Open for play: Maple Grange field hosts first games

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:54

VERNON-Julia Loughren scored the first goal in the first game ever to be played on the new OmniTurf "magic carpet" at the new community park on Maple Grange Road. The girl pronounced the field "awesome," and her teammates concurred, saying that the field is weird, but they love it because running and turning are easier and the rubber infill and artificial surface make landings softer when players take a fall. Chosen to play the opening game were the girls' soccer teams sponsored by Rockwell Builders and by BNY Mortgage n Loughren's team. Don Sledgeski, whose daughter Sarah, 13, plays for the Rockwell team, said the girls didn't know they'd been chosen to play on the field until the previous evening. "Sarah was really excited about being a member of the first team to play on the field," he said. "We've needed these fields for a long time. Saturday's games took place on the ball field closest to Maple Grange Road; the other OmniTurf field will be ready in October. Another natural-grass practice field is under construction, with heavy equipment still filling and grading the land. Natural grass lawns take about a year to be ready for heavy use, so the field won't be open until late next summer. The OmniTurf fields are designed to accommodate lacrosse, football, and soccer. Powerful, non-glare lighting especially designed for the park will be connected in about a week, after power lines are run across from Route 517, according to Councilman Neil Desmond. Pointing to the blue shapes of the Wawayanda Mountains and the goldenrod and purple asters, Desmond noted how beautiful the autumn foliage should look on Oct. 23, when the park will have its grand opening. Meanwhile, the field will be used regularly, with four games taking place this Saturday, and at least more four more on the agenda for Sunday "These fields are the cornerstone of the park," Desmond said. "It's nice to have a real field, with real bleachers. People who came to watch used to have to sit on planks supported by buckets," said Sydney Logan, 11, who was waiting with her team to play the second game on the new field. On Saturday, spectators watched from a set of gleaming portable bleachers that gave them a view towards Wawayanda Park and the mountains. Additional rows of bleachers will stand to the left and right of the fields after grassy borders are established. Sydney, the daughter of former mayor John Logan, also admired the new portable goals, remarking that the ball often would escape the nets on their old fields because the goals were badly tattered. Township engineer Lou Kneip, Assistant Township Manager and Director of Community Development Gary Gardner, Director of Recreation and Leisure Pat Seger and Police Athletic League Director Randy Mills also were on hand to see the girls kick off. "I ruined more shoes working to get these fields ready," said Gardner. "I've lived in Vernon since 1976, and we've been talking about having a park all these years. Now we have a state-of-the-art complex that will serve the township for many years to come. All that hard work comes down to this: Kids playing soccer on a beautiful field." Logan, who arrived later to pick up Sydney after her game, said, "It was Desmond's leadership that enabled town kids, including my own, to be playing this week on new fields, of which we can all be proud." After a rainfall of 0.13 inches the previous night, the field was dry. The drainage system beneath the synthetic turf is built to handle a rainfall of four inches per hour, Desmond said. The turf is cushioned by 20 tons of ground rubber that is incorporated into the surface in such a way that even a heavy downpour won't wash it out, Desmond said. Among the things the park does not yet have is a name. "We should do more than just name the field after the road where it's situated," said Desmond at a council meeting earlier in the week. He suggested calling for the members of the teams that use the park, as well as others, to submit suggested names to the Vernon Department of Recreation and Leisure, and the council concurred unanimously in the idea. When the park is complete, it will offer two basketball courts, two tennis courts, a picnic pavilion overlooking the playing fields, as well as bocce courts and horseshoe pits. The parking area will hold more than 200 cars. Plans to build the recreation center were put on hold when bids came in close to twice as much as a state grant of $250,000 allocated for its construction. Gardner said that the township is exploring its options, trying to balance the merits of rebidding the proposal against seeking ways to get a good building at a far lower cost. Among the options being considered is using volunteer or student labor. Vernon used the funds from a $2.2-million bond voters approved in 1999 to purchase Maple Grange. But in the Nov. 2002 general election, voters defeated by a narrow margin a $2-million bond that would have provided additional money for a more extensive park. Vernon is funding the construction costs from the proceeds of the township's $804,000 sale of the Black Creek Lenni-Lenape American Indian site to the Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres Program. The site of the former Native American village will be separated from the body of Maple Grange Park by a roadway. Desmond said that the township wants everyone to know that the park is for all the people of Vernon when games aren't scheduled.