Missouri Park & Recreation Association - Missouri Park & Recreation Magazine, Winter 2020

24 Missouri Parks and Recreation • www.mopark.org Running is one of the most popular and practiced sports worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more than 64 million people went jogging or running in 2016, representing a nearly 300 percent per capita increase since 1990. Relieving stress and having fun are among the top reasons Americans continue to run; however within the growing trend are competitive races on and off road, with the passion for this starting at the youth level with the sport of cross country. The intensity of the starting line captured during the Gans Creek Classic. John Kelly Photos,LLC. While cross country running is not a new individual or team sport, the historic planning trend for parks and recreation departments have been traditional active sports such as baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer facilities. Cross country courses historically were set up to run through parks or golf courses following simple mowed paths and painted lines, with no real infrastructure or permanence. Columbia Parks and Recreation (CPRD) and a unique partnership with the Missouri State High School Athletic Association (MSHSAA) and the University of Missouri Athletics (MU) aim to race to the front of the growing running trend of dedicated cross country courses with the development of a championship cross country course as a stand alone park amenity that can host a variety of running events for all skill levels. While talks of hosting cross country at Gans Creek Recreation Area had been making the rounds locally since the development of the park began, it wasn’t until MSHSAA awarded CPRD with the cross The natural terrain at Gans Creek was ideal for the design team to work with. Photo by Matt Boehner country state championships, previously held at the Oak Hill Golf Course in Jefferson City for over 40 years, that the decision to move forward on the construction of a dedicated cross country course in Columbia, Missouri was made. Recreation Services Manager Erika Coffman saw this MSHSAA bid award as an opportunity for CPRD to host a pre-state championship cross country event as a revenue generator for the department, the Gans Creek Classic, and began organizing the event as the course was still taking shape. Located at Gans Creek Recreation Area on the southside of Columbia, the cross country course utilizes the rolling mid-Missouri terrain to its advantage to provide a challenging two and three kilometer loops that allow organizers to set up a diverse number of race distances with minimal switch points and staffing, which makes it attractive for hosting local, state, regional, and national events. Running Wild Matt Boehner, Senior Planner/Landscape Architect Columbia Parks and Recreation Department