more details.

April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com