The Hart family fell in love with parkrun at Paradise Point in Australia. It had something for everyone. After moving back to the US they wanted to recreate the magic in their new community. You can be the judge, but Weedon Island Preserve parkrun, which starts May 18th in St Petersburg, FL, is as close to paradise as we have seen.
An international move comes with many challenges, consequences, and sacrifices; but a parkrunner never leaves a parkrun behind. On June 2, 2018, the Hart family participated in their final event at Paradise Point parkrun in Queensland, Australia and set their sights on bringing parkrun to their hometown of St. Petersburg, FL.
parkrun is for everybody – whatever pace you prefer to walk or run
Several years ago, while enjoying an ice cream cone with her family, Jennifer noticed what appeared to be a father, mother, son, and daughter running along a waterfront path in Gold Coast, Australia. She remarked to her children and husband sitting with her, “That is awesome! I want to be like that family!”
While the path is frequented by many people who are walking, running, or cycling, it was this family that caught her attention because of their resemblance to her own.
Soon afterwards, Tim, her husband, caught wind of parkrun.
Tim thought parkrun was just what Jennifer was looking for: a family friendly 5K that meets each participant at their own level. Tim and Ellis (10 years old at the time) were natural runners, but Jennifer and Josilynn (9 at the time) were not. In June of 2016 the Harts completed their first parkrun. Tim and Ellis reveled in a satisfying finish time. Jennifer and Josilynn were ecstatic over running the entire course without walking. Along their runs, the Harts were pleasantly surprised with the numerous cheers from parkrun marshals and timekeepers, as well as the support from volunteers at the finish line.
The friendly, non-competitive atmosphere had them forever hooked! Nearly every Saturday for the next two years, the Harts began their mornings with parkrun. Tim, Jennifer, and Ellis often tried for a personal best time (PB), while Josilynn became a dependable volunteer and an expert barcode and token scanner.
The Harts fell in love with parkrun at Paradise Point in Australia
Jennifer was just looking for an activity conducive to the varying abilities of her family, but she received much more. Yes, her family’s fitness greatly improved over time, but so did their confidence. For a couple months, Ellis coached his mom while running alongside her, keeping her on pace. As a result, she earned five PBs.
“My 11-year-old son was my coach. How amazing is that?,” said Jennifer, “Then, if that wasn’t rewarding enough, my husband and people I didn’t know were cheering me on at the finishing chute. They didn’t know I was on pace for a PB. That’s just what you do at parkrun. The icing on the cake was that my daughter, Josilynn, was there waiting for me to scan my PB finish token.”
Whether running, jogging, walking, or volunteering, the parkrun community recognizes everyone’s efforts; and with the help of a tail walker, no one ever finishes last.
The family proudly displays their parkrun milestone shirts, earned by completing 50 parkruns, or volunteering 25 times at parkrun
When they decided to move back to the US the Harts searched for a parkrun in Florida. Although the US parkrun search map showed three events in the state, none were near St. Pete. Without hesitation, Tim, Jennifer, and their kids decided that they would bring parkrun to their community.
Tim and Jennifer were in search of a venue that would offer parkrunners a unique course; one that would remind locals of Florida’s natural beauty and offer tourists a unique parkrun experience.
The Weedon Island Preserve (WIP) parkrun does that and more. It entices even the most dedicated parkrunner to forego their PB to stop and take a selfie along the route.
Check out the Weedon Island Preserve website.
The Harts hope that the St. Petersburg community will quickly see that parkrun is not about the bands or the swag, and that it offers something simpler, and a different kind of social experience.
parkrun is about creating healthy communities. The Harts see it as being about making connections: connection with self, connection with nature, and connection with community. parkrun holds no expectations; all are welcome to run, jog, walk, or volunteer.
The WIPparkruncourse has four components: Upland Trail, Bay Boardwalk, Lookout Point Trail, and Tower Boardwalk.
First, Upland Trail, the paved portion of the course, serves as the connection between the boardwalks. It takes parkrunners through a pine flatwoods community and passes by the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center.
Second, the Bay Boardwalk loop extends through tidal flats and mangrove forests that provide viewing opportunities over saltwater ponds, which are often teeming with mullet and wading birds.
Third, Lookout Point Trail, a natural trail, takes parkrunners on a sandy journey over a footbridge and through pine flatwoods, maritime and xeric hammocks, and towering oaks.
And finally, along the Tower Boardwalk loop stands a 45-foot observation tower that provides a view of the preserve and Tampa Bay, as well as the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa on a clear day.
Weedon Island Preserve parkrun starts at 7:30am on Saturday May 18th, and every Saturday after that. One time registration at parkrun.us is free and easy, and it gets you a personal barcode that you can print and bring to WIP parkrun any Saturday. Or any of the other 1700 parkrun events worldwide, for that matter.
St Pete is the 4th Florida community to have a weekly parkrun event, and the 32nd in the US. Clermont Waterfront parkrun is one of the pioneering US parkruns, and 7,500 people have run or walked the equivalent of three times around the planet since the launch 6 years ago. Newer Florida events in Gainesville and Pensacola have started in the past year.
Since its launch in 2013, Clermont Waterfront parkrun has welcomed thousands of locals and visitors to its beautiful lakeside trail
The Harts are excited to see WIP parkrun become a reality. Every Saturday since February, with the help of extended family and friends, they have been putting the course through its paces with low-key gatherings.
On launch day, you can expect typical May weather with an enthusiastic welcome from the entire WIP parkrun crew, including cheers from the course marshals, lovingly nicknamed the “parkrun paparazzi.”
Ever since the very first parkrun event, in London in 2004, a standard feature has been the post-parkrun coffee meetup. So, shortly after the tail walker crosses the finish line, WIP parkrunners are invited to come along for a chat and coffee at the nearby Starbucks (8801 4th St. N., St Petersburg).
Dogs: since this event takes place within a nature preserve, WIP parkrun does not allow bicycles or domesticated animals (e.g., dogs) in an effort to minimize the impact of our presence and to protect native plants and animals in the preserve.
Strollers: given the natural conditions of the Lookout Point Trail and the narrow boardwalks, WIP parkrun is not suitable for a double stroller. A parkrun walker pushing a single jogging-style stroller should be able to complete the course. However, this is not advised, for the safety of all participants.
Hydration: For parkrunners unfamiliar with tropical living, bring plenty of water to drink and wear ample sunscreen and insect repellant, particularly during the warmer months.
Events start at 7:30am year round. Please arrive a few minutes early for a pre-event briefing.
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