Finding field time proved difficult when the Howard Stampede field hockey program started three years ago. Program founder Jean Parker had to take unusually early times during weekday afternoons to get practice time.
Allocating fields for programs for children and adults has long been tricky because of the popularity of sports in Howard County. The opening of the long-awaited Western Regional Park should help alleviate the problem.
Raul Delerme, the Western Regional Park project manager, said parts of the approximately 190-acre park should be ready to open in the spring. Three baseball fields, two synthetic fields, two basketball courts and a playground are scheduled to be open by then. One of the baseball fields and both synthetic fields will have lights.
"This is going to satisfy the needs of western Howard County youth and adult sports," said Gary J. Arthur, the county's director of recreation and parks. "They've grown tremendously over the last five years. It will go a long way toward satisfying conflicts with schedules that make it hard for people."
The park will include five baseball fields and one tee-ball field; four multipurpose fields, two of them with synthetic turf; four tennis courts; two basketball courts; five picnic pavilions; two stand-alone restroom buildings; a covered in-line hockey rink; and nature and equestrian trails.
The cost of the project is estimated at $15.7 million, which includes 20 more acres for a library that has been completed, a community center that is under construction and a future fire station.
Delerme added that "upon completion of the infrastructure of the remaining fields, the [other] fields will open in the summer of 2007." That completion is dependent on funding approval from the county when the new fiscal year begins in July 2006.
Construction on the project began in March 2003. Delerme also said that, beyond the summer of 2007, the hockey pavilion is the only piece of the original plan without approved funds available yet.
Ken Alban, administrator for capital projects and park planning for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said that there was no doubt about how much these fields were needed.
"Obviously, in the western part of the county, we've heard from organized sports groups for many years that we've had a lack of recreational and athletic facilities," Alban said. "Certainly our statistics here show ... we need more facilities."
Said Delerme: "There was just a shortage of fields in this specific area."
Many games and practices for western county area teams are held at Glenwood Park, a 20-acre site next to Bushy Park Elementary School. That will end Dec. 1, however, as that site will be used for a new Bushy Park Elementary School.
The new fields should go a long way toward helping the large number of Howard County programs find times to practice and play. There's a delicate balance that county officials try to keep between giving programs for children and adults the time they want and need.
However, the adults who play in leagues understand the importance of letting children be able to get the times they need for their programs.
"I know that sometimes we have to compete with the kids," said Scott Rifkin, a coach in the adult Run & Shoot Football league. "But the priorities have to be the kids. However, more fields will allow us to keep doing what we're doing. The [new fields] are a positive thing."
Parker and those in the fast-growing Howard Stampede program definitely are hoping to play at the new fields. They presently practice at Glenwood Park and have games at Long Reach High School's Bermuda grass field - the type of facility that's become more popular in the sport of field hockey the last several years.
When the Stampede program began, Parker agreed to take 4 p.m. practice times just to secure fields. The early time was not ideal for parents, but it was Parker's best option.
That situation eventually worked out for the Stampede, and the building of new fields should reduce such situations.
"The fact that there will be additional field outlets for all the leagues is something that Howard County definitely needs," Parker said. "There's not currently a surplus of fields, and there won't be any time soon so certainly this will be a quantum leap in the right direction to help satisfy all the teams in the Howard County community."
Western Regional Park
Total size: 190 acres
Total estimated cost: $15.7 million (the cost is being re-estimated and could change shortly)
What will be in park:
5 baseball fields and 1 tee-ball field
5 picnic pavilions
4 multipurpose fields (two of which are synthetic)
4 tennis courts
2 basketball courts
2 stand-alone restroom buildings
1 covered in-line hockey rink
Nature and equestrian trails
Parking and a maintenance facility
What's opening spring 2006 :
3 baseball fields (one with lights)
2 synthetic multipurpose fields (both with lights)
2 basketball courts
Concession and restroom building