One of the few positive things about the pandemic is that it created an even bigger boom in local outdoor activities, according to Jonathan Cook, the city’s parks and recreation director.
“When COVID-19 came, we saw many looking for outdoor activities, and it became a snowball effect with our parks,” Cook said. “Combine that with how the city is growing and how our community takes a lot of pride in it, that leads to more park usage, especially in our registrations for softball and other programs.
“We’re surpassing our pre-pandemic numbers, mainly because Waco is a town that loves its parks and being outdoors, whether riding bikes, hiking or playing sports.”
Several of the city’s walking trails have an added wrinkle with QR Fit stations that provide workouts through a QR code accessible by a person’s cellphone.
“These stations are a collaborative project with McLennan County Public Health District funding, putting signage in many of our neighborhood parks with walking trails using phone codes to bring up different workout videos,” Cook explained. “Our data says that a lot of people are reading the signs with phones, taking our parks to the next level as another benefit to the community.”
Plans are also in place for a citywide master trails program to improve local hiking and biking and connect key areas and attractions, starting with a $2.8 million East Waco trail following three miles of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas railbed.
“We want to provide a gateway to future activities and local transportation by meeting community needs,” Cook adds. “Over the next five years, we will continue improvements to our parks system, adding one toward China Spring and another elsewhere with five more park renovations, mostly in South and West Waco. As the city grows, we want to grow with it and give more people access to parks.”
The city has a “crown jewel” for outdoor activities, namely Cameron Park on the Brazos River, with its challenging Jacob’s Ladder steps, miles of hiking and biking trails and disc golf courses.
Greater Waco Sports Commission Executive Director Mike Vogelaar says Cameron Park is truly special.
“Waco has a competitive advantage over most cities with a downtown river through the second-largest inner-city park in the United States behind New York’s Central Park,” he says. “From my perspective, we want to drive the local economic impact by better utilizing Cameron Park to bring in even more people from across the country and the world. We had competitors from 29 different countries during our recent Ironman alone.”
Among Cameron Park’s many trail users, runners are near the top, especially the Waco Striders. The nonprofit organization, formed in the 1970s, is committed to the overall health and well-being of its members and focuses on sharing its love of running with all walks of life and all fitness levels.
Its members range from Boston Marathon qualifiers to walkers like president Jason Coffee, who used to run before back and knee issues forced him to slow down. The Striders do an annual fundraiser to buy bicycles for Christmas, and offer educational scholarships to various high school seniors.
The club also hosts an annual trail race series, the Huaco Cuatro, consisting of four trail races of varying lengths and courses. It meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for group runs with course directions and water. It also has a half-marathon training program to prepare for upcoming races along with a monthly mileage tracker.
“We hope to use our passion for running to build lifelong friendships, provide encouragement, improve ourselves and enhance our community,” Coffee says. “Our annual membership, which includes everyone in the household, is only $25 and helps us maintain RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) insurance and provide ice, water, cups, etc. for our group runs, as well as any social events we hold.”
More information can be found at wacostriders.org or on Facebook.
The Waco Bicycle Club promotes cycling for all ages and skill levels with weekly rides of varying lengths.
Members include organizers for major rides held in the area, triathletes, competitive cyclists and supportive family members
Information about the group is at wacobicycleclub.com.
Mountain biking likewise is popular on the hills in Cameron Park, with the XTERRA race series scheduled for June 2022. The Ranch at Cameron Park is a 66-acre tract that draws mountain bikers from across the state to experience its hills and ramps.
On the Water
The park’s 20 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as river kayaking, paddleboarding and canoeing in the Brazos make for a true outdoor paradise with numerous possibilities and more on the horizon.
Although Waco Paddle Company and Pura Vida Paddle are both closed through the spring, Pura Vida added a boutique at 3332 Franklin Ave. open noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Owner Erin Ward said she is considering opening a second paddling location at Woodway Park in 2022.
One more local exercise option is rowing. That’s usually associated with Ivy League schools, but there’s hopes to change that in Central Texas.
“I think the next big thing Waco can be known for is rowing because our river has 5,000 meters of straight water, unheard of in the rowing community, so we need to invest in a premier rowing boathouse to attract more commerce and get folks to compete here from across the U.S. and around the world,” says Vogelaar, the Greater Waco Sports Commission leader. “Since rivers freeze in winter up north, no one can row there, so teams would kill for a chance to compete between December and the end of January and will come here for six to 13 days to train.”
He also sees the potential for rowing to reach not only elite competitors but area adults and students, like Waco Rowing Club director Matt Scheuritzel.
“Eventually, our club intends to send a dozen male and female athletes from all local school districts to top U.S. universities on rowing scholarships,” Scheuritzel says. “Our goal is that within the next year, Waco citizens will be watching their own youth row and compete along the Brazos along with elite rowers from universities across the country and current and aspiring Olympians.”
He encourages adults with rowing experience or anyone wanting to learn the sport to come out and try it.
“We have memberships available and have ordered top-flight equipment and boats from one of the top boatmakers in the world, Hudson Boatworks,” he said.
Waco Rowing Club can be found on Facebook.
If running, biking and water sports aren’t enough, there’s always a place for outdoor yoga, horseshoes at Brazos Park East, disc golf on five local courses, and even archery.
The Waco Disc Golf Association has recently installed three nine-hole courses at Dewey Park, Amsler Park in McGregor and at the new Trailblazer Park on the Cotton Belt Trail. The Brazos Parks East course will play host to a professional competition March 11-13. In that event, more than 80,000 pro members will play on 9,000 courses worldwide. ESPN will televise some of disc golf, according to course coordinator Joey Harrell.
The Huaco Bowmen Archery Club grounds are off Park Lake Drive in Cameron Park with 28 field-course targets and 10 practice targets with distances from 10 to 80 yards.
Membership costs $35 per year for individuals and $50 per family. The club features 3D foam animal shoots for all ages from January to October. Information can be found on Facebook.
If you’re looking for a little exercise or a full-scale workout in the great outdoors, there’s no shortage of options around Waco. ￼
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