Cross country debut event draws 1,200 runners to John Hunt Park

single-meta-cal September 26, 2017

The biggest problem was parking spaces became scarce. That, and one of those “only going to pop up in remote place, 10-percent chance of a shower” thunderstorms that prompted a lightning delay.

The new John Hunt Running Park made its debut Saturday, and the transition from golf course to a multi-purpose facility proved to be a success, with more than 1,200 participants in a cross country mega-event that is the first of several scheduled there this fall.

The Twilight Panther Prowl Cross Country Invitational brought together more than 30 high school teams from Alabama and Tennessee. Additionally, a “fun run” and “community run” were held for runners wishing to try out the new course.

According to the Huntsville Sports Commission, the meet is expected to have an economic impact of nearly $300,000 to the Huntsville community.

“For a first-time event, even with the rain, it was a good one,” said Eric Enchelmayer of Huntsville Parks & Recreation Department.

The park will host the metro cross country meet in October and Alabama High School Athletic Association sectional championships in November.

The event was a joint effort between the Huntsville High cross country program, Huntsville Parks & Recreation Department and the Huntsville Sports Commission.

However, as Enchelmayer noted, it was an even broader team effort.

“The City of Huntsville came to the table, but the Huntsville High Cross Country Boosters and the Huntsville Track Club were instrumental. They put in countless hours and it couldn’t have happened without them,” Enchelmayer said.

The City provided support not only through Parks & Rec but also with assistance from Public Works, Landscape Management, Traffic Operation, General Services and Operation Green Team.

Home course advantage

The host Huntsville High Panthers enjoyed much success in this inaugural event, winning the boys’ team title and finishing runner-up in the girls’ division. Grissom High was fifth in the boys’ competition. Several runners at all levels recorded their personal best times, something else that will enhance the popularity of the course. (See results here.)

Cameron Cox of Huntsville was runner-up in his division while Rachel Jones and Abbey Weitenbeck finished 3-4 in the girls’ division.

Tracing the route

The 5K course, which was illuminated with temporary lighting brought in for this meet, begins near the site of the clubhouse parking lot, near the old 18th green, and heads south and west, doing a U-turn in the far corner near what golfers would remember as the 16th hole.

It then angles back across the course, almost to the edge of hole No. 4 that ran parallel to South Memorial Parkway, then back toward the clubhouse. The 5K course repeats the loop until the final stretch, where runners make a turn to go parallel to Airport Road and back to the clubhouse area via what was once hole No. 3.

The Huntsville City Council voted this summer to transform the Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course, which opened in 1956 but had seen a drop in play in recent years, to the multi-use complex. Though plans aren’t finalized – indeed, there might be tweaks to the cross country course – it will include a golf driving range, disc golf, walking paths and mountain-biking trails that can be used competitively and recreationally.

When the master plan is completed, the current course will be tweaked and a full 5K path without a repetitive loop is anticipated.