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Aspen takes a turf tour

Janet Urquhart
Testing his tootisies on new turf, Aspen City councilman Torre plays a little soccer during a tour of Vail Mountain School's new soccer field Tuesday afternoon April 13, 2004. Aspen city parks department is considering replacing Wagner and Rio Grande parks with new astro turf. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Aspenites went barefoot in the park Tuesday in Vail.

It felt pretty good.

“I wish my carpet felt like that,” said Jennifer Albright Carney, director of special events for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

“Feels pretty nice,” conceded Mayor Helen Klanderud, one of a handful of city officials and citizens who pulled off their shoes and socks to tread on artificial turf at the Vail Mountain School soccer field.

Councilman Torre kicked around a soccer ball, while Councilman Terry Paulson strolled thoughtfully across the cushy, verdant field of plastic grass infused with a base of tiny rubber pellets.

Ron Morehead, manager at Aspen Sports and director of youth football in Aspen, took a running slide across the surface. So did Keith Bulicz, recreation programmer for the city parks and recreation department. Both were sporting shiny, pink “burns” on their calves as a result.

“It’s no worse than regular grass,” Morehead concluded.

“I’d call it equal with normal turf,” Bulicz agreed.

With Aspen pondering an artificial surface at one of its parks, the city arranged yesterday’s road trip to get a feel for the fake turf, visiting fields in Vail and Edwards.

“I think this product makes a lot of sense somewhere in our community,” said Jeff Woods, Aspen parks director.

Aspen could use a half dozen more athletic fields to meet the demand, he said. At the same time, there has been increasing pressure to use the city’s downtown parks for special events.

Wagner Park emerged this spring as a possible candidate for artificial turf, raising eyebrows and cries of protest from those appalled by the prospect of a plastic park.

The trio of council members lolling on Vail’s fake lawn, too, weren’t sure that Aspen’s most beloved park is the best spot for the ersatz grass.

“I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. This is a really nice field,” Torre said. “But then, again, this application is a playing field. This isn’t a park.”

“I guess I’m resistant to put it on Wagner,” Paulson said. “Wagner doesn’t feel right to me, but there might be a place for this somewhere.”

An expanse of artificial turf in Aspen could handle the use of perhaps three sod fields, according to Woods, saving the city some $90,000 in annual maintenance costs and saving up to 4 million gallons of water a year. It could also relieve pressure on Wagner, saving it for special events, he said.

An artificial turf field may make sense for Aspen, Klanderud agreed, but she, too was hesitant to peg Wagner for the surface.

“I have mixed feelings about putting it at Wagner,” she said.

There’s a psychological hurdle to replacing the natural grass at Wagner with fake turf, council members agreed.

“It’s the artificial nature. I’m in that camp right now,” Torre said. “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to put this in Wagner Park.”

A couple of council members mentioned Rio Grande Park as a more appropriate spot for the turf, but parks officials aren’t sure that site is suitable for the surface, given the city’s plan to create temporary storm water drainage there.

There were other concerns, too.

Leon Fell, who organizes Aspen’s annual Motherlode Volleyball Classic, wondered how the surface would work for diving volleyball players who use both Wagner and Rio Grande parks.

Devin Padgett, producer of the Aspen Food & Wine Magazine Classic, was more interested in accommodating tent stakes in the grass.

Other worries ranged from accommodating dogs to how hot the turf gets in the summer.

According to Woods, the turf can be cooled with sprinkling, and doggie deposits have to be picked up as usual. Offending spots can also be sprayed with disinfectant and the turf can be washed, he said. The turf has a drainage system with sand at its base.

The Edwards park, however, was posted “no dogs” and pooches aren’t welcomed on the Vail field either, though one was wandering about yesterday.

The city estimates it would cost about $700,000 to replace the sod at Wagner Park with artificial turf, but the thought of fake grass there may be more troubling than the price tag for some in the community.

“If we’re going to have a plastic park, it should not be Wagner Park,” said Carol Saunders-White, a local resident who tagged along on yesterday’s tour.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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