The Pine Run Reborn

David Yon, October 2008

You pick up the phone and you just know there is going to be bad news on the other end. Last September that is exactly what happened when I called Janice Baty at the Southlands Experimental Forest and International Paper (IP). Janice and IP had hosted what was my most beloved race – The Pine Run 20K. For the previous four or five years, I had anxiously dialed the phone and asked “Will there be a race this year?” Often she did not know when I first asked, but somehow we kept getting one more year, including number 30 in 2006. Finally, though with IP doing its best to sell the beautiful property that hosted the race the answer on the other end of the phone line was “No, there will be no Pine Run.” I remember writing sadly thereafter the era of the Pine Run had come to an end.

It was a wonderful partnership and Janice and her coworkers were terrific hosts who provided us with a beautiful place to run dominated by the towering hills that intimated most runners as they drove into the property. The Pine Run was the sport of running at its best – simple, tough, rewarding, beautiful and full of great companionship. But if I could have asked one thing, it would be to run it once more, knowing it would be the last – a last chance to say good bye to a good friend.

But the Pine Run was too special to just die, and happily just over a year ago a hand tapped my shoulder in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium as I sat in my seat getting ready to watch FSU take on Alabama. Neil Fleckenstein helps take care of another forest – different, but just as special as the Southlands Forest – Tall Timbers Land Conservancy. Tall Timbers is celebrating its 50th year of existence and Neil was looking for opportunities to help convey its conservation message to the community. What better way to do so than having a group of wild animals, also called runners, exploring it during a race. The land is both beautiful and rugged – certainly a worthy successor.

Our primary research focus is the ecology of fire and natural resource management including bobwhite quail and other wildlife in the southeastern coastal plain. Our conservation efforts are dedicated to helping protect the distinctive Red Hills landscape of south Georgia and north Florida, and its traditional land uses. Our education program transfers research and conservation information for resource management.

It needed a new race director too and Gordon Cherr stepped up to take on the task and to excel at it. In his mind, Tall Timbers was a perfect replacement:

I knew it would be a rebirth when this venue somehow became available. A long time ago, my wife had worked at Tall Timbers …. so I had been able to sneak up there some days all alone and run the Red Hills and forest trails. I found the place to be magnificent, from the breezy piney uplands to the hardwood hammocks that border Lake Iamonia…Running the trails at Tall Timbers was my rare chance to run the real Florida, not the Florida of paved streets and condominiums or fast food joints or cookie cutter subdivisions.

And so, the Pine Run was in fact reborn on Saturday, October 11, 2008. 140 or so runners competed in the 31st edition of the race I thought had been lost forever. Vince Molosky (1:17:44) was first across the line and Kati Gosnell (1:27:31) was the first woman to finish. So, here is a special thank you to Gordon Cherr and Neil Fleckenstein (and all the folks at Tall Timbers, including Lane Green) for keeping alive a very special treasure.