Middle School XC Championship Finds New Home


When Middle School State Championship meet director Laura Fredrickson got the message from Sun 'n' Fun Fly-In, she nearly choked on her breakfast. Despite the fact that the Florida Youth Running Association (FLYRA) had reserved the venue well in advance, just two weeks ago the management informed her that they had a conflict.
"The reservation was made back in March and we got the okay. Then we were just notified, almost by accident, that it got double-booked with the Boy Scouts. So we got bumped. So our option was to change the date or change the venue."
Fredrickson and the rest of the FLYRA Board of Directors involved with the planning of the cross country championship scrambled to come up with ideas. The group quickly ruled out the option of changing the date and turned their attention to alternate venues, focusing primarily on keeping it in the vacinity of Lakeland to avoid impacting travel plans.
FLYRA board member and flrunners.com webmaster, Jason Byrne, provided Fredrickson with a list of known and potential venues in Polk County. And then she went to work. One venue instantly jumped out at her from the satellite imagery and once she arrived for a tour it was love at first sight.
Sometimes bad things have to happen, so that better things can take their place. That better thing for FLYRA was announced this morning, the non-profit organization has secured its new venue: Sanlan Ranch.
"It is truly a blessing in disguise," Fredrickson said in a phone call this morning, "it's such a beautiful course... it is very true to cross country, much more so than last year. There is absolutely no pavement, all trails. There are long stretches of grass with overhanging trees."
The area known collectively as Sanlan Recreation Area consists of 750 acres that are divided into three main sections: Sanlan RV Park, Bramble Ridge Golf Course, and the Sanlan Bird and Wildlife Santuary. Originally the land was used for phosphate mining in the 1950s. It was acquired in 1972 by the Holloway family and remains under the same ownership. The majority of the cross country course will take place in the 150 acre Wildlife Santuary section, which is under the control of a not-for-profit charged with its protection.
"Probably 40-some years ago," says Sanlan director Garry Hoffman, "they flattened off the tops of the phosophate burms and it was a horse riding ranch. And the Holloways bought it and it became an RV Park."
The RV Park section, the 15th largest in the state, consists of 541 sites and a village of over 1,000 retirees in the winter. To the south of the park is the santuary that is covered with lush, natural habitat that is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, beautiful trails, canals, hills, and is bordered by Banana Lake to the south.
The recreation area regularly hosts area cross country teams, who love to train on the 7.5 miles of trails. Florida Southern College has also hosted small college cross country meets on the protected land that Hoffman says will remain preserved for future generations. He describes it as a gift to the community.
"We didn't want any development to occur," said Hoffman who is enthusiastic about the event and anything to benefit the local community, "so (the santuary section) is secured in perpetuity. It can only be donated to the government or another non-profit group, should we ever disband."
Fredrickson describes the venue as a meet director's dream. "I only have to set up about half a kilometer," she said, "it is very self-marking and we just need to add a little signage. The trails are similar to horse trails in diameter, so you can have three of four people across. It has canopied straightaways, a lot of shade throughout. They will run through a wonderful butterfly garden, next to a canal... it's wonderful!"
While spectators may find it slightly less friendly from their perspective, the course design is still being tweaked. 
"We are trying to design the course in more of a figure-eight if possible to make it more friendly to spectators... so (if we can) the parents and coaches will be able to see their athletes about four times."
She said though that it is a runner's dream. "There is the Lower Canal Trail and the Upper Canal Trail. The course as currently planned will go into the Lower Canal Trail, through the butterfly garden, by the canal, and then back to the midway area."
The Florida Middle School State Championship will take place at Sanlan, south of Lakeland, on November 5th and is open to athletes from third to fifth grade. The Championship division is reserved for 6th-8th graders who qualify through designated meets. The Open division is open to all athletes 3rd-8th grades of any fitness level. Both division will race the 3K distance.
For more information and to register (registration closes November 1) go to this link: https://fl.milesplit.com/meets/86834-flyra-florida-middle-school-state-championship
If you are interested in running at Sanlan Recreation Area, it is open to the public. The fee is $4 to park and has an entry fee of $1 per person (and per pet), check-in and register at the RV Park Office before entering the trail system. Golf carts area also available to rent for $10/hour. Bicycles are welcome.

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