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Park concept gets city OK

Forget about the cliche "build it and they will come."

There is no doubt among New Richmond Parks Department officials that the need for additional recreational fields in town is acute. They don't need the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to convince them to find a solution.

The city has been trying to address the issue for years, but has never been able to find enough property to meet all the perceived needs.

That all changed late last year when New Richmond purchased more than 70 acres of empty land adjacent to Hatfield Lake, on the northern edge of the city.

The big obstacle that remains is paying for the costly project.

The property is earmarked for an eventual park and recreational field complex that would be the envy of the region.

"Everything we hoped for we were able to fit into this property," said Dave Mehls, president of the New Richmond Area Youth Sports Association.

Two sub-committees of the New Richmond Park Board have been working with consultant Rettler Corporation of Stevens Point on a concept plan for the project. The concept plan was officially adopted by the New Richmond City Council Monday night.

"We very much tried to address the future needs of the community," said Joe Kerlin, parks and recreation director.

The plan calls for the eventual installation of four soccer fields and two soccer/football fields; five small baseball/softball fields; four larger baseball fields; and one regulation-sized baseball diamond. Six tee-ball fields are proposed on the property as well.

Passive sports enthusiasts also have something to cheer about when looking at the concept plans, Kerlin said.

The conceptual drawings also include a future 18-hole frisbee golf course, Hatfield Lake boat access, a year-round park center, an island campground, picnic shelters and a two-mile paved hiking and biking path around the entire park.

The proposed pathway would connect up with the city's already burgeoning trail system, via a newly installed tunnel under Highway 64.

Kerlin said officials also hope to encourage cross country skiing and ice skating in the park during winter months.

The drawings display about 700 parking spots for players and spectators, with space for about 100 additional vehicles in designated overflow areas.

While the entire project has been met with much enthusiasm, Mehls said, the most immediate need is to meet the growing demand for fields.

He said the local soccer program is on the verge of losing several fields in the industrial park, as two new buildings are slated to be constructed on that empty land.

The baseball, tee-ball, football and softball programs are also squeezed for space, Mehls said. The association is working to upgrade the ball field in Star Prairie to provide more options for teams.

"We do have enough to get by right now," he said. "But we definitely could use more fields."

Scheduling practice time and games on the available fields is a difficult job as it is, Kerlin noted.

"It's a challenge each year," he said.

As the area's population continues to grow, Mehls said more participants in sporting activities will only make the problem worse.

Getting many of the recreational fields in one location will help families who have kids on different teams. Each sport currently conducts games and practices on fields in five or six different locations, Mehls said, forcing parents to shuttle players to different sites at the same time.

"With this park, they wouldn't have to travel all around the city," he said.

"To get more sports in one location is what's best for everybody," Kerlin added. "And it's more cost effective."

Now that the plans are on paper, Kerlin and Mehls agree the biggest step is yet to come. The Youth Sports Association is charged with raising the necessary funds to actually develop the park.

Hatfield park supporters hope to begin installing fields later this year or early in 2007, Mehls said. The overall project will likely have to be completed in stages, unless donations exceed expectations.

"We would develop the property from the south to the north," he explained. "Our first goal is to get four of the soccer fields in. Soccer is probably in the worst shape for fields."

One way to speed up the development process is through in-kind donations, Mehls noted. Volunteer labor for such things as excavation and fence installation would help the money go further.

The Parks and Recreation Department is currently working to develop cost estimates for the complete project.

Then the association will kick its fund raising and grant writing effort into full gear, Mehls said.

If the Hatfield complex is eventually developed as proposed, Mehls said it will meet the area's needs for recreational fields for a few years.

"But if the growth keeps happening like it is, we could be running into problems again in five or 10 years," he said.

Additional green space on the Hatfield property would allow for a few more fields in the distant future, Mehls added, but that would require removing some of the passive recreation options at the facility.

At Monday's meeting, Rettler Corporation owner Rick Rettler said his company works with communities nationwide to develop park plans. He said the New Richmond property is some of the best potential park and recreation land he's ever seen.

"We applaud your community for having the insight to plan for the future," he said. "The 100-piece of property is probably one of the most dynamic pieces of land I've seen."

The next step in the park planning process will be a grading, storm water and utility plan. The Youth Sports Association has committed to paying the $55,000 price tag for those documents.