Mill Creek MetroParks Eyes Possible Cross Country Course for YSU, Others

CANFIELD, Ohio – Brian Gorby calls his cross country teams nomads, ones without a dedicated home course.

That could very well change by the end of next year, as Mill Creek MetroParks has approached Youngstown State University and its distance head coach about developing a portion of the 402-acre MetroPark Farm just off state Route 46 into a new cross-country track and field course. The property already houses part of the multi-county bikeway, a disc golf course and archery range. 

“This is almost kind of a dream in regard to having a course out here,” says Gorby, the YSU cross country and track and field head coach who has about 50 runners on his men’s and women’s teams. “They’re looking like they’re going to try to retrofit it to what the needs are to possibly run a future [collegiate] meet.”

The preliminary cost of earthwork and grading soils, stormwater infrastructure, along with flagging, signage, fencing and other work or items to be completed on the course is estimated at $50,000, says Mill Creek MetroParks Planning and Operations Director Justin Rogers. He adds if all falls into place, the course could be complete by the end of 2022. The funds were made available to the park from an anonymous donor.  

“We’re working through the design, being able to maintain what we’re doing with this additional use,” Rogers says.

The course’s start and finish line is next to the paved and gravel parking lots off of state Route 46, across from the Canfield Fairgrounds. Tentatively, the course would span on two- and three-mile loops winding around the mostly flat farmlands with paths around 20 meters wide. The new course would be available for YSU teams and other patrons.

The cornfield next to the parking lot will be replaced with grass for a venue that can be very spectator friendly.

“I think it’s going to be terrific with the start/finish near the buildings and the parking lots, but you also have vistas and a very wide view shed utilizing the natural topography of the farm,” Rogers says. “While we’ve not nailed down a final alignment, there’s the potential for even the most distanced part of the course to be viewed by the main nucleus of where the spectators may be. 

“And then throughout the course, because of the bikeway, bikeway spur trail, there are accessible trails where people can get out and view different parts of the course with very little conflict out there.”

Mill Creek MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young adds the current COVID-19 pandemic has taught the public the importance about getting outside and pursuing a healthy living.

Aaron Young, Justin Rogers and Chris Litton stand near the administration office of the Mill Creek MetroParks.

“You can’t say those things without also mentioning cross country,” he says.

The question for Mill Creek MetroParks is how can the mission of enhancing and educating the importance of farming be integrated with this outdoor sport? This project is still in the preliminary stages.

“Marrying recreational uses is an option for us and cross country fits that need,” Young says. “So the needs have to be met by both activities cross country and what the mission here is at the farm.”

Cross country courses have lots of foot traffic, sometimes lending to intense wear and tear through usage and northeast Ohio weather conditions.

Young says the biggest challenge is having a course that can withstand those needs, something Mill Creek MetroParks is evaluating. Width of the course and drainage on those couple of miles are vital for longevity.

“Having a dedicated course doesn’t necessarily mean a change in surface, but it can,” Young says. “That’s what we’re evaluating as well.”

Gorby says his team hosted the 2013 Horizon League championships at Boardman High School, using portable blowers 24 to 36 hours before the race to dry the course. It was used a week following a high school regional meet.

This new course will be maintained by the litany of Mill Creek MetroParks equipment. 

“It’s priceless to have all the farm equipment and be able to get out there,” Gorby says. “Roll it. Cut it. Keep it dry again. It could be the premiere course in the area and the state of Ohio.”

Working a cross country course cannot take away the plethora of activities already on the Mill Creek MetroParks land.

“One challenge we are already evaluating is, if we do a cross country course here and are successful with it, we have to keep in mind that there are other activities going on here at the MetroParks farm,” Young says. “Just because we may be holding a cross country meet, we certainly wouldn’t want a negative impact on those uses as well. So everything’s got to kind of work together.”

YSU distance runners can be seen training through the many roads winding through the wooded areas connecting Boardman Township and Youngstown.

Before the MetroParks farmland was tabbed for a cross country course, there were some discussions about utilizing the Wick Recreation Area on the west side of Youngstown. It would not be suitable for NCAA cross country racing, but there has been some talk about making a high school/middle school course there. YSU would use that area for practice, Gorby says. He adds his runners do 20 to 30% of their training there.

“Naturally identifying the Wick Recreation Area as our regionally significant active recreation facility and tying in a dedicated course, there was a no-brainer,” Rogers says. “I think they still have potential to do that.

“We’ve looked at some potential alignments to fit a collegiate course. With the required dimensions, it doesn’t seem like it’s feasible, but to develop another opportunity for local high schools for training and potentially events down the road. I think that’s something that will certainly continue to be considered.”

YSU’s cross country programs are some of the best in the Midwest, Gorby says, and to have a home course after years of running on others is important. “We’ve done more with less and we’re excited about doing more with more and working with the park board to do that,” he says. 

Pictured at top: Brian Gorby stands where a new cross country course will be installed across from the Canfield Fairgrounds. The Youngstown State University cross country teams will call this venue on the Mill Creek MetroParks property its home course.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.