The Tisbury open space and recreation committee unanimously approved a recommendation to hire a turf specialist to assess the field conditions of Veterans Memorial Park and suggest treatment for the town resource.
The recommendation will be sent to the Tisbury Select Board for its approval.
According to committee chair Cheryl Doble, Tisbury town administrator John Grande requested the committee look over the fields and come back with a recommendation. “A couple of us actually went to the site,” Doble said.
The plan comes with recent complaints about the state of the field, particularly after Beach Road Weekend, a popular musical festival held in the park. There are also concerns over player safety on the fields.
The draft memo states the committee focused on the deterioration of the athletic fields that has taken place over the past four years, and the need to restore it to “a safe playing environment.” According to the memo, the town has been maintaining the fields for more than 50 years and kept them in good condition. In “recent years,” the town invested $780,000 for field improvements and facilities. The memo said the Tisbury Department of Public Works (DPW) increased maintenance work on the fields over the past decade, including “specialized experts and equipment” brought in by the Field Fund, an organization that works to maintain grass fields on the Island.
However, the memo states that aerial photos taken in 2018 and in 2022 — before and after Beach Road Weekend — show “clear evidence” of a “dramatic decline” in their condition. The memo points out that COVID reduced playing time on the field, but the concerts took place in 2019, 2021, and 2022.
The hired specialist will need to take into account preparation work prior to the festival in August, guidelines on the concert layout, setup for the concert, and restoration afterward. Doble said that considering Beach Road Weekend is already scheduled for 2024, a long-term maintenance program will need to be implemented before the concerts begin.
The music festival was unanimously approved for three years by the Tisbury Select Board last year, the final concert in this agreement being in 2024. As a part of the agreement, Beach Road Weekend promoter Adam Epstein said the concert series landscaper would be tasked with preparing the field for the concert and restoring it afterward.
A visit to the fields Monday afternoon showed there is currently a mixture of green grass with dried, yellow, and patchy grass. The field’s ground felt bumpy, although the dirt softball diamond was smoother in comparison.
Committee member Carolyn Wallis added that any improvements that can be made to the fields should be done prior to the concert. “We want it to be, obviously, top-notch fields for play for the town,” she said.
Committee member James Burrows said the town should aim to make the fields “better than before,” rather than just “bringing it back up to speed.”
Martha’s Vineyard United Soccer secretary Richard Bennett said he first came to the Island almost 20 years ago as a referee for the adult summer soccer league. He said at the time there was talk about resodding the soccer field because of its “atrocious shape.”
“It was one of the worst fields I’ve seen in New England, to be honest with you, and it is fast approaching that state again,” he said, expressing “complete support” for the committee’s recommendation.
Bennett also said he felt the concert itself wasn’t the issue to the field deterioration, but the preparation and restoration work done to it, which needs to be “vastly improved.”
Tisbury planning board chair Ben Robinson said the fields have had their good and bad days, but he pointed out that there was a “marked improvement” to the fields in the past decade. He said 2018 was when he felt the fields were looking their best. He said he was encouraged by the maintenance plan recommendation.
“I wish we had done this five or six years ago, but that’s past,” Robinson said. “Now let’s move forward with a real maintenance plan.”
Robinson added that the town had already invested a lot of money into the fields, and he said the costs of repairing the fields should not fall on just taxpayers but also on those who use the location.
Field Fund co-founder Rebekah Thomson also expressed her support, adding that her organization would be willing to help. “A healthy grass field can handle a lot of use,” she said. “It’s really just [about] being smart about the maintenance.”
Epstein said everyplace he has lived, both rural and urban, there has been a common field for sports and recreational activities that needed year-round maintenance that was mindful of all of its uses. As an example, he pointed to the Great Lawn in New York City, which is managed by the Central Park Conservancy and allows for various uses, from events hosting tens of thousands of people to Frisbee games.
“I don’t think that we are incapable of finding solutions on this Island that can handle all of the potential uses to nobody’s exclusion,” he said, adding that he would like to put resources into making Veterans Memorial Park available for “multiple uses.”
Doble agreed, saying that a better understanding of the field is needed, such as the true capacity of the park, and to what extent maintenance is possible.
However, she said the committee lacked the expertise about field maintenance, which is why the recommendation suggested hiring someone. Doble said she hopes a maintenance plan will set a standard for how the fields should be used, and the location’s preservation.
DPW director Kirk Metell agreed that a part of why there have been fluctuations in the field quality was a lack of a proper maintenance plan. “That’s something we need to put together with an outside entity to meet our needs,” he said. “We’ll put that out to bid, and hopefully get a company who can help us move forward in the future.”