Kept off track — a survey of sorts

I grew up in southern New Hampshire and lived there with until I was 32, with side trips to a couple of college towns in New England. I don’t recall a single instance of finding a 400-meter track at a public — or private, now that I think about it — high school closed to the public. I have worked out on tracks in Concord, Hanover and Lebanon, N.H.; Burlington and South Burlington, Vt.; and various places in Massachusetts, always with unfettered access.

In 2002 I moved to Virginia and quickly discovered that it was more common than not to find tracks locked up after dark. I used to work out at William Byrd High School close to my apartment in Roanoke, and I’d invariably have to sneak my colossal frame into the facility by pushing a pair of swinging gates connected by a padlocked chain open far enough to admit me. Sometimes, for variety, I’d lie on my back and slide in under the bottom of the gates. No one ever bothered me, but it’s not an entirely comfortable situation because explaining myself would have been a difficult sell to a law officer: “Sorry, I thought it was only closed to people who couldn’t slither through the cracks.” The same phenomenon was widespread when I lived in Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton. I used to scale a seven-foot chain-link fence to get onto one very nice track a couple miles from where I lived, and getting out was always harder because there was a big-ass hedge row in the way on the trackward side. Also, I usually had a small, distaff creature with me during these expeditions, and although she was game for the tackling of a de facto obstacle course, I wasn’t interested in seeing her either get hurt or wind up in dutch with the authorities.

I could go into more detail, but my point is that the locked-track phenomenon is endemic to the South. I don’t really understand, with some exceptions, why tracks are locked up like this. Maybe it’s a liability thing. Certainly there’s never anything in there that even the most imaginative crack connoisseur would aim to peddle on the street. Most placed either lock up their hurdled in a shed or chain them all together in such a way as to make theft impossible. And good luck ripping out benches or football goal posts. Or chunks of bleachers. Anyone that much of a miscreant is ultimately just going to set the fucking place on fire anyway, so resistance in this context is futile.

I could make a typical argument about how tax dollars pay for these tracks and so they should be open to the public when they’re not being used for school sports, but I’ll never pay local taxes or if I do it won’t be in a place like Florida, where mediocre running careers go to die quick and unpretentious deaths.

Lest anyone think that this is a function of recent standards and not geography, I was in New Hampshire for much of 2009 and 2010 and nothing had changed from my younger days.

Does anyone else experience the locked-track phenomenon? I understand that in larger cities, tracks are apt to be locked up no matter where in the U.S. they are. But only in a place like Vinton, Virginia would representatives of a small high school next to a couple of farmhouses find reason to keep the place (looking) (somewhat) secure.

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  1. #1 by BML on May 4, 2011 - 11:49 pm

    I live in Charlotte, NC, or the south. Down here, the tracks to all of the high schools are locked up. The tracks to all of the middle schools though are always open to the public as long there isn’t a school event going on. I think the reason why is the tracks on the high schools are made of some kind of synthetic wirey material designed for track spikes while the middle school tracks are more of a concrete covered by some rubbery stuff.

  2. #2 by Jim on May 5, 2011 - 12:41 pm

    In central NY virtually all tracks are open to the public. It would be odd to find one that isn’t. The only one I know of that is regularly locked is the one at the city high school stadium, and I assume that’s because they’re worried about the all-weather field in the center of it or possibly concerned that the kids will turn it into an after-hours party place. There are tracks at two local colleges and another high school that I use frequently. Mind you, there are usage rules on them: no bikes or strollers, walkers must use outside lanes, etc.

  3. #3 by RH on May 5, 2011 - 8:37 pm

    my experience: southeastern Colorado. probably the only HS track within 30+miles radius or so. brand new stadium w/ ticket gates, hotdog stand & everything.
    The 2-3x I’d drive there, I’d wait until 10pm whenHS football game was over, fans had left, they’d stopped checking for tickets locked the gates, staff had all driven off,etc. then I’d climb a 6ft high fence, walk down lots of bleachers jump on. THen I take 15mins warming up and on each lap moving some football benches, electrical tape over rubber cleat mats, wires, chairs, lots of empty Gatorade bottles, etc. covering lanes 1-3 (from like August to October).
    if the HS track is part of a newer large capacity spectator stadium with a food and ticket area, one is much more likely to encounter resistance

  4. #4 by RWS on May 11, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    I’ve lived all over the country. In most places tracks have been open but in the upper midwest they were closed.

    The only time I probably came close to being arrested in my life was at the track/stadium at the University of North Dakota, where I went to grad school. I’d been slipping through or hopping the fence for months during the one summer I was on campus but a cop pulled into the parking lot just as I was getting through the fence and he honked is horn and told me to get out. We got into an argument and I told him to get a life. Found a high school track in town, much poorer quality, and had to hop a 4 or 5 ft fence to get in.

    At the time I lived in the upper midwest (mid-90s) Bemidji MN (Bemidji State University) and Dickinsnon, ND (Dickinson State University) also had locked tracks and you had to hop the fence to get in. Never got hassled either.

    Other places I’ve lived (usually university towns) in NY, MA, IA, CO, and AK have all had open tracks, at least for the summer. There are no college tracks in AK but most towns have a high school track.

    My wife coached a couple seasons of track at a high school in Nevada. This was on a 2 lane ATV track, short of shaped into an oval, amongst a flat stretch of sagebrush. There were no restrictions to that venue.

  5. #5 by kemibe on May 11, 2011 - 8:18 pm

    You’ll appreciate this, R. I once did a 30K marathon pace run on the track at Merrimack Valley High School with Komen at my side for all 1:45, except for the very end. It only took him a couple of hours to calculate tangents. (Three weeks later I ran within a second of that pace for a marathon…unfortunately there’s no control group here!)

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