Community Tracks – A Nationwide Issue?

How many of you have had a difficult time jumping on a track to do a track workout? Well, you’re not alone. It may be different in some smaller rural areas, but the urban landscape hasn’t been kind to getting track workouts done.

It certainly is not a new issue but does seem to be expanding. More and more schools and school districts are locking their outdoor facilities up. Here are some interesting points and counter-points.

  • Rarely are there any communities that have a public standard 400 meter running track. Not even city parks, recreation centers or ballfields have them.

Here in the Phoenix area there have been huge recreational facilities built – fields of every sort. Much of the money comes from a sport district that was created in conjunction with the Phoenix Cardinals stadium construction. None of the facilities over the entire valley (40 miles by 40 miles in dimensions) have a track.  

  • The public schools are tax funded by the people in the community, yet, even when the facilities are not used for and by school activities and teams – the locked facilities are not available to the public.

I don’t know if anyone has ever taken a district to task on this. I do know that a good model of cooperation is being forged in some communities. Recently, a local school district worked a cooperative deal with the town for joint use and upkeep of their track – which includes all-comers meets in the late spring!

  • Locking up the facilities “protects” facilities from vandalism.

This is one of those false bureaucratic knee-jerk reactions. The fact is that you only lock out those who would care for the property. You do not lock out vandals. And secondly, perhaps most importantly, the more people you have on site at various times the less liekly a vandal will be there! Vandals don’t want to be seen! Duh! 

  • Reduced traffic extends the life of the track.

Fascinating, partially true but mostly untrue. I talked with a track construction and maintenance/repair company before. The biggest destructive elements to tracks are spikes, starting blocks and the weather (expecially heat and freezing). It is not the pitter patter of (non-spiked) feet running laps as most of us do.

  • Locking up the facilities reduces liabilities.

We live in a letigious society. Everyone is ready to blame (and subsequently sue) someone for there own stupidity. The truth is that locking up the facilities does not prevent law suits.

  • Create rules which cannot be complied with to reduce usage.

The Tempe High School district I tried to work with to run a track event required a $2 million insurance policy. That didn’t seem too bad since most require $1 million (which really isn’t bad at a cost of a couple hundred dollars). However, for this sort of venture there is no such thing as a $2 million policy. I know because I researched it nationwide. The basic policy for this type event is $1 million and you cannot simply add on a separate policy. They are only stand-alone $1 million policies. Therefore, in the end the rule the district created effectively eliminated any outside track events on their facilities. 

Just within the East Valley of the Phoenix metropolitan area there are opposite approaches to managing this issue. Scottsdale locks all school facilities up. Tempe does not. Mesa does not. Chandler does. So, it also is not an “inner city” protect-the-school issue. These are all neighboring cities with higher socio-economic status.

Here is an observation I’ve made. Mesa has by far the most user friendly facilities. They are used by the community extensively. Any given early morning (0530- 0700 before school activities) there are 30-40 runners moving around the track – all speeds. Almost everyone is courteous. And guess what? That school district just finished having all their high school tracks completely re-done. Yet, they aren’t fighting to keep people off!

Oh, and for those schools that lock up their facilities – guess what – wake up! Your tracks are still being used – respectfully and quietly – by many runners who just climb your stupid fences. And they will still be vandalized by those who want to vandalize something. By the way, some of the turnstiles make perfect ladders.

Finally, I have talked with many coaches, runners and running club representatives who have expressed similar concerns. It is a local and nationwide issue. I would love to hear from anyone who has had some success in dealing with their local “powers that be”. With that – I’m off to the track now.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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40 Responses to Community Tracks – A Nationwide Issue?

  1. Jim says:

    Interesting dilemma, in the northeast is seems to be less of a problem. Most high school tracks are open for all to run on. And some are extremely nice rubberized mondo style tracks. Where we run into issues is during the winter and indoor tracks. There are very few around, and the few that are avaliable tend to be inaccesible, or only available at certain strange times.

  2. Good point… I’m glad there is general availability. I remember it being that way as well. Do you know if it is the same in larger cities? Small towns?

    Any inside information on any agreements for track clubs to use school facilities (costs, insurance, etc.)? I know MVS uses both indoor and outdoor right?

    • Mary Wood says:

      In Palmerton, PA our Palmerton Highschool Track has a fence and is kept locked. Our children go to Palmerton School District and are on the local CYO track team. The Palmerton School Superintendant will not allow the CYO club to use our track. Most of the children attend the Palmerton School District and the other children attend A local Palmerton Catholic School. When we go to Local Track meets we are the only Track Team that does not practice on a school track. The children practice in a grass park near the school along with skate boarders and bike riders etc…

      • Dean Hebert says:

        Big town or small… it’s a real issue.
        Let’s put more barriers in the way of people trying to stay healthy, right? As if the US doesn’t have enough weight and weight related health problems!

  3. Jim says:

    most small towns allow anyone to use the outdoor track facilities..there are very few that chain the fences..even some of the very rich communites leave the tracks open for use. When it comes to large groups using the tracks, ie track clubs, you must get the ok from the proper officials, but in general that is rarely an issue. Only when it comes to indoor tracks, probably because they are located actually within the school walls , does it become an issue. Lexington high school allows people in at certain times in the evening. The Reggie Lewis center charges you a reasonable fee to use the track, but the track is used so often for meets during the winter it is only available after 8pm at night. MVS has a deal with the local high school, I dont believe any fee is charged, and they allow access for 2 hours 1 night a week.

    • Jessica says:

      It’s funny that you mention local economy. I lived with my mom in a snobby upper class area. The local high school had awesome facilities that were never locked. Then when I got married I had to live in a much more low class area. The high schools are run down yet all the tracks are locked and I can’t find a single one to grant me access so I can train for a fitness test. I’d be laughing if I wasn’t so frustrated. I came across this site while looking for public schools that might allow access – the search continues!

  4. Amby Burfoot says:

    Dean: Terrific blog by the way. I read virtually all your posts. This one really caught my eye, because I didn’t realize anyone but me was concerned. I think it’s a national fitness travesty. We have a huge, high-cost obesity crisis, so we lock all our tracks. Oh, yeah, that makes sense. My small community has a lousy, non-rubberized track, and it’s locked all the time. And the fence around it is too high to scale. I wouldn’t even want to do track workouts on this track, but I think it should be available for fitness walkers. I can’t believe I pay taxes to keep this important fitness facility locked. Best, Amby Burfoot, Runner’s World

  5. Amby,
    Thanks for reading. It would be interesting to see if more focus could be put on this issue… maybe this could be a topic/forum in a RW issue? Tie in fitness, obesity issues, safety of running, liabilties… but then not just the problem but also look at communities that have found cooperative and community agreements or simply “trust’ their community to use the faciltiies. I would love to start a trend towards opening them up for public use. If blueprints for success can be highlighted the information and articles themselves could be used locally to push for use.

    Think about it… this might be something that will make a real difference.

  6. Erin Ford says:

    I was just trying to google public running tracks in Phoenix when I can across this article. I am from Montana where you can go run the high school and middle school tracks anytime without having to jump a fence.

    I moved to PHX 3 months ago only to find this is a very annoying place to try to run. I can only take so much of the canal, and really don’t want to do my speed training on the treadmill every time. And, of course, the tracks are always locked!

    Any ideas on how we try to work toward a remedy to this problem here in the city of Phoenix?

    Thanks so much for writing on this.

  7. Erin,
    I’m with you. There are some school districts in the area, like I mentioned, who do keep them open. Most middle school tracks here are dirt tracks and are available when school activities aren’t going on. Now, remember, that “Phoenix” though is a city is also really a collection of 10+ cities to make up the “Valley”. Some cities have more than one school district. I mention this to just add to the complexity of attacking this. Each one of those school districts set policies on access AND in some cases they leave it to the individual schools!!!!

    If you read my reply to Amby Burfoot, I think first is awareness of the issue and that could best be done in a big forum… Runner’s World would be a perfect start. From there I would love to use the data from a national perspective and apply it locally. I want to find a role model city/school and use that as an example of how it can work to convince locals.

    If I had special 1:1 relationships with all the district athletic directors it might work the opposite way… start at one district and move onward…. but I don’t have that with but a couple ADs.

  8. Erin Ford says:

    Thanks for your reply!

    I actually did find a nice open high school track today on 7th St just north of Indian School. I am hoping it is open all the time as there were other people using it.

    If there were any way I could help your cause (though not sure i personally could) please feel free to ask my assistance. I would be honored!

  9. Mark Bockmann says:

    Coach Dean, I was wondering if you have any news on this issue since you published this article. Did Runner’s World ever write a piece on track access? Do you know of any access groups? Rock climbing has the Access Fund and mountain biking has IMBA. Maybe runners need their own access group?

  10. Dean Hebert says:

    No follow up has been done to my knowledge. I have talked with Amby but not on this specific issue. I like your suggestion about an access group. I have no idea about how they work, how they get started or anything. If you have some insights and interest… drop me a line.
    Maybe this would be something that Amby and RW might have some interest in getting the ball rolling?

  11. Kristen Tropf says:


    We have this problem big time in Florida. Not only are their few schools with tracks, the FEW that have public tracks lock them up and post signs threatening prosecution to the full extend of the law for trespassing! So frustration. Hence my Achilles tendonitis from doing speed work in my hilly neighborhood, and dodging stray dogs the whole time.

  12. Dean Hebert says:

    This is ridiculous. I thank you for your comment. I’d really like to bring some attention to this issue.

  13. Melanie Kosach says:

    Someone mentioned 7th St & Indian School. What school is there? I only know of Indian School Steele Park in that area but no school. I am having the WORST time here in Phoenix finding a track as well. Which is really disappointing coming from Ohio where they have great rubber tracks that are always open.

  14. Pingback: I can’t do speed work – I don’t have a track! « The Running World According to Dean

  15. Edward Wilson says:

    I completely agree with this article. I live in Las Vegas and I am sick of every track being locked up. Why are High School runners the only people allowed to run on a track? It is quite a workout just scaling the tall fences to get on the track. The track is really good for my hip problems since it is flat.

  16. Lauren says:


  17. Bethany says:

    I was so happy to see this post, because this is the exact topic that I am doing my graduate thesis on. My project involves converting abandoned/unused buildings or vacant lots into usable sport and recreation facilities, with the focus being on building community tracks. If anyone has any advice for me or tips on where I can find more articles on this topic, I would be very grateful for the help. I am also looking for people to interview about their experiences (good or bad) with accessing tracks in their neighborhood. I want to know what works and what doesn’t. If anyone would be willing to do an interview with me, that would be great!

  18. Bethany says:

    I’m doing a survey for my Masters project that I talked about in my last comment and would like to get your guys input on it. It only takes about 8-10 minutes and would really help me out.


  19. nicole says:

    Just wondering if there have been any updates on this subject? I tried contacting Chandler HS & they wouldn’t even return a phone call on the subject. I left a message for the assistant to the principle two weeks ago. Interesting, these are the same people hopefully educating our young people on responsibility, accountability, etc. FAIL.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      No positive responses on this. It continues to be an issue. I now the AD @ Chandler HS.. he is in fact (or has been) a runner himself. Try Dave Shapiro.
      Tell me how it goes.

  20. DLee says:

    I live in ahwatukee and the track at the school off S.32nd is open usually to public during school season, but they lock it up when school is out! It is frustrating because I NEED a track for the sprints I do, I went to the chandler schools to use the track in the summer and found out they were locked, so I jumped fence wondering if I can actually get arrested for this..but aren’t I paying for these facilities from my taxes?

    I am actually thinking about buying a plot of land somewhere in the valley, and building a real track open to the public, It would need donations from patriots to keep it maintained and running though..perhaps I can find some grant money to do this, I know I can get land cheap right now, even infill.

  21. Maria Castillo says:

    This is absolutely heart breaking, I too came across this article when searching google for a track or rather the lack of availability. I have driven 15 min to “town” to find the track locked! WHY?! I dont get it, it is public, no one is going to tag the track up! People should be able to use it, we are definitely being cheated out here in Conroe, TX. There isn’t even any gyms that have indoor tracks out here or surrounding areas, such as The Woodlands or North Houston (if there is please let me know). I called my high school to speak with my old track & field coach about when would be the best hours to use the track, only to find he doesn’t work there anymore. What is the best way? Talk to the school or go super early?! Is it trespassing? Dazed and confused, I am going to try 0500 tomorrow. Any suggestions or advice?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      If the facility is locked up… it is or most certainly can be construed as trespassing. That said – I don’t know a runner who hasn’t scaled a fence or two to get a track workout in.

      Generally, school tracks will let you run as an individual (not team or club) as long as no school activities are going on. 0500 is often the solution.
      Good luck… tell me how it goes!

  22. Jason says:

    Frustrated in PHX as well. I spoke with the track coach, nice guy, at Camelback High School on Campbell and 28th? They have a track, kinda worn out, but nonetheless better than running on Phoenix streets (where runners and cyclists have been known to be run over by unfriendly fat, lazy, careless, or inattentive drivers). The only problem is you can only run during school times, you have to check-in, and you gotta leave if the inner field is being used by students. Once again, another track that’s locked up in an otherwise decent community. I don’t have any children yet, but I do pay payroll and property taxes, yet cannot enjoy this COMMUNITY amenity. I think its due to the underlying pulse in Phoenix in general, it lacks the sense and spirit of community. Hopefully we can change that. Been here 7 years, still hopeful.

  23. LostinQC says:

    I was surprised to find this post – have had the same issues in the East Valley. Fountain Hills is pretty good about permitting access to their tracks, but in Queen Creek, they’re locked up (no response from the school district to any calls). Any new information re Gilbert, Higley, Chandler? If I ever make any progress with Queen Creek, I’ll post it.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Mesquite HS (Gilbert, AZ )allows people on and is generally unlocked. The Tempe district schools are pretty good with being open: McClintock, Marcos de Niza, Tempe and Corona. Mt. Point I have been to on weekends and it also is open.

  24. Elaine says:

    My running club and I are leading an effort to build a community track in my town. Would love to know if Bethany completed her master’s thesis, what she discovered and if I could get a copy?

  25. Jojo says:

    This is an issue where I live as well (Suburban DC). They are locking up all the tracks and claiming b/c of vandalism. Yeah, b/c they can’t scale the fences or anything.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      As you see you are not alone. Indeed they all are ignoring the obvious… if the track is well used… the vandals and graffiti artists couldn’t do their thing!!!!!
      Thanks for dropping by.

  26. jimmyhosen says:

    Unfortunately, more than 5 years later, I think this is still one of the greatest and most important blog posts ever. So many reasons!

    Good news: a spark of hope! (..well, uh, technically more like a “band-aid” of hope…) The Track & Field Athletes’ Association (ironically inspired by frustrations with USA Track & Field regarding overly restrictive rules), has created a crowd-sourced (that means you!) database of Track facility availability around the world. If you have any accurate information to add, then please do! Hopefully, for many reading this blog, here is one link to your freedom:

    Bookmark it. Favorite it. Most of all, please share the link with everyone! You are sharing freedom and the gift of opportunity for responsible, healthy living.

    To “Bethany the masters thesis student/graduate”: If you have not already done so, PLEASE send your research report (or a link to it) to the TFAA so that they can add a link to it to their website. Aside from recognition in Runner’s World or Running Times, I think this would give your work the largest exposure possible from a logically centralized Internet location. Coaches and athletes could readily download it for themselves and either send the PDF or the link to the keepers of their local tracks. Only the truth can set us free.

    Question: How much of a factor are “fascist football head coaches”? Has anyone ever sensed a hidden agenda from the venue masters, trying to restrict access to the football field as if it were holy ground? Or is this (hopefully) not really a problem?

    Thank you to anyone who has put any effort into ending any Track facility closures!

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