Parks 

Grass ain't always greener

What with ultimate Frisbee games, youth soccer leagues and budding interest in lacrosse, Playfair Park behind Sentinel High School has gotten a lot of love. And like a vintage Led Zeppelin T-shirt, the park's looking a little worse for the wear.

Missoula Parks and Rec decided to give Playfair an overdue breather this spring. Recreation manager Shirley Kinsey has been busy reaching out to numerous sports leagues, arranging for alternative venues and schedules for practices and events. It's not ideal, she says, but Playfair just can't keep up with the traffic.

Part of the problem, according to Parks and Rec services and systems manager David Selvage, is Playfair's aging infrastructure. The irrigation system is "pushing 30 years," Selvage says, and with the city's budget restrictions over the past three years, fertilization has been a major issue as well. The recession also means Missoulians are looking for cheaper, more local recreation opportunities. Use has gone up dramatically in recent years, says Parks and Rec Director Donna Gaukler, and new sports keep joining the fold. "When new sports become popular, there's no decrease, no change in the other user groups. It just adds another use, and pretty soon the fields just get tired."

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Kinsey acknowledges that the break at Playfair is inconvenient for some groups. Youth soccer teams were asked to identify practice spaces in other neighborhood parks. Ultimate Frisbee was moved to Fort Missoula and had to reschedule weekly games from Wednesday to Monday. Missoula Ultimate Board President John O'Connor isn't pleased by the news, but he understands. The league boasted 215 members last yeara lot of players for one park. Plus, Playfair took a beating last fall. Right now, the fields are "unplayable."

"This is kind of a big deal for us to have to move," O'Connor. "But unfortunately, it's the reality we're dealing with because of Missoula's dire need for fields."

To O'Connor and the city, Playfair's strife is simply another reminder of the potential benefits of the Fort Missoula Regional Park plan, which would add nine multi-purpose fields and a rugby pitch to Missoula's recreation arsenal. "For a city of our size, we should have between 15 and 20 of those kinds of fields," O'Connor says. "What we have, I believe, is four for the whole city to share."

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