Des Moines locals can’t agree on how to pronounce the name of their city (de MOYN or de MOYNZ is accepted) but we know they’ll all agree that parkrun is a great addition to their community come June 9th. Des Moines, Washington (not Iowa) is a waterfront community on Puget Sound, 30 minutes southeast of Seattle and 15 minutes west of Renton, the location of the other existing parkrun in the state.
The parkrun course will explore the part of the Des Moines Creek Trail that exists within the town’s boundaries. Starting near the city’s marina, the paved trail makes its way past a water treatment facility on a stretch that the locals jokingly call “poop hill,” but it’s a very short segment of the trail and there usually isn’t a need for a nosegay. The trail then plunges into a deciduous forest with green ferns and moss growing along a burbling creek.
Runners and walkers should keep their eyes out for blue herons, kingfishers, mallard ducks, owls, raccoons, bunnies, squirrels, and coyotes, who all call this area home. The turn-around point is the marker of the town’s boundary, set into the asphalt in the middle of the trail. We’re guessing the course marshal stationed here will be a very welcome sight for most participants. Why so? Because they will have been running and walking at a slight (2%) uphill grade for the first 2.5k and on the way back it’s all downhill!
After parkrun, participants can explore Des Moines Beach Park and take in the views of the Sound from the Des Moines Public Fishing Pier in the marina. On any given day one can see plenty of waterfowl at the waterfront including bald eagles, sea eagles and osprey, and maybe even river otters and seals.
From June through September, the local farmers’ market is held at the waterfront, starting at 10 am. In fact, the launch of parkrun in Des Moines has been planned to coincide with the launch of the 2018 farmers market season, to help give both events a boost. We’re sure parkrunners will enjoy the opportunity to walk over to the market to purchase refreshing beverages and healthy, locally-grown or made snacks. Picnic tables and plenty of green space near the start/finish line means that on pleasant Saturdays in the summer, the parkrun venue and post-parkrun coffee venue will be one and the same.
Des Moines Creek is one of the first US parkruns to develop as a result of the popularity of a nearby, existing event. The Event Directors were introduced to parkrun in the US, whereas the leaders for most other US events have been people who first experienced parkrun abroad. Typically, a few local parkrun enthusiasts drive the efforts to secure the park and start-up fundraising. In Des Moines, however, the parks department and the funding were in place before a local team of volunteers were recruited.
How exactly does that happen, you ask? Well, that can be traced back to parkrun enthusiast-turned-parkrun USA Ambassador Kortney Thoma. After a lengthy exploration of the region, Renton was the first Pacific Northwest community to welcome parkrun and support its implementation. Once up and running (pun always intended) and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback, some of the other contacts made through the networking process took notice.
With enthusiastic support from the parks department and the offer of a permit, Kortney and fellow volunteer-turned-parkrun USA Ambassador Cathryn Burby asked their parks contact for networking help. Soon they were invited to the local Rotary Club, which led to an offer to present parkrun to the Des Moines Legacy Foundation of Washington. The parks department partner made the pitch and secured funding for parkrun at their next meeting. The final piece of the parkrun pie, a volunteer team, was needed to get the event off the ground. Kortney reached out to a running club led by Des Moines resident of 10 years Earl Harper. She invited them to join the crew at Renton parkrun and a small group of four Des Moines runners started coming regularly.
Earl, now Co-Event Director for the Des Moines Creek parkrun, says that are a lot of runners and walkers in Des Moines but parkrun will provide a way to build community. “What I would like to see is runners meeting other runners so that they can use their new friendships to help motivate and encourage each other to get out and exercise,” he said. He hopes having a local parkrun will inspire people who are currently inactive to get out and join in the fun.
Over the last several months Earl and the growing DMC parkrun team have been learning the ropes in Renton. Reflecting on his observations of that event, Earl shared “I think what has stood out the most is the dedication that many of the volunteers seem to have for these events. I like that the events are fun, relaxing, and that there are no judgments from anybody on how fast or slow people are going. I like the words of encouragement everybody gives to each other and the high fives as they run past.”
Co-Event Director Elizabeth Hoekstra agrees. She served as Run Director for the first two DMC trial events, and as a relative newcomer to Des Moines she is excited to connect with others in her new community through parkrun. “I was recently looking for ways to become more active in my new community when I stumbled upon a Facebook post about this parkrun thing. On a whim, I decided to check it out. Even through I didn’t talk to many others on that first day, I still felt drawn to the community and kept coming back. Pretty soon I was volunteering and when I heard there were others interested in bringing another parkrun to my community, I volunteered there, too!”
Come June 9, Des Moines Creek will be the second parkrun in the Pacific Northwest, and it won’t be the last.
“While it took us 20+ months to secure permits and launch the first PNW parkrun in Renton, we were always confident that this program would be successful in the region. Demonstrating how parkrun operates and the incredible amount of goodwill it generates was, and still is, an important step in growing the program,” said Kortney. “This has not been done here before so there are a lot of unknowns from the perspective of city parks departments, and with that comes some hesitation. Our success in Renton has increased our credibility and is winning influence with stakeholders; our expedited concept-to-launch timeline in Des Moines is evidence of that,” she added.
South King County is leading the way in innovative community programs like parkrun and we look forward to helping other cities in the Greater Seattle Area learn from their successes. Keep an eye on the PNW region; we already have teams working on two more events!
If you’re planning a trip to check out parkrun USA’s newest event, you’ll want to know that the start/finish is just 2.6 mile walk or 3 mile drive from the Angle Lake stop on the Sound Transit Light Rail, which runs between the city of Seattle and SeaTac Airport. There is a paid parking lot (to the tune of $1 per hour) in Des Moines Beach Park (22030 Cliff Avenue South) and free parking along the streets nearby, just a short warm-up walk away. Start time is 9 am every Saturday, and the farmers market conveniently starts at 10am for an enjoyable Saturday morning itinerary.
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If you’ve arrived at parkrun during event set-up or have volunteered for your local event, you’ve likely watched a Run Director pull all of the parkrun gear out of a Mary Poppins-esque bundle. It’s true that parkruns happen with minimal equipment and intentionally have a small footprint. Each event has the same tokens, stopwatches, scanners,…