The popularity of two of Helena’s parks with organized sports exceeds the capacity of those fields to accommodate users.
Parks and recreation department officials are being faced with requests for field use at Centennial Park and Northwest Park that would leave little, if any, time for maintenance and not enough time for the grass to recover.
Another consideration for city staff is to ensure that parks are also able to accommodate families.
This proposed field use by sports teams prompted city staff to bring their concerns to the City-County Parks Advisory Board on Wednesday and to say they’d like to limit park field use by teams to between 18 and 20 hours per week.
Helping guide city staff on managing park field use will be the 2013 policy on athletic fields use and allocation that allows for fields to be closed or use denied because of over-use among other reasons.
Several issues have arisen from park field use requests that include more than one team asking for the same field on the same day and still other teams and groups that arrive without going through the reservation process for a park field, city staff said after the meeting.
“We’re just getting to the point where the demand for the fields is exceeding what we have to offer,” said Craig Marr, parks superintendent.
As a result, parks and recreation staff is trying to balance requests with the ability to maintain the fields to protect the investment in the turf and ensure the fields are safe for users.
“The approved schedule will be much reduced,” said Amy Teegarden, the city’s parks and recreation department director, who noted that teams would be notified by the end of next week on their requests for field reservations.
Some teams will be asked to use other parks so fields don’t get “pounded,” which can create concerns for players’ safety because the ground becomes hard after being compacted from too much use.
Compacted turf also means soccer and lacrosse balls won’t behave the same across the length and width of the field, an issue for those participating in sports.
Lacrosse is a newer use that’s increased in the last three years at city parks. A new soccer club is also asking for city park field use too, Teegarden said.
“Needs and trends change or evolve,” she said.
“It’s a good problem to have, but we need to be proactive in how we manage for it so we can still provide safe places and do what’s right for the resource too, the investment. And some of that might be resting things.”
Accompanying greater park field use is an additional need for maintenance such as aeration of the soil -- a process whereby plugs of soil are removed to allow moisture, air and nutrients to better reach the roots of grass.
Aeration of the fields at Centennial and Northwest parks, said Teegarden and Marr, should be done six times a year because of field use there.
Increased use of park fields by organized teams indicates to Teegarden that there’s also a greater need for more sports fields in the community.
A lack of sports fields in the Helena Valley and in the surrounding area creates more interest in using those in Helena, city staff said.
The only sports fields in the community are those located at schools and on land leased from Helena Regional Airport, Teegarden said.
“Those were designed and built as sports fields,” she continued and noted that no city parks were designed with fields for soccer or lacrosse.
“We don’t have a soccer field or lacrosse fields. We have parks that have some open-space turf in them that are being used for that,” Teegarden said. “But they were never designed and built for that.”
The city does have fields designed for softball and baseball, she added.
In addition to considering how to better manage park field use, the city is also considering increases in the cost to use those fields.
There is no sign-up fee to reserve a park field but only a minimal cost on the hourly use. The current $2 per field per hour fee for youth teams, those with children up to 12 years old, is proposed to be increased to $4, Teegarden said.
The fee for adult teams is proposed to increase by $2 and would become $6 per hour.
Incremental increases will be proposed in future years, she said and added “for use of the field, we are way under-priced for where we should be.”