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Runners speak out against changes to Rochester community track

Community at odds over the future of the Soldier's Field track. People are making their voices heard the best way they know how, by running.

Posted: May 23, 2019 8:58 PM
Updated: May 24, 2019 7:52 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - There's no argument the community track at Soldier's Field needs a facelift. 

But some runners in the community were stopped in their tracks when the Rochester park board voted to do that, 3-to-1, by paving it.

"It's not safe for children to run on," Gwen Jacobson, runner and member of the Rochester Track Club, said. "The citizens of Rochester really do like this running track and would like to see it stay a running track."

Jacobson also is also concerned the asphalt will change the loop from being a regulation standard track. 

She's started a petition asking the park board to reconsider its decision. The petition has over 1,170 signatures. 

She also organized a running event on Thursday to make the message heard. From sunrise to sundown, at least one person was running on Soldier's Field track to show city leaders how much they would like to keep it from being an asphalt loop. 

Rizwan Siwani is a parent and said he uses the track to stay active as a family. As a pediatrician, he explained his concerns. 

"With every foot-strike you're sending an impact all through your body," he said. "Another concern for kids is that if you fall down you're going to get a really bad road rash because, again, there is no give to that surface."

Some runners are suggesting the track be made of a special material called beam clay. It's a mixture that is often used on baseball diamonds. 

After doing its research, the city park's division still advised asphalt be the final choice. 

Mike Nigbur is the head of the city's Park and Forestry Division and said resurfacing the track is all part of Soldier's Field's Master Plan, in which the community expressed it wanted the park to be a place for exercise and for community events downtown. 

"Whether it is a festival like Rochesterfest, or something different, people want to see those activities," he said. "This met those goals to have that space changed that way."

City Council approved funding for paving the track. Nigbur said putting beam-clay in would raise the cost of the project about $50,000 and would require more maintence over time. 

Even if runners fundraised the $50,000 difference, which some have offered to do, Nigbur still said asphalt is the best material for the pace to be used for exercise and events. 

"If dollars are now equal, our choice is still asphalt. It's still a better multi-purpose event space," he said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, people against the decision had already ran about 300 miles on the community track. They plan to bring the total number of miles ran and the petition to the next park board meeting in hopes board members will reconsider the decision to pave the track. 

The next park board meeting is on Tuesday, June 4. 

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