Memorial Park athletic fields left scarred by tire tracks
During of December 2016, Wilsonville experienced an usual amount of snowfall. As fluffy white mounds drifted around the city and coated the hills and valleys, Memorial Park's athletic fields were the victims of three separate occasions of automotive shenanigans that left sections of the fields mangled.
For Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Parks Supervisor Tod Blankenship, the incident is more than a simple inconvenience for him and parks maintenance staff. During the winter, athletic fields are particularly fragile because of the high levels of moisture in the soil and when vehicles drive across them a myriad of issues can occur.
Unlike "turf tires" that are designed to spread out the pressure and weight of maintenance equipment, most vehicle tires are designed for grip and traction. Consequently, vehicle tires have the tendency to shred and sink into soft and wet soil, compressing the earth and destroying roots. Fixing that kind of damage is costly and time consuming because all of the work is done by hand.
"What also needs to be considered is the time lost on other winter projects," Blankenship said. "We are down to a skeleton crew in the winter and every working daylight hour is imperative to the success of our season-long effort to provide a safe and enjoyable experience throughout all the parks."
In addition to quantifiable costs, Blankenship said that there are possible long-term damages and effects from the joyriding that can't currently be estimated.
"What we will not know for certain until the turf begins to grow again is the extent of the damage to the existing turfgrass plants and soil," Blankenship said. "Hopefully much of the damage is superficial, however there is more to consider."
For the tracks that have been compressed and compacted, he said that the turf grass could be damaged to the point where it won't be able to access water during the growing season and recover naturally from the usual wear and tear of use. Less natural repair means more maintenance and less access to residents.
"These are the only city-owned fields we have to offer (for) our recreational opportunities, so every programmable hour is important to the success of these programs," Blankenship said.
Besides causing damage to the surface levels of the fields, there's the issue of irrigation lines just below the turf. After irrigation damage caused this summer by vehicles driving up onto the fields, Blankenship said that if cars were "lucky enough" to hit the same sections of pipe or heads again, patches and previous work or fixes could be rebroken and worsened.
"We have all of our irrigation systems winterized," Blankenship said. "Unfortunately, we won't know for certain if there was any damage until the irrigation system is operating. We may see the damage as soon as the system is turned back on in the spring or it may take a while for the damage to become evident."
If further freezes are in Wilsonville's future, any simple damage — such as pipe cracks and fractures — could worsen with the shrinking and expansion of the pipes during temperature fluctuations.
"Of course there are quantifiable costs associated with irrigation repairs, but there (are) also costs to the turfgrass plants and their ability to thrive," he said. "These costs are much more difficult to quantify but are equally, if not more, important."
For now, Blankenship said that his team has done what it can do to repair the turf until the fields dry more and the weather warms. Without curbs around the fields to deter vehicles from entering the fields or surveillance cameras that can cover the length of the fields, Blankenship has requested that the Wilsonville Police Department increase its surveillance of the area and hopes that past or prospective perpetrators will consider the implications of their actions.
"While it may not seem like a big deal to some, joyriding through our fields can have a huge impact on our operation and the City of Wilsonville residents' ability to enjoy their fields," Blankenship said. "Hopefully the past three incidents were enough for whoever did it to get their 'fix' as our fix has only just begun and we simply do not have the resources to constantly repair damage."