The small Willamette Valley town of Independence once used to be known as the hop capital of the world. If you drive around Polk County for any period of time, you will notice fields full of this special Pacific Northwest beer delicacy. While the moniker of “capital “ has changed to other areas (hello Yakima!) Independence still has a lot going for it.
While the town is still small, it is a steadily growing hub just west of Salem. Over the past few years there has been a resurgence in its small downtown, with a great hotel coming online, apartments and houses being built, and new restaurants and breweries serving customers. Even outdoor events are a priority. So the Oregon Hop Run, a 10K and 5K that took place this past weekend, fits right in.
October 2 was an almost perfect morning for a race. Temperatures at the 10a start time were hovering around 60° with bright blue skies overhead. The start and finish backdrop within Riverview City Park, affectionately called Independence’s “living room”, was buzzing. Music was playing, and people were scattered around the large field warming up and enjoying pre-race excitement. You know that a city is all-in in when the mayor is assisting with directing racers on the course, city counselors are participating in the event, and the proceeds are benefiting the local food bank. Score.
Independence is actually a underrated location to run, and have a nice array of connected paved trails along side the river. I have ran these trails before, but it’s always fun to check them out with a little competitive spirit behind them.
I would estimate About 100 runners or so participated in the two distances, and waves were nicely spaced with approximately 10 to 15 runners leaving the starting area every minute. I was on kid duty for 1/3 of my children, so I participated in the 5K pushing a stroller (that I found out too late was pulling way too hard to the right due to a flat tire – ugh) for the event.
As we took off, runners headed south on the path between the Willamette River and the Independence hotel. We love this hotel and its accompanying restaurant, so it’s always fun to run nearby. The section was relatively short with us running up near Independence City Hall before a hairpin 180 turn back on the same path from where we just came.
We passed by the main park before being directed on the paved trails heading north. The trail here is wide and is really great for traversing the city tucked between the river, trees, and some fields along the way. We passed by their dog park before entering their relatively new and large sports complex. This area is complete with a ton of open grass space for team sports as well as a boat launch. There is a large bark trail around the entire complex, but the race course stuck to the paved sidewalk on the south end – on which we completed essentially a double switchback – making the top end of the course sort of Y-shaped along the road. The final stretch head back on the same trail back to the finish.
After thee race there was plenty of space to hang out and relax and wait for other runners to finish, as well as awards and raffle prizes from local businesses. The finisher’s bib came with a tear-off ticket for a free brew at either Parallel 45 Brewing or BREW, both easy walking distance. It was a true local end to a great local race.
While the event was great, I encourage readers to come out and experience miles in Independence regardless of if a race is happening or not. Come and make a day of running, sampling the multiple wineries and breweries nearby, eating at a local restaurant, and just enjoying the charm of this growing town. And mark your schedule for next year’s Hop Run!