Cliff Hanger races draw runners to Historic Northeast parks, neighborhoods

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor


Five hundred runners participated in the 35th Annual Cliff Hanger 5k and 10k races Saturday morning in Kessler Park, beginning and ending at The Colonnade at Concourse Park, 200 Benton Blvd.


Runners and walkers passed the Kansas City Museum, historic homes, and the Carl DiCapo Fountain waterfall as they traversed Cliff Drive, a U.S. scenic byway.


The kids’ Fun Run began at 8:45 a.m., before the 5K and 10K runners took off at 9 a.m. sharp. The race is organized by the Kansas City Running Club, who donates 100% of the race fees to local charities.


The courses were measured with a bicycle and Jones counter for accuracy, but the measurements, maps and fee will not be submitted to USA Track & Field (USATF), saving the club about $800. Both the 10K and 5K were bib chip timed. Awards were given in each distance to the top three male and female finishers overall, as well as to the top three finishers in each age group.


Runners recouped with help from cinnamon rolls, apple cider and other treats at the Colonnade following the race.


Over the years the race has focused on giving back to the Northeast. The race was started as a fundraiser for the Assumption Church preschool and the University of Missouri – Kansas City school for the handicapped. Organizations that have benefited from the run include a preschool, food pantries, and the Gladstone Elementary School.


This year, and since 2008, the race supported Northeast Neighbor to Neighbor (NNN), a non-profit foundation that provides financial and other support services to the medically underserved residents of the Historic Northeast neighborhoods. NNN provides this support by identifying and creating access to needed health care services, coordinating referrals and providing funding for the services, educating clients regarding their medical needs and available medical services, and assisting clients in navigating the healthcare system.


Since its inception, the organization has operated under the leadership of its voluntary board of directors and provided services entirely through volunteer staff. All services provided by NNN have been funded through modest fundraising activities and in collaboration with other agencies that provide services below their usual rate.


“We do help people who are temporarily uninsured or underinsured – like in between jobs or something like that – obtain medical care or products, like CPAP masks or things like that, so that they can get back on their feet,” said David Remley, NNN board member.


Referrals come from people like Bobbi Baker at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Independence Boulevard Christian Church, and other organizations in the neighborhoods. The organization has a strict requirement that those who benefit from the organization live in the Northeast, which NNN defines as from the river to 15th Street, and from I-435 to The Paseo.


“They have to live here, they have to meet the income requirements,” Remley said. “We can step in and help them with the cost. Last year, we did 35 eye exams and gave needed glasses to Don Bosco English as a Second Language (ESL) students because it’s essential that they be able to see. We didn’t used to do glasses and such, but we started doing it because there’s a need.”


They’ve also expanded to offer assistance with dental care. To address the glaring need for specialized health care services of this population, in 2005, Dr. Elaine Joslyn recruited other professionals in the community who shared her vision to enable underserved residents to receive specialized services. Together they formed a board of directors and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization.


“In her practice, [Joslyn] saw a need for people who were falling through the cracks, and since her practice was primarily Northeast, they created the organization to serve Northeast,” Remley said. “We also have an over-the-counter voucher for Spalitto’s [Pharmacy], which we pass out to people. It’s $20 for over-the-counter medicine or supplies.”


The first Cliff Hanger took place in 1985, starting at the Concourse on Gladstone Boulevard. Over the years, the 5K and an 8K race has been staged on several courses in the Northeast area including the streets near the Concourse and Cliff Drive.


In 2018, the 8K was extended to a 10K. In early years, the race ended with a tough uphill at the Kansas City Museum. In the past, local restaurants provided post-race food at the awards ceremony on the grounds of the Kansas City Museum, and the popular Italian Festival was often the same weekend.


The race has always drawn runners and their friends and families from all over the metro to Cliff Drive and Kessler Park in the historic Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood, many for the first time. The 2008 race was the first in many years to attract more than 700 runners and was a great introduction to the recently completed renovations on Cliff Drive that made the route even more scenic.


“I was just thinking about that this morning on our way here – we took our dog around and saw the museum and saw the signs – and I was thinking about how this attracts people from all over the city and gives them a better impression than what they get from the usual sensational stories about violence or homelessness,” said Ingrid Burnett, 19th District Missouri Representative. “This is a really vibrant neighborhood, and it shows. These fall colors and everything, it sets it off so beautifully.”


Jerry Morrison, a longtime presence in the KC running community, was the first race director, and continued until 1996. After Jerry’s tenure the Kansas City Running Club took over the race with Lou Joline, another well known Kansas City runner and race director. For the past 26 years the Kansas City Running Club has continued to sponsor the Cliff Hanger Run.


“Over 35 years, this race has moved a lot,” said Race Director Nancy English. “It was here, it was at the museum, it was over by Gladstone School, and then it was also at Paseo and Lexington, close to the university.”


In 2019, they had more than 600 participants. Due to hesitancy around COVID and their children not being vaccinated, changing financial situations, or a host of other reasons, English said they expected it to be smaller this year.


“It’s beautiful, it’s a scenic byway so you can’t get better and the leaves have changed – I’m going to say it’s the prettiest course ever,” English said.


Kansas City Running Club applies for a permit from the City’s Park Department each year for the event. – said she noticed they had cleaned up the drive ahead of the race by scraping wet leaves and mud off the paved trail.


“There were tons of leaves, and then all of a sudden they’re gone right before,” English said, adding that it appears they had cleaned up the Colonnade, too.


The race results will be available later this week at cliffhangerrun.com.

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