Where are your fields at in the maintenance loop?
Are there any stand-out differences between prepping for fall, winter, spring, or summer?
I guess it might make a difference depending on where you live.
In more temperate climates, outdoor parks and rec youth sports go on pretty much year-round. In summer, once the spring season is over and young people (hereafter, kids) get out of school, there generally is a very narrow window – maybe two months - where fields are not as heavily trampled.
In colder climates, there are different concerns since fall may be shorter and colder, but I think no matter where you are, there are always kids out on the fields.
There are baseball/softball/soccer/football/LAX/etc. camps going all summer. There are “traveling teams” who are always prepping for one tournament or another. There are energetic rec teams out there honing their skills for the fall season.
And, there are the dads and their kids who just want to toss the ball, play catch-a-fly-you’re-up, practice snagging those ground balls, work on pass patterns, or sharpen goalie skills.
So in order to do any significant maintenance to fields in this painfully short time, parks and rec departments, or whomever is responsible for field maintenance, have to be the bad guys and close the fields down for maintenance – or try anyway.
Many parks and rec fields are hard to secure because, by default, they are designed to be open and available to the public. Some departments have the luxury of high fences and gates that can be locked; I was always a proponent of concertina wire but it was never a generally-accepted idea.
But most fields are wide open. So the remaining options are things like putting up signs (which may or may not be read or complied with), alerting park rangers or police or having staff do “drive-bys” to ensure people are staying off the fields.
Normally the things being done to parks and rec fields during this time is prompted by the beating fields took during the spring season.
Large numbers of little (kids) or large (teens and adults) feet pounding on new blades of spring turf trying to emerge from winter sleep normally leave wear patterns, many times on large areas of the fields.
Different sports leave different wear patterns. Field sports like football, soccer or LAX tear up turf in specific areas, like down the middle, at goals or in other areas where play tends to be heavy. These areas have to be re-sodded or sprigged and given time to repair themselves. Baseball and softball diamonds are a totally different animal.
Normally, outfield wear is minimal – mostly holes dug in turf by bored outfielders stomping holes with cleats, waiting for that long fly ball to come their way. It’s the infields that need attention.
Dirt infields are probably the most manpower-intensive aspect of field maintenance and the spring season is normally rough on them.
Dirt has been thrown everywhere other than where it needs to be, by fleet feet or hasty re-grooming – or in some cases inadequate grooming by untrained volunteers.
The dreaded “lips” have formed around infield baselines and the infield-outfield junction. Lips have to be groomed down; bases have to be re-set, pitching mounds re-formed.
Oh, and if fields are “multi-purpose” and being used for more than one sport – like soccer and LAX sharing fields – you can add exponentially to the wear ratio.
So, back to my original point, when talking about prepping fields for fall play, it’s really just part of a continuous loop.
You can jump in anywhere on that loop and you will be carried along on a consistent time-space continuum requiring planning and preparation.
That’s really the key; the patterns in this loop are predictable, so they can be mitigated with proper planning, which, as we know, prevents poor performance.
So the good news is that prepping fields for fall play is easy with proper planning; the bad news is that on this day, September 6, if you haven’t already executed the plan, I regret to inform you that it’s probably too late. School is in most places and the fall season is upon you.
However, fret not. Misery loves company and there are thousands of other parks and rec professionals out there suffering the same pains of the fall season. Maybe some of them are reading this and have advice based on experience that they are willing to share here with you.
Fear not, if all else fails, just be prepared to jump into the seasonal maintenance loop and get ready for the next season.
Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email email@example.com.