On the Run in Hillsdale

Written by Marcella Brylski

Before I came to Hillsdale, I ran cross country. While I wasn’t planning on joining the cross country team at Hillsdale, I did want to continue running. But, having lived for my whole life in a suburban city in Minnesota, I found myself wondering what it would be like to run in Hillsdale. Would there be trails? A nice five-mile loop? Could I run at night? Would there be enough different places to run to keep running interesting?

Well, I’m here to give you the inside scoop. Here’s my amateur take on Hillsdale’s running scene: the routes you can run, when you can run them, and the pretty great variety you can find even in a small town like Hillsdale. Before you hit the trails, of course, always take the precautions necessary for safety—run with a buddy when possible, always let at least one friend know where you’ll be, and consider other general safety precautions like carrying a cell phone. While I have always felt safe running around Hillsdale, it never hurts to be prepared.

Hayden Park is great for hills (have to keep up that stamina!) and time trials. With a little bit of searching (or if you go right after a college or high school race in the fall), you can find the official race courses so you know how far you’ve gone. This can be a great way to test yourself if you’re training for a particular distance (Hayden has courses for 5k, 8k, and a mountain bike trail) or if you just feel like seeing what you can do. Another bonus: Hayden Park is beautiful all year round, even in the winter. If there’s enough snow, it can be a great place to exercise outdoors when the roads get icy—just check out a pair of cross country skis from the Clubhouse.

Barber Drive, as it goes out past Hayden Park and turns into Half Moon Lake Drive, is a great starting point for longer runs. There are miles and miles of low-traffic dirt and pavement roads to be explored just beyond Hillsdale’s campus, as long as you go out before dark. This is the one place that I’ve run really consistently—often a few times a week—throughout my time at Hillsdale. I have almost four years’ worth of memories on these roads, from getting caught in a downpour (complete with thunder and lightning) the day after moving into Olds, to stress-relieving long runs in an overloaded fall semester, to steamy summer session runs. The scenery can be beautiful, especially in the late summer and fall when the weather gets more temperate and there are colors in the trees and fields. And no worries if you’re not great with directions—lots of straight roads here, so it’s hard to get lost. The only downside is the winter: dirt roads don’t plough well, so running here can be treacherous if there’s snow.

Baw Beese Trail is another great place to get in a longer run if you prefer paved trails, small-town scenery, or destination running. This trail passes close to campus and stretches both out toward Walmart—although I find that this section of the trail isn’t the most pleasant for running since it’s close to a high-traffic roadway—and, in the opposite direction, toward Baw Beese Lake. The Baw Beese Trail isn’t usually too busy, though you’ll run into more people than almost anywhere else you run around Hillsdale, and it is often cleared in the winter. Part of the trail passes through a neighborhood, and the trail ends up in the park by Baw Beese Lake, which is lovely all year—good for a swim in the summer, for the reflected colors in the fall, and for the frozen ripples in the surface of the lake in the winter. I’ve been surprised by the beauty of the lake in the winter, especially when only part of the lake is frozen—the small, choppy, rhythmic waves can be almost mesmerizing, especially when they reflect the metallic blue-gray of the winter sky. Just make sure that you go before dark (the trail isn’t lighted), and always be aware of other people on the path. I have never run into conflict, but it’s always good to be alert when sharing the trails.

Downtown Hillsdale makes for a fun change of pace and offers one of the only areas with consistent streetlights. Hillsdale’s downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods are full of fun architecture to discover, and there are lots of sidewalks. Running in Hillsdale proper can be a great way to get to know the town you’re living in. There are, of course, more roads to be crossed (a nice little break, right?), and there’s more traffic to be aware of, but one of the benefits of a small town is relatively low traffic levels—you’ll never have to wait too long to cross the street, and there are some nice long blocks so you don’t have to stop times in every mile. If you follow Hillsdale Street far enough, you’ll even pass the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds, and you can loop back to the Baw Beese area if you’re feeling adventurous (or do a little Google Maps exploration first).

Oak Grove Cemetery is another beautiful place to run. It won’t give you the big mileage—a loop around the outside road of the cemetery might be about a mile—but it is superbly pleasant, especially on a sunny fall day. There are a lot of fascinating gravestones to look at if you’re feeling ready for a break, including ones from before the founding of Hillsdale College in 1844. Running at Oak Grove Cemetery is also a great way to get off campus without going too far, as it’s just a few minutes’ jog down the road from Macintyre and Olds dormitories, out toward the Field of Dreams (a sports’ field just down the road complete with a playground if you feel like throwing in some pull ups or a creative playground workout). Just don’t go here after dark. There are no lights, and it can get pretty spooky.

Lewis Emery Park is a place I didn’t discover until later in my college career, when I moved off campus and started exploring the neighborhoods past the Sports Complex. A little over half a mile southeast of campus, Lewis Emery Park is a charming complex of man-made fishing ponds. It’s not great for really long runs—the sidewalk runs out right after you reach the park, and the park itself, while sizeable, affords a mile or two at most of continuous trails. But it looks lovely in the morning light and has lots of wildlife to see. One of my favorite Hillsdale memories is from a Saturday morning run here in the fall: imagine birds singing in the trees, fiery fall colors reflected in the water, and air just cold enough to make clouds out of your breath. Just beware of the ducks: they can be mean sometimes!

Roche Sports Complex and Biermann Athletic Center have great indoor facilities for when running outside is not an option. Roche Sports Complex (aka “the Splex”) has plenty of treadmills and a studio full of stationary bikes that are great for cardio cross-training, along with a good range of hours (M-F 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 12 p.m.-10 p.m.). I didn’t really start using the Splex until halfway through my senior year, but I wish I would have started sooner. It’s a great resource that provides lots of opportunities for shaking up your workout routine, which is important for both keeping yourself interested and preventing injuries from overuse of individual muscle groups. Cycle once in a while to work the other muscles in your legs or stay fit in the winter; use free weights to build strength; or even join a fitness class to expand your horizons. Biermann also has an indoor track that is available to students and community members for limited hours during the week (M-F 6 a.m.-10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.) if you want to get in some intervals or don’t mind running in circles. Sometimes the indoor track is worth it to avoid the elements, especially when the outdoor track (also available when the athletic teams aren’t using it) is snow-covered, slick with rain, or particularly windy.

Marcella BrylskiMarcella Brylski, ’20, grew up in the great state of Minnesota, where she learned to love sunny fall days and distance running along the Mississippi River. She studies English and Greek at Hillsdale and takes great joy in unexpected conversations with friends, discovering contemporary poets, and unearthing treasures at the local thrift store.

Published in June 2020