War Veterans Park playing fields need work
One of the Vineyard's most used summer athletic fields might also be its most decrepit.
A walk around Veteran's Park in Vineyard Haven reveals a desperate cry for help, and the perils that hundreds of athletes face every summer during competition on both the soccer field and the baseball diamonds.
The softball diamond nearest the parking lot is excessively dry and dusty. While the little league field is not quite as dusty, patches of grass and weeds pop up throughout the gravel basepath.
Worst of all is the soccer field, which sports large patches of dirt and rocks in the middle of the field as well as in front of each goal. Additionally, the field is uneven with small dips in the field, many containing rocks, shells and weeds.
Dirt and weed patches throughout the soccer field are a growing concern for town and league officials alike. Photo by Mae Deary
The Tisbury Department of Public Works (TDPW) maintains the park, which contains the only soccer and baseball fields in Tisbury.
As the park is used by several athletic leagues free of charge, league officials that use the field in the summer are appreciative of their opportunity and wary of biting the hand that feeds them, though their concern is apparent. "I actually know people who don't play because of the state of the field," said Neal Sullivan, President of the Vineyard Football Association (VFA), an adult soccer league, although all VFA players are provided with supplementary accident insurance. "I think we're blessed to be able to use the field. There's something we can do to improve them, we need leadership and guidance."
"They do a great job of letting us use the fields, but I don't think they do enough," said Ray Tattersall, co-commissioner of the Men's Softball League. "Give us a base to work with and we'll take care of the thing."
Though TDPW Director Fred LaPiana does not acknowledge the risk factor of playing on the fields, he does see a need for improvement. "The fields are in safe condition, they play pretty well," said Mr. LaPiana. "What could be improved infrastructure-wise would be an irrigation system of some kind."
The problem however, may have less to do with initiative and more to do with budget constraints. According to Mr. LaPiana, the budget for all Tisbury parks is about $6,000 a year. With three other parks to maintain (Owen Park, Lake Street Park, and Hagerty Park) as well as several tennis courts throughout Tisbury, Veterans Park is left with roughly $1,000 per year. This covers fertilizer, seed and labor. The TDPW also pays for the lights and electricity used to illuminate the park at night.
The town has had a sprinkler system earmarked for the park, but lacks the money to have it installed and maintained. "If I were to make a guess on the cost of installation, I'd say maybe $10,000," said Mr. LaPiana. "We're hoping for a volunteer effort." So far, says Mr. LaPiana, there haven't been many offers to help. "The softball league helps groom their own field once a year," said Mr. LaPiana. "There's been a few sentiments with regards to making offers, but we've seen little results."
Budgetary concerns are not the only thing preventing the fields from being replanted or resodded. As the only baseball and soccer fields in Tisbury, the park is in high demand for most of the spring and summer. According to Mr. LaPiana, multiple soccer leagues and little league occupy the fields from March to the end of school. Softball leagues begin in May, and along with the VFA soccer league, which begins in June, run until mid-August. After that, soccer picks up again, as do ultimate Frisbee leagues. Soccer and softball camps in August, as well as various picnics, only add to the incessant use of the field. "Basically, what the field needs is to be able to shift people off the field for the grass to rejuvenate and grow," said Mr. LaPiana. "We're basically booked solid from the beginning of the growing year, March, until August. In August we have somewhat of a break, but then it picks up again in September. That doesn't give a lot of opportunity for grass growing."
Weather is also a contributing factor to the park's problems, more so than most parks, due to its location. "If it has rained enough, it's not dry, but if it's too wet, there are sinkholes," said Mr. Sullivan. "It's a filled-in swamp. The field is very close to the waterline."
The high school may seem like a logical option, but has not recently been pursued. "One time we hosted Pop Warner [football] on their fields, which proved difficult and didn't really work out," said Mr. LaPiana. "They have to maintain their fields and the additional usage is difficult." Mr. LaPiana also noted the convenience of Veterans Park for many of the off-island teams that come to the Island by ferry to compete.
Despite the seemingly impossible circumstance the park currently finds itself in, there may be hope yet. The TDPW is looking to open a new field adjacent to the Park and Ride lot off State Road. Not only would the new park provide more space for athletic leagues, but also the transfer of some leagues to the new park could provide the time desperately needed for new grass to grow in Veterans Park. "We're trying to get the grades correct right now. It'll be a multi-use field," said Mr. LaPiana, who is hoping to have the field ready for use in two years. "There's no budget for it, but we're doing it as time allows. We'd certainly take any donations."