Managing multiple fields

PHOTOS COURTESY OF WECMRD.
The WECMRD Fairgrounds Sports Complex in Eagle.

The Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District (WECMRD) provides indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities for the towns of Eagle, Edwards and Gypsum, Colo., and the surrounding community.

“Our facilities are the central gathering place for both organized sports programs and unofficial play,” says Jim Sanders, CSFM, facilities superintendent for the district. “Our outdoor fields are open to the public, which means they’re in use nearly nonstop from before the snow clears in the spring into early November.”

Variety abounds

The Fairgrounds Sports Complex, located in Eagle, is about 30 years old. It features two softball fields, one baseball field and a multiuse grass area for soccer, lacrosse and football. Sanders says, “As our only lighted facility, it gets lots of play, especially from our softball and baseball leagues and the local high school and park system baseball programs. We’ll even run some soccer and lacrosse games under the lights to fit everything into the schedule.”

The Eagle location’s indoor ice rink serves that purpose from August through the first of April. During the summer it becomes the site for the indoor soccer league and a day camp.

Freedom Park at Miller Ranch in Edwards is going on its seventh year. With about 30 acres under WECMRD care, facilities include a playground and world-class skate park with cement features. A joint people and dog park, pavilion and small sand beach have turned the irrigation pond area into additional recreational space. A field house, currently under construction, will include a multipurpose synthetic turf field, a hard floor basketball court and a gymnastics area.

Soccer is in action on the synthetic field, despite the snow.
The skate park is a popular activity center at the Edwards site.

“The outdoor multisport complex in Edwards includes our only outdoor synthetic turf field,” says Sanders. “It’s a Prestige field that was originally developed in France. ACC, the contractor that handled that installation, also constructed the three natural grass fields. There’s enough space between the two Little League ball diamonds at this site for soccer, football or lacrosse play.”

Gypsum lies 8 miles west of Eagle. The Gypsum Recreational Center features a pool, weight room, climbing wall, gymnastics center and meeting rooms, as well as housing the WECMRD main offices. Three baseball fields make up the Gypsum Sports Complex.

Sanders says, “Typically, we start outdoor play on our artificial field in February. The natural grass fields won’t warm up enough for play until late March. It’s challenging to coordinate the synthetic field use between multiple user groups when it’s too early to get on the other fields. We use our tractor mower with the blower attachment to keep the artificial field clear until the spring snows stop. This year, we cleared it five times for games, either the morning of the event or the day before. They’re often playing on that one green spot with 8 feet of snow surrounding the field.”

The high school in the Edwards area is putting in a synthetic field that will be completed by the fall of 2009. “It’s a similar product to our field, but provided through a different contractor,” notes Sanders. “It will become the primary field for the high school lacrosse and soccer teams, absorbing about half the early spring use, which will definitely help.”

Edwards is in the center of the county and gets the most use. Those participating in organized teams have scheduled practice and game times and are alerted to weather-related field closings, but a high percentage of the soccer-loving community engages primarily in nonscheduled play and seeks field space wherever and whenever they can find it.

Sanders says, “We do at times have conflicts between the scheduled and nonscheduled field users during evenings and weekends when our facilities staff isn’t on-site. We’ll probably end up hiring additional personnel to cover those hours to assist with conflict resolution.”

Making it work

A spirit of cooperation prevails across the district, as the different entities work together with the common goal of providing the best combination of services for county residents. “We basically co-manage the facilities, operating with intergovernmental agreements to make the best use of resources and increase efficiencies for all involved,” says Sanders.

“We have cooperative agreements with the towns of Eagle and Gypsum. Edwards is not incorporated, so we co-manage there through Eagle County. Operating funds come from taxes and user-based fees, and the monies are split according to services provided.

“We take care of the landscape everywhere but Gypsum. At Eagle, we maintain the pool and ice rinks and will maintain the new Edwards facility, too. We work closely with the school districts and park departments, using some of their properties for practices when schedules overlap.”

Field management program

The natural grass fields are native soils and are equipped with inground irrigation. Each site has a central pump system with individual controllers for each field. Sanders says, “The county is a ‘ditch rider,’ with rights to the water channeled from the river to the ditch irrigation system. WECMRD depends on the county to get the water to us so we can operate our irrigation systems. Our area has been on residential water restrictions, with Mondays declared no water days. We comply with that, though it’s not officially in force on the sites we maintain.”

Big roll bluegrass sod was originally installed on all of the natural grass fields. They’ve been overseeded with a bluegrass/perennial ryegrass mix over the years, gradually increasing the percentage of rye on each field. Sanders says, “We use granular fertilizers, half organic and half synthetic, coordinating the program to push growth throughout the playing season and provide quick recovery in the spring. Soil temperatures don’t warm up enough for turf growth until April. We’ll have nearly two full months of field use before that.”

Sanders core aerates each field in spring and fall, as use schedules and weather allow. He says, “We want the grass to be actively growing, so we won’t do the spring aeration until after the spring leagues finish. We always drag in the cores and may overseed. We slice frequently—every three weeks in Edwards, once a month at Eagle and whenever we overseed between core aerations.”

The program operates on standard IPM practices, with chemical controls used only when required and on the smallest possible area. Insects and diseases are seldom problems. The few dandelions and clover that do pop up are spot-treated. At Eagle, the main pests are Richardson ground squirrels. Sanders says, “They prefer the lush grass fields to the sagebrush and other native plants in the surrounding areas. If we can’t deter them with rocks in their burrows, we call the animal control authorities to eradicate them. It’s just one more example of how cooperation and communication help us serve our residents efficiently and effectively.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.