Back in December, we posted about the Wallingford playfield closure, a post which spurred a lot of comments from concerned neighbors. In true Wallyhood fashion, most comments were civil, though the off-leash-dogs-at-the-park issue clearly does push our collective buttons.
Reader and community leader Greg, who was the driving force behind the playfield and who still keeps a watchful eye over it, filled readers in on some the history of the park and the challenges posed by rain, cleats and paws:
During our community survey work in 1998 and 1999 leading into the improvement projects, we found that many view Wallingford Playfield as an incredibly valuable resource, the living room of the Wallingford community. The field has been kept as a free-form green space precisely because it allows such a wide variety of uses – youth soccer, Frisbee, kite flying, lounging in the grass, picnicking, playing catch, etc. Natural turf is a renewable resource if allowed to recover in the off-season… but we need to allow it to have an off-season to realize sustainable use. The field is currently in a downward spiral. Parks has taken the first step to intervene and hopefully turn the field around. However, we all need to cooperate.…
A turf field MUST be closed from around November until March/April to allow the turf to recover and the roots to regrow so that the field can support the incredibly high level of use it sees. The turf is incredibly soft in the winter. Cleats and dog claws do an incredible amount of damage, especially in the winter….
The field has not been posted closed at all in the last two winters and use continued until Spring when the field was closed briefly after-the-fact to try to mend the torn up areas. Results were not great. The field is currently in the worst shape I can recall for the 20 years I was active with organizing projects at the park and the 25 years I have lived in Wallingford….
In the winter, off-leash dogs are the number one source of wear on the field, no question. A dog running and turning, or chasing a ball, shreds the soft turf at every change of direction. This is not just simple scuffing of the ground, the turf is incredibly soft and gets ripped out completely, roots and all. One look at the mudhole that was Wallingford Playfield in the winter typically showed the predominant marker in the mud was not cleats, it was dog prints and claw marks. Some folks do not understand the quantity of dogs being run at the park. Some dog owners say, “Oh, it’s just one dog”, but it is not just one dog. It is daily and it is very heavy, all winter long. The roots will never recover under such persistent and damaging use.
There is clearly a large demand in our neighborhood for a nearby, non-muddy place where dogs may be run off-leash. There is also demand in our neighborhood for a multi-use, open, grassy space where we can play, hold organized sports games, have festivals, and let our kids run themselves silly. Evidence points to these needs being incompatible at Wallingford Playfield. The turf may also need some bigger fixes, beyond simply being given time to fallow.
So, what does a neighborhood in this situation do? One potential solution is join together with other like-minded individuals and apply for a grant from the Neighborhood Park and Street Fund (NPSF). There is a February 4th deadline for this grant, which can be used of a multitude of projects including: “playground improvements, trail upgrades, tennis or basketball court repaving, park benches or tables, natural area renovations, and accessibility improvements.” Funds are available for projects up to $90,000 in cost.
I spoke with Colleen Hackett, Parks Operations Crew Chief, who suggested some long term fixes for the turf problems, including drainage, fencing and synthetic turf. Each comes with its own set of pros and cons, including cost and design considerations. However, Colleen has seen citizen-driven parks initiatives be successful in the past, particularly for high-use parks such as the Wallingford Playfield.
Citizens for Off-Leash Areas (COLA) would support the development of a new off-leash area, which also might receive funding from the NPSF. I don’t know the ins and outs of selecting a site for such a park, but that walled-off and underused part of Gasworks in the Northwest corner of the park seems like a good place to begin.
So, Wallingford, what are you willing to do (besides trading comments on our neighborhood blog) in order to preserve our park?
If you’re willing to spearhead a park revitalization program, work on a new off-leash area, form a group of park stewards, talk to your fellow dog owners about responsible park use, you should leave a comment here. We’ll help you connect with your neighbors who are also willing to pitch in.
Until then, please respect the field closure and keep in mind that the ENTIRE field is closed, not just the fenced-off parts. By playing or exercising your dog on the unfenced portion of the field, all you are accomplishing is the destruction of the turf that wasn’t already destroyed.