Cathy Scott-May remembers how the Bonnington Regional Park was supposed to be.
The field was to be grassy and soft, a perfect turf for youth soccer games. The court’s surface would be level for pickup basketball and ball hockey. Kids would ride the pump track and use the washrooms that had been painted and signed by local youth volunteers.
For a time, that’s how the park was.
These days, the field’s grass has been replaced by weeds. The court is uneven, its nets torn. The pump track is ignored. The washroom murals were mistakenly painted over in white paint by a contractor.
Two decades ago, Bonnington Regional Park was a local triumph. Scott-May, a longtime resident of the community between Nelson and Castlegar, was among the organizers who helped raise funds for its construction and rally volunteers.
“I used to call it the Church of Bonnington Park, because every Sunday I’d load up tools in our truck and we’d all go down for community work parties. It was a real community initiative to create it.”
The park sits neglected and in disrepair now. Meanwhile, seven kilometres west on Highway 6 is Campbell Field where the Regional District of Central Kootenay is in the public consultation phase of what will be an outdoor multi-sport facility.
If the Campbell Field facility is eventually approved, Scott-May hopes the regional district and residents keep the lessons she’s learned from Bonnington Park in mind.
“You haven’t convinced me at all that there’s going to be a need and actually use that field in the way that I’m hearing it. Now if something completely different, OK, but explain to me how it’s going to be different.”
The land at Bonnington Park had been Crown land used by the Ministry of Transportation. The community purchased it and later came to an agreement with the regional district — it would fundraise and build the park, then the RDCK would take over its maintenance and liability.
In July 2001 the park’s hiking trails were completed, and the playground was opened in September of that year. The field and courts were completed in 2002, and in 2004 students, teachers and parents from nearby Mount Sentinel Secondary volunteered to construct the picnic shelter.
The bike pump track was added in 2007 after residents complained kids were building their own tracks and needed a dedicated space.
But there were issues with the park, some of which originated from the consultation process while others came about from regional mismanagement.
Organizers had taken direction from residents who asked for a field far bigger than what Scott-May thinks it should have been. This led to awkward dimensions for soccer, which would have been the obvious sport to make use of the field.
The turf, which had been constructed by a local volunteer who was an engineer, was described by Scott-May as “impeccable.” But after it was turned over to the RDCK, a contractor covered the field in an organic material that ruined the grass. The community later found out the field was also using too much water, an issue that worsened as the grass gave way to weeds.
Requests by the community during consultations also led to projects Scott-May now says were a mistake.
Organizers spent $30,000 clearing rock to create a third baseline for a baseball diamond that was never used. Trees were removed for the pump track, but as Bonnington’s children grew up the track has gone silent.
Area F director Tom Newell, whose electoral area includes Bonnington but not Campbell Field, acknowledges mistakes were made with the park’s maintenance. He said the regional district plans to re-assess the space.
“It’s still a place where people can at least have it in their neighbourhood, they can throw a Frisbee around, but we want to improve it.”
In retrospect, Scott-May says the community should have concentrated its efforts on the field instead of trying to accommodate individual requests. Green spaces, she says, can be used for a variety of activities while the popularity of sport-specific facilities will rise and fall.
The latest poll for Campbell Field called for outdoor amenities including basketball and tennis courts, a soccer field, a running track, a bump track, a skate park and a splash pad.
Scott-May says residents should be careful what they ask for, and also question what Campbell Field might look like in the future without sustained community and government participation.
“I’m not suggesting don’t do Campbell Field. I’m just saying learn our history and from it, and make sure we make some good decisions, maybe better decisions,” she said.
“We tried our very best in Bonnington Park. I did all the consultation and worked with everybody I could possibly think of to come up with a design, and yet it didn’t work.”