Two weeks after the start of a popular free fun-run started at Wollongong’s main beach the council has forced organisers to move the event north to Fairy Meadow.
On Saturday, participants in the third Wollongong Park Run – which attracted almost 650 runners when it started on September 9 – were told they had to start from Fairy Meadow Beach instead of next to North Wollongong surf club due to concerns about the “impact to the general community”.
This council-mandated move sparked discontent among many participants, who took to social media to complain.
On a post to the council’s Facebook page, participants said starting the run at North Beach helped boost nearby businesses, meant there was a toilet stop half way and allowed access by foot or public transport.
“It's an absolute disgrace to penalize a free volunteer run event that promotes health and fitness in the community. Get your act together WCC”
They also said Fairy Meadow beach had a lack of parking and would lead to a bottleneck of runners through Puckey’s Reserve.
“The original start line surrounds many local business including Diggies, The Kiosk and various other cafes who were greatly benefited by the large influx of participants who enjoyed a pre/post run coffee and breakfast therefore creating a positive influence through supporting local businesses,” comment instigator, Nathan Hennessy wrote on the council’s page.
The post sparked hundreds of reactions and dozens of comments in support of Mr Hennessy.
Park Run is a free, five kilometre run with events around Australia (including Shellharbour and Bulli), which gives participants a barcode to allow them to record their time.
While the first Wollongong leg attracted 646 people, this dropped of to 243 people on the second weekend.
In a statement, the council said it needed to “ensure that all users enjoy access to our popular foreshore parks”.
“We’re providing the Park Run organisers and participants in Wollongong with access to key foreshore areas, while being mindful of the popularity and high level of use of these areas by the general community,” the statement said.
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The council said the new start and finish area was chosen as it had public toilets, a car park with low use on Saturday morning, and the chance for an alternative 5km run north.
It also highlighted the commercial operations which pay to use the space in the park.
“One of the key considerations has been that the Stuart Park ... precinct is popular for passive recreational pursuits, as well as already being used for a range of licenced commercial activities including surf schools, fitness trainers and Skydive the Beach operations,” the statement said.
“It’s also used for various events throughout the year. Additionally, the precinct experiences significantly higher use of carparks on Saturday mornings.”
A number of participants said they planned to write to the council and start a petition against the move.
What the runners said
Nathan Hennessy wrote on Wollongong City Council’s Facebook page to say:
“I am extremely disappointed in the decision by Wollongong City Council to force North Wollongong parkrun to change it's starting point from the original position at North Gong Surf Club to Fairy Meadow Surf Club due to 'logistic' and 'parking' issues.
“With over 600 participants attending the first park run event scaling back to 250 runners the following week, these numbers are significantly less than a busy summers day in the same location.
“Not only will the change of location have a large effect on starting numbers it will have various flow on effects.”