When Matt Kirk and Nancy Desmond visited parkrun events in the UK and closer to home in Ohio, they were both struck by the sense of community at these free, weekly 5K events. They both separately resolved to bring a parkrun to Cleveland, OH. After discovering their shared ambition, they set to work on what is now Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation (OECR) parkrun, which launches Saturday October 5th, and continues every week after that.
The Cleveland area is home to everything a runner, jogger, or walker would want – frequent road and trail races, run groups, miles of trails, and a first-rate park system in Cleveland Metroparks. Two Cleveland transplants, Matt Kirk and Nancy Desmond, experienced parkrun in the UK and decided that Cleveland needed one. That was the beginning journey for two parkrun tourists bringing to Cleveland a free, weekly 5K run/walk event open to anyone and everyone.
Co-Event Director Matt Kirk comes from a background in competitive running, having run in college and coached in the high-school and community ranks for a decade. Matt’s interest in parkrun began after reading about it online and hearing a podcast about efforts in British Columbia and Boston to make parkrun a reality. Being relatively new to Cleveland, Matt struggled to find a community of people with a similar interest.
Matt was sold on the idea after being a “parkrun tourist” at Hackney Marshes in the summer of 2018. “I was immediately hooked. There was this community that was so welcoming and encouraging to everyone. I wanted this to be here in Cleveland. I would see a lot of the same people exercising on the trails throughout Cleveland, but there was not a sense of belonging.”
Co-Event Director Nancy Desmond has been running since age 15. These days, she mixes trail running with biking and yoga. In 2017, while visiting Winchester, UK, Nancy ran their local parkrun and she was impressed with the sense of community, camaraderie, and wellness. Talking it up back home, she struggled to find runners who were familiar with parkrun or generate local interest. But she knew if people could attend one, they’d like it. She contacted parkrun USA, an all-volunteer group that coordinates events around the country, and they connected her to Matt.
parkrun is hugely popular in the UK, where there are events in 600 locations around the country every Saturday, and in a handful of other countries. It’s still relatively unknown in the US, but spreading rapidly. OECR parkrun will be the 40th parkrun event in the US, and the third in Ohio. The Washington DC area alone has a half dozen weekly parkrun events.
Mansfield, OH parkrun has taken place every week since early 2017, attracting hundreds of community members to get fit outside on a Saturday morning
An important value of parkrun is its inclusivity – it really is for everyone. Whether you volunteer, walk, jog, or run, parkrun has a place for you. In addition to being free, there are no prizes or swag, and there’s an ironclad you-will-not-finish-last guarantee. That’s because it’s the job of the volunteer tailwalker to finish last, ensuring that all finish safely. Whether you finish the 5K in 15 minutes or an hour and 15 minutes, parkrun is just some time set aside on Saturday morning to focus on your well-being.
With two equally passionate parkrun allies, the work could finally begin. The two met and began discussing places to hold the free, weekly event. Having made a short list of possible Metroparks, they got approval to hold the parkrun at Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation (OECR), centrally located in the greater Cleveland area and home to beautiful, under-used trails. According to Matt, “It’s a gem of the Metroparks system. It highlights how industrial land can be reclaimed for recreational purposes. Urban decay to urban glory.”
The 5k course takes ample advantage of the flat land along the Cuyahoga River and 19th century Ohio & Erie Canal. A downhill in the first quarter mile becomes an uphill to make a challenging finish. The course uses the multi-purpose trails that wind through OECR.
There are also plenty of chances to cheer and support all participants, with the course being a combination of an out-and-back with 2 smaller loops. That encouragement factor played a large role in Nancy and Matt’s push for Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation to be the home of Cleveland’s first parkrun.
Nancy and Matt’s interest in bringing parkrun to Cleveland was increased with their first-hand experience of Ohio’s two existing parkruns.
When visiting the Mansfield, OH parkrun, which has held 130 free events since early 2017, they saw how parkrun brings that sense of belonging to a community. Whether volunteering, walking, or jogging, everyone was cheered on and took time to catch up with each other at the end of the event.
Mansfield OH parkrun in winter. parkrun continues year-round, even in the Ohio winter.
Nancy had a similar experience when visiting the recently launched Sippo Lake parkrun in Canton, OH. Both Nancy and Matt aim to build on the success that parkrun has already seen in Ohio.
Nancy and Matt are very grateful to Cleveland Metroparks. Without their willingness to talk through course options and their leadership taking the time to listen to presentations, the OECR parkrun would not be possible. Nancy and Matt are excited that Cleveland Metroparks shares their view that parkrun is a chance for more of the public to focus on their own well-being and community.
Sippo Lake parkrun launched in Canton, OH in April 2019 and already has built a warm community. Walkers fit in just as much as speedy runners at parkrun.
Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation parkrun launches Saturday, October 5th at 9 am. Participants should arrive by 8:45 am for the pre-event briefing and everyone is welcome to join the crew for post-event coffee at The CanalWay Visitor Center located near the start/finish. The weekly post-parkrun coffee meetup is a popular feature of most parkrun events.
Meetup after OECD parkrun for coffee and conversation at the beautiful CanalWay Center
For more information about Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation parkrun, including details on parking and the location of the start:
You can register or sign up to volunteer through the event website. Your one-time registration enables you to participate in any parkrun around the globe (there are over 1,500) and all you need is a printed copy of the barcode that will be emailed to you. Whether you’d like to participate, volunteer, or just come observe parkrun, you’re most welcome, and the team is excited to welcome you to the parkrun community!
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