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Leon County Leaders Unveil Championship Cross Country Course Ahead Of Record Season

Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Meda
Leon County Parks and Recreation Director Amanda Heidecker, a former NCAA cross country runner for Florida State University, describes the efforts that took place over the last decade to fully develop Apalachee's permanent championship cross country course, finish line, awards stage, and multi-use building.

Tallahassee’s new fully developed cross country course is expected to make Apalachee Regional Park a destination for sports tourism.

“Leon County will host a record seven cross country events,” said Rick Minor, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, during a press conference on Monday at the park.

Those events include the NCAA Division I pre-national and National Championship cross country meets this fall. “This will be the first time in the race’s eighty-three-year history that it will be held in Florida, and we are thrilled to host this event right here,” Minor said.

Valerie Crowder
WFSU Public Meda
A permanent finish line to the cross country course at Apalachee Regional Park was unveiled days ahead of this year's season.

This year’s season begins with Florida State University’s Cross Country Open meet on Friday. Runners from Brigham Young University and Stanford University will compete, said Florida State University Track and Field Coach Bob Braman.

On Nov. 20, they’ll host the NCAA National Championship meet. And on Oct. 10, the NCAA pre-national championship meet will happen. That one is expected to bring about 70 teams to the park, Braman said.

These events couldn’t have happened without expanding the course and its amenities, he said. The track was widened to 10 meters to host national meets. “It looks like somebody cut a road through the woods,” Braman said. The county, partnering with Florida State University and Gulf Winds Track Club, has worked to widen the course over the last several years.

The new course includes a permanent finish line, an awards stage, and a multi-purpose building. Braman says these additions are “what a championship cross country [course] has to have.”

Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Meda
An awards stage is among the Apalachee Regional Park's new cross country amenities.

The cross country course is expected to attract 35,000 visitors and generate $10 million in local revenue this fall. Looking ahead, county leaders are hoping the World Athletics Championships will choose the site for its annual cross country meet in 2026.

“This is just the start for this facility and the six-hundred acres,” Parks and Recreation director Amanda Heidecker said. “[What] was once a solid waste facility will become six-hundred acres of beautiful park space.”

"All of the amenities serve the community and make for a better experience running through the woods," said Heidecker, who ran cross country for Florida State University. Plans include a dog park, expanding cycling trails for events, camping sites, and a disc golf course. Work on a new fishing pier will finish at the end of the month. The county is also working on a roundabout to ease traffic flow through the park.

“Most cross country meets are just makeshift–they throw us out on a cross country course or over some sidewalks and through some soccer fields,” Heideck continued. “These athletes are some of the hardest working athletes you’ll ever come across. To give them something like this where they come in and their eyes are just opened–it’s an experience I really can’t even describe.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.