Runners get into place at the starting line, fresh from the bullpen. A loud shot rings and they’re off! Streaming out of the starting chute and dashing down the course, the runners find good footing between two brimming ponds.
The course is challenging, and runners are rewarded for their sweat and determination with a beautiful, natural setting canopied by mature trees, tranquil water features, and wildlife.
As runners pick up their pace toward the finish line, they see the Huntsville skyline in the distance. Spectators cheer as the competitors approach, and the sloping course provides the perfect vantage point to watch the last nail-biting seconds of the race.
This is the future cross-country scene under development at John Hunt Park.
Running park of the future
The new running park is just one piece of the City’s $9 million investment to improve John Hunt Park. It will include a championship caliber cross-country course that will be sodded and at least 10 meters wide. Along with a 5K route for high school races, multiple spurred loops enable college teams to compete in 8K runs for NCAA women’s events and 10K for NCAA men’s events. The park will establish Huntsville as a premier running venue.
David Cain, the cross-country coach at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), can’t wait to start training his runners on the course next fall. UAH has already put bids out for regional conferences and championships in anticipation of the project’s completion in May 2019.
“A permanent cross country course will be a big win for us. We are excited to showcase the park, and the surrounding hotels and restaurants that make Huntsville a perfect place to host regional and national championships,” says Cain.
The running course will have timing infrastructure at each mile and kilometer marker for the runners to gauge their time during races.
“We are supporting our local teams by providing great facilities, like the John Hunt Running Park,” says Steve Ivey, Director of Parks & Recreation. “The park sets the stage for Huntsville to be one of the best cross-country hotspots in the nation, and sets our city apart as a world-class hub for athletic competitions.”
According to Eric Fritz, President of the Huntsville Track Club, all 1,700 club members are excited to make the park their running destination of choice. With members from five to 90 years old, the park will be a safe, smooth running space for young and old.
A walk in the park
In addition to the manicured cross-country course, the running park will include a 1.5 mile walking course. It will provide strategic points for spectators to watch the cross-country runners on race day.
The walking course will be constructed from a recycled tire product, which will allow large amounts of water to drain through it, minimizing the amount of stormwater flowing to the storm drains and basins. For every 1,000 square feet of walking trail, the City will keep approximately 24,000 tires from ending up in landfills.
The main walking trail has a continuous looped 8-foot wide path of 1.5 miles. The path will be ADA accessible throughout. An additional leg of the walking trail will run parallel to Memorial Parkway and will bring visitors along one of the existing ponds on the site culminating in a circular turn around at a pond and open area at the southeastern end of the property.
Race to the finish
Eric Enchelmeyer, Community Event Supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department, says the park will be huge for the local community. “This is going to be a world-class facility that is going to be used by the everyday person that wants a place to run, walk, and be active.”
The newest addition to John Hunt Park will soon be the heart of Huntsville’s active community with strollers, dogs on leashes, and lots of running shoes.