By TOM BENNING Starting Tuesday, Dallas will reduce the number of hours that can be reserved per week on its athletic playing fields from 60 to 45. The change comes as overuse has decimated the grass on many fields, making some so shoddy that they can't be used for tournament play. An estimated 20 percent of the city's nearly 300 fields are affected, with most of those being in the city's northern half. The reduction is sure to irk some users, as the leagues and teams on those overburdened fields might have to sacrifice some playing time to comply with the new policy.
New policy limits use of Dallas city park fields
Starting Tuesday, Dallas will reduce the number of hours that can be reserved per week on its athletic playing fields from 60 to 45.
The change comes as overuse has decimated the grass on many fields, making some so shoddy that they can’t be used for tournament play. An estimated 20 percent of the city’s nearly 300 fields are affected, with most of those being in the city’s northern half.
The reduction is sure to irk some users, as the leagues and teams on those overburdened fields might have to sacrifice some playing time to comply with the new policy.
But Dallas Park and Recreation officials emphasized that no users will be displaced. They said the adjustment has already been underway, as they’ve been working with leagues and teams for several months to get under the new threshold.
And they noted that the policy shift, which puts Dallas more in line with many other Texas cities, will ultimately benefit users.
“The No. 1 goal is to improve the overall field conditions at all our athletic fields,” said John Jenkins, an assistant parks director.
Turf management is a tricky task, especially with Texas weather.
The summers burn up the grass, despite the best efforts of park maintenance crews. Normal play causes users to trample the field in the most active spots, such as the center field or goal area in soccer, and wear through the turf.
And that leaves the turf with little relief.
“People think the fields look the way they look because we don’t perform the maintenance,” Jenkins said. “That’s not the case. … You have to give that turf the opportunity to bounce back.”
Dallas has just about half of the 550 athletic fields recommended by a 2002 parks master plan. Though the city keeps building fields – opening just last week the 19-field MoneyGram Soccer Park – it’s almost prohibitively expensive to keep pace.
Another factor is that newer cities like Frisco have benefited from growing up with a master plan that leaves ample space for athletic fields. But much of Dallas’ development came before such things were really considerations.
So Dallas efforts to build more fields are constrained not only by money, but by space. And the demand – especially for soccer, baseball and softball – continues to only grow.
“Some of the fields are just being abused,” said Raul Lopez, president of a youth soccer league that’s working with the city to reduce hours at Samuell Grand Park in far East Dallas.
To search for ways to improve playing conditions, Dallas parks staff surveyed nearly 50 Texas cities to see how others manage fields. And only 1.4 percent of those surveyed cities allow 40 hours or more of reservations per week.
The parks team also looked at what’s happened at Keist Park in West Oak Cliff.
The fields there used to be so overworked that the “turf” was little more than dirt with lines painted on it. The city teamed in 2008 with the soccer leagues that use the fields to raise money for improvements – and better manage play.
Reserved playing hours dropped. But the fields improved.
“Since then, there’s been nothing but good field conditions out there,” Jenkins said. “No more bare dirt.”
For the citywide reduction – from 60 hours per week to 45 – the parks department started reaching out last year to leagues and teams that play on the 20 percent or so of city fields that were above the threshold.
Parks officials didn’t provide a complete list of the fields impacted by the policy change. But they offered examples of Harry Moss Park in northeast Dallas, Glencoe Park in Old East Dallas and Fretz Park in far North Dallas.
Most of the reductions in reservation hours can be handled by the leagues trimming practice play. Though city officials stressed that no one has to move, they also pointed out that there are underutilized fields in Dallas, particularly in the southern sector.
The city will evaluate the policy change in a year to see if the field conditions have improved or if further reductions in hours are needed. And while some users have grumbled at the thought of losing playing time, many said they understood the need.
“A soccer field is a hard thing to keep up,” said Matt Fry, 23, as he waited to play Sunday at Moss Park. “There’s just a natural wear-and-tear.”