Supporters are circling the track at Soldiers Memorial Field today to demonstrate their dedication to it, and its unpaved surface.
“We’ve used the track quite a bit,” said Debbie Beauchene as she and her daughter, Shannon Beauchene, finished running laps this morning. They were part of a group that planned to put in miles all day long in an effort to raise awareness of plans to pave the track — plans they oppose.
The mother and daughter, who took their dog, Rampage, for his first run on the track, said they’ve used it to train for running events, including Shannon’s home-school track and cross-country teams when she was a high-schooler.
“There is a lot of personal fitness that takes place on this track,” Debbie Beauchene said.
Approximately 20 runners started making their rounds at 5 a.m. and plan to be on the track until the sun goes down. By 7:30 a.m., another 10 had added their names to the log.
“I’m sure we have at least 50 miles so far,” said Gwen Jacobson, one of the event’s organizers. She said 50 to 60 runners have committed to showing up throughout the day, but more are expected.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘I didn’t sign up, but I’m going to show up,’” Jacobson said.
The runners are hoping to change the minds of Rochester Park Board members, who have started the process for converting the cinder-covered oval into an asphalt track as part of a festival grounds defined in the park’s 2016 master plan.
Switching to an asphalt track, the runners say, would create a less-attractive surface for running events, especially the five to six Hal Martin All Comers Track Meets held each summer.
The trouble is that the old-time cinders used on the track are no longer in supply to be replenished, and on several occasions drainage issues have made it difficult to use the track for days after rain has flooded the area.
The Rochester Track Club has pitched using Beam Clay, a crushed natural material, to replace the cinders.
Jacobson said she plans to take the number of miles logged during today’s run and a petition with more than 1,300 signatures to the June 4 Park Board meeting, when board members plan to review a request seeking contractors for the project
In addition to the materials generated by the awareness effort, she said track supporters will have research regarding Beam Clay and questions for the Park Board.
While Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said a 16-inch foundation was needed to make the track stable enough for use as a festival area featuring food trucks, Jacobson said she believes a similar goal is achievable with a 4-inch base.
She is also suggesting food trucks used during festivals could park on the outside of the track and allow customers to use the track for accessing the vendors.
“Families like it because its open,” she said, noting the Park Board should seek an option that can work well for running events and festivals.