The value of parkrun to small communities
By South Burnett Region Council - Councillor Ros Heit
The global phenomenon of parkrun gives fantastic benefits to communities and people across Australia and the world. The free, weekly 5km run or walk was started in London in 2004 and grew slowly. It came to Australia in 2011 and since that time has grown steadily across all states.
There are 368 locations around Australia, predominantly in the larger population areas - with over half a million people registered. Around 40,000 men, women and children from age 0 to well over 80 take part every week including sprinters, joggers and walkers, with prams and dogs too! The crucial point about parkrun is that its non-competitive and many people walk the 5km and the tail walker is always last- so no pressure to go faster.
In an era when far too many people are overweight and inactive, parkrun (always one word and small p) is hugely beneficial. A second great benefit of parkrun is the camaraderie among the organising volunteers and participants. Another tick for social and mental wellbeing! Another aspect of parkrun is the tourism and economic benefit it generates. This may not be as relevant in the cities but in small country towns across Australia this can be a significant economic driver.
Wondai, in the South Burnett is a case in point. With a population 2000, Wondai was built on the rail line like most towns back in the day. A few years ago, this was converted to the South Burnett Rail Trail, a 42km bitumen sealed walking and push bike trail.
The Wondai parkrun is an out and back course on this trail. The bitumen surface and gentle inclines makes for a popular running surface. Each week, around 50 locals and visitors take part. parkrun run enthusiasts or ‘tragics’ will travel the country visiting different parkruns sometimes just to enjoy a new parkrun but also for fun challenges like chasing ‘the alphabet’ - where you compete in a parkrun starting with each letter of the alphabet (Inverloch and Zillmere always popular for this exercise). An X parkrun will be very popular when one starts.
There is also the Compass club - completing the most westerly, northern, southern and eastern parkruns. Or the ‘Pirate’ club - sailing the seven seas (7 parkruns beginning with C and at least 1 R (arrrrrr).
These parkrun devotees love a challenge and have a huge amount of fun! Over 7000 individual runs/walk from nearly 1200 different people have completed Wondai parkrun (equivalent to over half the town’s population!) since its inception in January 2017 and as Wondai is 3 hours from Brisbane, most visitors will stay at least one night and often longer enjoying the local facilities. Grey nomads plan their inland routes to be at a parkrun like Wondai on a Saturday. All of this good for the little country town.
After the weekly parkrun, many participants adjourn to the local cafe, Dans Diner. The social aspect is valued by a number of local farmers where this is maybe the only social outing each week and they enjoy the networking and chat; invaluable for mental wellbeing in this current drought.
Recently we did a few calculations: Wondai has had 145 weekly parkruns (nearly 3 years’ worth) and at least 30 people go to the cafe after the run each week and spend on average $8 - so that’s almost $35,000! Dan rosters on extra Saturday morning staff so the benefit is shared with the community. Then there is the accommodation, fuel and meal spend of visitors; the monthly markets are popular after parkrun; little towns need this extra patronage.
We are excited that a second parkrun at Nanango, also in the South Burnett, is due to start soon - so duplicating the joy for the region.
Starting a parkrun is simple; it does need one-off start-up funds, a dedicated team of enthusiasts and a suitable safe course, but if you can get one started the benefits are huge.
So, for all these reasons I recommend parkrun to your community. And do join in- I’m sure you will enjoy it and feel better for the exercise- and do come and visit Wondai one Saturday.
Starts at 7am each and every Saturday.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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