Pine Run directors extend stewardship of race, land

David Yon, October 5, 2021

Please be advised the Pine Run 20K is not a flat fast 5K. There are many who never went to Southlands Experiment Forest (home of the race from 1977 until 2006) and will never go to Tall Timbers Research Station (current home of the race) to run this race.

For most, that was and is a good decision. The race is hilly, the footing is treacherous, and the terrain is constantly changing.

But for those willing to take on the challenge, the Pine Run 20K (12.4 miles) represents the sport of running at its best – simple, tough, rewarding, beautiful and full of great comradery.

It is also an excellent way to get information out about Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

The mission of Tall Timbers, as expressed on its website, is “to foster exemplary land stewardship through research, conservation and education. Our primary research focus is the ecology and management of fire-dependent ecosystems, and its wildlife, including bobwhite quail, in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Our conservation efforts are dedicated to helping protect the distinctive, rural landscape of South Georgia and North Florida and its traditional land uses. Our education program transfers research and conservation information for resource management.”

114 back in action for Pine Run

Critical to the success of the Pine Run is the ability of the race directors who lead and organize this race to understand and appreciate the unique nature of this event and the Tall Timbers mission.

They are stewards of the race as much as race directors. Oct. 2, 2021, marked the Pine Run directing debut of Jennifer and Carter Hay as co-race directors. They accepted the stewardship baton from Peg and Gary Griffin, who served as co-race directors since 2015 and did a great job, especially dealing with some unique challenges during their time resulting in two closures of the course – one due to hurricane Michael in 2018 and the other due to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020.

Jennifer and Carter are off to a great start. They did a superb job both for recognizing what makes the race unique and special and for organizing and presenting the race in a manner that is consistent with the goals and objectives of Tall Timbers.

Perhaps the best indication they were successful is the greeting from Neil Fleckenstein, Planning Coordinator at Tall Timbers Research Station, to the runners. ‘We haven’t had any groups out here for 20 months,’ he told at least 114 runners before the start of the 2021 race. “You are the first.”

And with that, the 2021 Pine Run was underway on a slightly warm day. Chris O’Kelley and Sheryl Rosen took the top spots with times of 1:18:02 and 1:35:20.

Race history appreciation

The Pine Run has had basically two lives, one from 1977 through 2006 at International Paper Company’s (IP) Southlands Experiment Forest and one at Tall Timbers Research Station, from 2008 until now. They were both tough races, but what made them special was the unique relationship between runner, the land they run on, and those who manage that land.

The race was first organized for IP in 1977 by Dave Stetson of the Troy Running Club, Troy, Alabama. Jim Stephens, GWTC President at the time, was there to help as well.

But the staff at IP did the largest part of laying out the course and handling the registration. I ran my first one in 1986 and my 27th on Saturday.

In April of 2001, the Atlanta Chapter of the Audubon Society designated the company’s Silver Lake tract at its Southlands Forest near Bainbridge, Georgia, as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

The release stated: ‘International Paper has broken new ground again with its habitat conservation plan for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW),’ said Jim Wilson, Georgia IBA coordinator for the Atlanta Chapter of the Audubon Society.

Stewards in Tall Timbers territory

The race would still be running in Southlands Experiment Forest, except IP decided to sell the property. In 2007, the message came down – there will be no more Pine Run at Southlands. Replacing it, while preserving it would not be easy. The race could not just go on along some concrete path through the city.

Most fortunately, Tall Timbers answered the call, thank to Neil. And

Gordon Cherr stepped up as the first “steward” of the first Pine Run at Tall Timbers and did a good job transitioning the race to Tall Timbers.

It is exciting to watch the enthusiasm, organization, and appreciation for history that the Hays bring to this event. They appear to work extremely well with Neil and the staff at Tall Timbers. I asked them about their experience.

Location is special

Q. How did you wind up as directors of this race?

A. We’ve been involved in the Tallahassee running community for years. We know most of the race directors well and appreciate all their hard work—it made sense that we’d one day get even more involved.

Also, the timing was good: Our son Hawthorne ran for Chiles cross country and track, and we’d poured our volunteering energy into that during his four years. When he graduated, we wanted a new way to be part of the running community.

On how we got signed up for the Pine Run in particular: We recall Peg Griffin letting us know she’d like us to take over the Pine Run when she and her husband Gary handed it off. We were excited and honored — Peg and Gary do everything so well, and we knew we’d get their guidance and help. And the appeal of being out on a cross country course again as the sun comes up made the Pine Run at Tall Timbers perfect for us.

Q. What are your major takeaways after the first year?

A. Our biggest takeaway is that the Tall Timbers location is what makes the race so special. It’s a working research forest, so this is the only time each year we can run there. The key as race directors is to get the logistics and organization right so that the runners and the extraordinary appeal of Tall Timbers can remain the focus.

Our second takeaway is how much a great race depends on the volunteers— they were incredible in every way. It’s a big team effort, and that makes it a lot of fun.

What do you hope to accomplish next year?

Tall Timbers is such a wonderful place—our goal will always be to do whatever we can to get more people involved in the race so they can experience it themselves.

That sounds like great stewards to me.

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