Two sports groups are calling on the city to consider the need for more park space after losing field time at Lakeside Park.
Nelson Mixed Slo-Pitch and the Nelson Soccer Association each have to adjust for schedule cuts after the Sports Field User Policy was amended this month to allow for the use of Lakeside Park by Nelson Baseball.
That means Nelson Slo-Pitch is losing two nights a week off its schedule, or 20 game times per season. Nelson Soccer meanwhile has to account for losing one field three days a week, and may yet lose another one day a week.
That isn’t sitting well with either group.
RJ Warren, the president of Nelson Slo-Pitch, says giving minor baseball time at Lakeside rather than just increasing the time allowed at Lions Park is ruining an equilibrium that has worked for years.
“I think they are going to be playing down at Lakeside while Lions sits empty,” said Warren. “I think what the user groups need is what the city needs to look at. If we need a stage for the arts council, let’s build one. If we need another ballpark, I mean I’ve got plans that were presented to me way back when for Mary Hall to be developed. There would have been a nice ballpark up there.”
Last year, Nelson Baseball requested an increase from 100 to 200 hours of playtime at Lions Park. That request was denied by city council, which this month agreed to a maximum of 150 hours of exclusive field use booked by any user group at Lions.
Nelson Baseball, which has said it was already using more than 200 hours per season prior to council’s decision, also uses Queen Elizabeth Park. It won’t be playing games at Lakeside — because the diamonds were built for slo-pitch, there’s no pitching mound — but will hold practice there and has applied for 150 hours of use.
Warren criticized the city for trying to stick to a memorandum of understanding with Nelson Baseball agreed to in 2011 that limited minor baseball to 100 hours at Lions Park.
“I don’t believe that minor ball is pushing the city around,” he said. “I think the city is taking an approach where numbers were down and now they are sticking to it instead of being progressive and coming up and saying, ‘OK, you’re numbers are up, let’s go ahead and do this, we’ll give you more time.’ They are sitting back and saying, ‘We agreed way back then.’
“It’s like agreeing to an expenditure and then finding out that the operations budget has gone up and saying, ‘We’re only putting $50,000 into this because that’s what we agreed to way back when.’”
Nelson Soccer, the city’s most popular sports group, is also set to be negatively affected by the change.
But lost in the noise of scheduling conflicts, according to soccer president Chuck Bennett, is the need for a conversation about more multi-use recreation space in Nelson.
“What we know, and what the city and these user groups (know), is we need more field space,” he said. “We can’t just sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a problem and it’s the city’s problem or it’s baseball or slo-pitch or soccer.’ We have a problem. That’s what I don’t see anyone talking about and I think the city need to be leaders on that.”
Bennett said Nelson Soccer has a strong relationship with the city, which has in the past led to the association’s acquisition of its indoor soccer facility.
Nelson Soccer, which according to Bennett currently has approximately 1,200 players, is also in the process of searching for land to use as the site of a turf field. One possibility is a site at Selkirk College’s Mary Hall, although it’s still unclear if that space is large enough.
Bennett said he likes the idea of using space outside city limits, but that it isn’t a plan supported by users. If players have to be moved from Lakeside, he said, it has to be close to home.
“We’ve tried the Bonnington park and what we had was people wouldn’t go to games. People wouldn’t show up. There’s just no buy in.
“If we’re forced to I guess that’s the way it goes, but there’s got to be a better solution.”