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Grassroots politics: field use policy in play


by Craig Gilbert |


As if Jasper councillors hadn’t talked enough about grass this year, Coun. Bert Journault got his hands dirty this week.

As council mulls over a new field use policy, he wants to get to the root of it.

“Do you need to mow more often?” he asked operations director Bruce Thompson on Tuesday. “Do you need more fertilizer?”

Mayor Richard Ireland for his part isn’t interested in that level of detail. He noted, as he’s wont to to do, that the town operates on the premise that its managers are competent and elected officials are to limit themselves to directing.

But hang on, said CAO Mark Fercho.

This data on mowing schedules from larger cities like with more fields to maintain, on field class, mandatory rest times and maximum use totals, becomes pertinent to the politicians with a longer view.

“If you prohibit things that damage the grass, maintenance will be cheaper,” he said. “We’re trying to protect the root structure. It’s a big change (that) will affect how we ask for money in the future.”

He said there will be times when people won’t be happy when they’re told policy and procedure prevents play today, which was a good example of alliteration.

Fercho said it would be helpful to have something in place and online that staff can refer to when they’re asked about field time or a lack thereof.

“Allowing all users anytime the way we used to is what gets us into the situation we have with Centennial.”

It’s a sharp question this year as the town prepares for what is expected to be an “exceptional” year for the Exchange Lands, which will be the only field available this year as Centennial’s new surface takes root. Jasper has a short growing season, April to October, packed with relatively intense use.

The town breaks down field bookings by week. In 2017, 835.5 hours were logged, 168 of them in the middle of October. The next busiest time of year is the first half of July, when another 135 hours are booked.

In Regina, all fields are limited to 18 hours per week. In Vancouver, top-tier fields are restricted to 24 hours per week. In Calgary, the top two tiers see a maximum of 20 hours of action while levels C, D and E can have up to 39 hours of use. This is all according to a summary in the March 27 committee of the whole agenda.

In drafting the field policy councillors are considering, the town sowed feedback from a number of Centennial Park users. That number was 21, and includes minor sports associations (soccer and rugby), the schools, ball associations, the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, and organizers of Canada Day and the Dark Sky festival.

Some, like Mountain Park Lodges, had nothing to add. Others, like Ecole Desrochers, pointed out that damaging metal cleats are forbidden for safety reasons so football should be removed from the list of prohibited activities.

The Jasper 7s Rugby Association worried tournaments would be difficult to book if visiting teams couldn’t be assured they would have a field to play on when they arrived.

The report to Jasper council by culture and recreation director Yvonne McNabb acknowledges this is a concern that has to be balanced with the integrity of the field bed.

That said, “Centennial disintegrated to weeds within a decade” with crews sometimes having to fill holes to stage events.

The Chamber seeks clarity around closures as well, aspiring to have more specific language than common sense refereeing whether an event of the magnitude of the Canada Day festival could be cancelled after rain.

The draft policy says user groups are to use “good judgement” when fields are marginal. If the town decides “poor judgement” is used, they could keep the damage deposit.

Items listed as banned because they could “pierce, penetrate, scar, cause rutting or damage the structure or surface of the turf grass” include stages, “vehicle or cartage wheels or tires,” livestock, the unsung hero of any summer festival, the humble tent peg, and its athletically endowed cousin, the javelin. Tents are banned, too, as is golf, and yes, before you ask, caber tossing is a non-starter.

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