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Flooded fields cause problems for Columbia Parks and Recreation

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 | 5:59 p.m. CDT; updated 1:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Above from left, Wilcoxson Construction workers Travis Kaiser, Aaron Self, Lester Goins and Mike Boggs, below, work to install the fencing around the new Parks and Recreation baseball field adjacent to the Boone County Fairgrounds on the morning of May 1.

COLUMBIA — The baseball complex near the Boone County Fairgrounds was supposed to be hosting games by now. But the nightly croaking of frogs living in mud puddles around the future fields are evidence of how far it is from being done.

The delayed development of the baseball fields is a hassle, but it’s only a drop in the bucket of trouble that all the recent rain has caused for the city Parks and Recreation Department. It’s also caused problems with scheduling of recreational sports, mowing, planting flowers and maintaining trails.

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At the baseball complex, construction crews have been working diligently between the rains to get as much work done as possible, but they are still behind. The first games were originally scheduled for last weekend, but as of Friday, only one of the four new fields had been sodded and fences were still being installed.

Wet and cold weather prohibited any work on the fields from early December through early March.

“We lost the entire winter,” Toney Lowery, senior parks planner, said.

So far this spring, daytime temperatures low enough to stop water from evaporating but high enough to stop it from freezing have created nearly impossible conditions for construction workers.

“By 10 a.m. it would be slimy,” Lowery said. “You could hardly walk.”

Branden Burks, who works for Wilcoxson Excavating and Construction, said the weather has slowed things down, especially when it comes to the company’s large cement mixing truck.

“Every day we’ve poured out here we’ve had the truck hung up,” Burks said.

The heavy equipment also creates deep ruts that fill with standing water, making the site even more unworkable. The rain has not only caused the parks department’s recreational sports program to wait on the new fields, but has postponed many scheduled games.

Recreation supervisor Carol Riney said that with the baseball complex late on construction, she has had to switch games to other complexes — in one case splitting the Rainbow Softball Complex between girls’ fast-pitch games and boys’ baseball games. It was the first time little league boys’ games have been held at the complex.

“We really don’t have any options,” Riney said. “Until they get done we have to be creative and share facilities.”

Riney said rain already has caused Parks and Recreation to cancel four baseball tournaments, and six adult softball league days since April 13.

“If it’s too wet, you just can’t play baseball (on the fields),” said Mark Griggs, parks services manager. “We’ve even seen teams set up (to practice) in the parking lot.”

Parks and Recreation has even gone so far as relaxing the rules a bit to allow more games to be played.

“If we’d have cancelled games on normal policy, we wouldn’t have played hardly a game,” Griggs said. “The good news is players are getting to play. The bad news is we’re ... going to have to spend a little more time to restore the fields at the end of the year.”

Although the rain is helping the grass grow in city parks, it’s now getting a bit too long. Mowing crews can’t take out the machines they use to trim large fields. Some parks, such as Fairview, which normally would have been mowed four times by the end of April, have been mowed only twice. Several other parks have been mowed only once.

“Our staff are coming in early and staying late,” Griggs said.

Rains also have disrupted Parks and Recreation from gravelling the trails. Normally, gravel is laid down loosely, then packed down with a roller.

“This year it would rain before we could roller it,” Griggs said.

“If rock doesn’t get rolled, it washes away. ... Then you’ve got to put more rock down,” Lowery added.

Daniel Gibbons, a horticulturist who heads a landscaping team for Parks and Recreation flower beds, said the wet weather hasn’t been as serious a problem for him.

“Really, the weather — it goes on and we keep working,” Gibbons said.

Still, during heavy rains in December, the team ran into trouble when it was building a 100-foot-long retaining wall at Paquin Park. The rain was so heavy that holes his crew dug to ground the walls were filled up with water.

“We were having to level and place our blocks basically in standing water,” Gibbons said.

As long as the weather holds, Gibbons said park landscapers will be planting annuals, but if more thunderstorms come, they will be forced to let the flowers wait and work on other things.

Late last week, on a windy and surprisingly dry day, Lowery was working with contractors to figure out the next step.

“If we get three more weeks like today is, we’re done,” Lowery said, surveying the half-built baseball fields.

But he knew his wish was a long-shot. “It’s going to rain tomorrow.”


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