The creation of Depot Park on a former polluted industrial site has led a transformation of part of Gainesville, FL. Starting September 29th, Depot Park parkrun is a new event that will add to the park’s role in building health and community in Gainesville.
Depot Park parkrun is a timed 5k in the park that takes place every Saturday at 7:30am, all year round, entirely community-led, and at a cost to participants of absolutely nothing. All are welcome, from Olympians to walkers. What’s not to like?
parkrun (the lower-case ‘p’ is deliberate) is an international non-profit that helps local teams organize free, weekly 5ks every Saturday. Starting in one London park in 2004 it has now spread to 1300 locations in 20 countries every week. The focus is on participation and social support, with no prizes and no swag. All parkruns are organized by the same locals who take part in the events.
The parkrun in Clermont, FL has taken place (almost) every week since Spring 2013
Depot Park parkrun is the brainchild of Gainesville resident Shauna Dixon, who learned about parkrun from visiting her sister in Brighton, England. There are over 500 parkruns every week in the UK, but Gainesville will be just the second parkrun location in Florida, and only the 25th in the US, where events are starting to pop up all around the country.
Shauna: “I started running in my 40s and even though I have always been a very active person, running became a real confidence boost for me. Now in my late 50s, though I have slowed down considerably I still feel like running and the feeling of accomplishment it brings me is second to none. This is a feeling I want to share with everyone.” She is excited to give community members an opportunity “to get up, get out and get moving, free of charge and in a great community setting.”
parkrun is for all ages and abilities
Depot Park is a former brownfield site that in just two years since its opening has become the highest used and most visible space in the Gainesville, a mid-sized college town in north central Florida. It occupies a 32-acre tract adjacent to the former downtown Gainesville railroad depot. Once contaminated by residues from gas stations, a cement plant, railroads, a manufactured gas plant, and a petroleum tank plant, a major cleanup operation starting in 2000 excavated, decontaminated, and rehabilitated the site. (Read the story here.)
Now the park is an integral part of Gainesville’s stormwater management. The historic rail depot building has been restored as a community space. The park features a children’s play area with a splash park. And the park’s water’s edge promenade plays host to walkers, runners, cyclists, and performances. And now it will also host the weekly Depot Park parkrun.
A recent addition to the park is the Cade Museum for Creativity and Innovation, which opened in a stunning lakeside building as recently as May 2018.
Shauna Dixon: “Depot Park is a little gem on the east side of town which has brought a ray of sunshine to many. (Not that we need more rays of sunshine here in Florida!) The north east of Gainesville is under major redevelopment as it has always been the sort of forgotten side of town. Depot Park provides a place for families to have fun together in a safe and beautiful environment.” The parkrun route follows a paved trail that circles the pond and fountain, and is conducive to a non-competitive run/walk.
Depot Park parkrun is free to enter. Once-only registration gets you a free personal barcode that you can print out and bring along to any weekly event. The barcode is scanned after the finish of the parkrun, and used to record your time and track your progress.
You can even use the same barcode at any of the 1300 other parkrun events worldwide when traveling.
You don’t need to be an athlete or seasoned runner to take part. Although the word ‘run’ is in ‘parkrun’, walkers are just as welcome as runners. Nobody need worry about finishing last. Every parkrun provides a volunteer ‘tailwalker’ whose job it is to finish last and look out for the safety of those in front of them.
Children over the age of 4 are welcome to take part, but under 11s should be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Strollers are welcome. Dogs, also known as ‘barkrunners’, are also very welcome, as long as they stay on a short leash.
Dogs are welcome at parkrun, and the tailwalkers guarantee that you will not finish last
Participants should show up a few minutes before the 7:30am start for a pre-run briefing. No need for a complicated check-in process. Everybody is free to leave as soon as they are done, but participants are encouraged to stay around to support other parkrunners.
A standard feature of parkrun events is a post-parkrun meetup at a nearby venue for coffee and snacks. This reinforces the community-building aspect of parkrun, allowing locals and visitors from out of town to get to know each other. The Depot Park parkrun team plans to offer this, and the venue will be conformed shortly.
Creating a 5k event that takes place every week, at no cost to participants, in an attractive setting is obviously no mean feat. Shauna Dixon is joined by a small-but-growing team of community members, including Mary Kay Duncan, and Thomy and Jenesse Buldoc, plus help from the local Fit to Run store. The team would love to hear from others who would like to be involved. Volunteering is fun, and it can be as simple as standing at a corner directing participants, or waiting at the finish to scan finishers’ barcodes.
The team is grateful to the City of Gainesville, and especially the management team of Depot Park, Cindi Harvey and Jodi Biggar, for their support for using the park. Shauna says that there would be no Depot Park parkrun without the guidance from Daniel Whitehouse of Clermont Waterfront parkrun and others in the parkrun USA team. They could not have got off the ground without generous donations from a number of local individuals and organizations.
Final word for Shauna Dixon: “My goal with parkrun is to target first time runners and those who have always wanted to get started but need motivation and location. Exercise is the best medicine for the mind, heart and soul, and if parkrun gives people the momentum they need to continue on that path then my goal will be achieved.
“Running is a passion of mine, and my desire to share the benefits of running and exercise in general with everyone is why I am stepping out of my comfort zone, my bubble of introversion to do this, as I know it will benefit everyone who participates.”
Time: 7:30am, Saturday September 29th, and every week thereafter
Location: Depot Park, 874 SE 4th St, Gainesville, FL 32601
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