Grand Junction replaces the natural grass of Stoker Stadium Field

Ron Felt, athletic field and facility supervisor for the city of Grand Junction, Colo., develops and oversees the athletic field management for an ever-evolving sports program. Starting in 1976 as a part-time member of mowing crew while attending college, he became a full-timer after earning his degree in natural resource management in 1980. He advanced to the supervisor position in 1986 and has been growing the program ever since.

Grand Junction’s 103-acre Canyon View Park is the site of the majority of the sports fields: eight soccer fields, four football fields, four softball fields in a quad configuration, one baseball field, six hard-surface tennis courts, two outdoor basketball courts, two sand volleyball courts and an inline roller hockey rink. There are two softball fields in Pomona Park and two in Columbine Park. Lincoln Park is home to Suplizio Field, the premium baseball facility, and Stoker Stadium with the football game field and eight-lane, quarter-mile track.

Side-by-side football games in action on two of the four football fields at Canyon View Park. Inset: The natural grass field of Stocker Stadium was replaced with a synthetic infill system just prior to the start of the 2007 football season.

The Stoker Stadium football field is home for the four local high schools, Mesa State College, band competitions, including the Western Colorado Marching Band Festival, and high school and college commencements. The track also serves as the competition site for the four high schools’ track programs.

Switch to synthetic

For years, Felt and his crews maintained the natural grass of the Stoker Stadium Field to the highest standards despite all the use, even earning STMA’s 1999 football field of the year honors. Felt says, “The field hosted over 30 football games each year. Play began in late August, with the high school playoffs usually wrapping up the weekend after Thanksgiving and the college play ending in early December. Turf growth stopped well before that. At times, we’d have to blade snow off the field so they could play. We were just wearing the field out from hash mark to hash mark by the end of the season. Our staff was devoting so much time and effort to keeping conditions in playable shape that, in this instance, a synthetic field just made sense.”

The field was replaced with a synthetic turf system just in time for the start of the 2007 football programs. Grand Junction’s Web site notes, “The new turf installation was a project of the Park Improvement Advisory Board and was jointly funded by the majority of the members, including School District 51, Mesa State College, JUCO and the city of Grand Junction. The total cost of the project was approximately $850,000 and was contracted to the Kiewit Building Group.”

Felt adds, “The supplier was Professional Turf Solutions of Sedalia, Colorado. Co-Creations handled the installation. The existing turf and some of the soil were removed and the subsurface laser leveled. Then, an impervious membrane was installed along with a 1-inch-thick plastic drain channel system. The synthetic blade fibers are 2.5 inches long and are woven into the poly fabric backing. The seams are glued. The infill is straight crumb rubber. All the lines and numbers for football are imbedded into the field surface. Inground irrigation is installed around the perimeter of the field along with additional quick couplers so we can run hoses to midfield for cooling or cleaning as needed.”

Maintenance program

All of the natural grass sports fields are heavy clay native soil, except the infields of the baseball fields. Those have an 80/20 sand to peat USGA profile for better drainage and greater playability. Those infields require more frequent fertilization and irrigation. The fields are primarily a blend of Kentucky bluegrasses. The cultivars selected continually change with improved introductions so that most of the fields have an assortment of varieties. Some of the fields are overseeded with bluegrass blends and some with perennial ryegrass blends, depending on how quickly the new seedlings need to be established and the seasonal weather conditions.

This is closer shot of mowing the striping pattern on the outfield turf of the baseball field at Canyon View Park.

Felt says, “The fertilization program is based on the results of annual soil tests. We generally apply between 4 and 5 pounds of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet spread over the season, with the other nutrients varying according to test results. At Canyon View, the applications are made in the spring, midsummer and late fall. The Pomona and Columbine softball fields are fertilized in the spring and late fall. Applications on the Lincoln Park baseball field and the baseball infield at Canyon Park are made every six weeks during the growing season.

“With the heavy soils and so much use, we’re continually battling compaction. We use three types of aeration equipment: a pull-behind coring unit, a deep-tine VertiDrain and an AerWay shattertine. We try to aerate all of the fields four times a year, with additional spot treatments in some areas. The method and timing depend on field use and weather conditions, but generally we’ll aerate once in the spring, once in the late fall and twice between June and August.”

All of the fields have inground irrigation. Canyon View started with a Rain Bird Maxicom central control system and all additional fields at that site are tied into the controller. Felt says, “We just completed bringing the fields at the other three sites within a second Maxicom system. We have several strategically placed weather stations and generally irrigate to the evapotranspiration (ET) replacement rate with the amounts varying according to the data. We pump recycled water drawn from the Colorado River and channeled through our irrigation ponds at Canyon View. Our other parks are on the city water system.”

Two Toro 580-D rotary mowers with 16-foot swaths are used primarily for the open area of the soccer and football fields at Canyon View. A Toro mower with a roller at the back of the rotary cutting heads is used at that site, on the softball and baseball fields and to stripe the other fields for tournament play. All of these fields are mowed at 1.75 inches. The Lincoln Park baseball field is cut with a Toro triplex reel mower at a height of 1.25 inches. The softball fields at the other parks are mowed at 2 inches with a rotary mower.

Felt says, “Like many facilities, we’ve found that if we keep a good, thick stand of healthy turf, weeds are not a problem. We’ve not had disease issues that have required treatment either. We have experienced a grub infestation at Canyon View the last couple years. We’ve used Merit with good results.”

The crews paint the fields for all practices and games. Felt says, “With the multiple sports, we could have a single field painted in four different colors for four different events. We use ride-on paint applicators to save time and increase efficiency.”

With so many fields, renovation is an ongoing project. Felt says, “We don’t have a preset rotation, but do monitor conditions very closely. We’ll base our maintenance on the field condition and how much impact that condition has on the play. If one of the Canyon View soccer fields begins to show excessive wear, we’ll take it out of play and rotate that usage among the other seven fields until we bring it back into good playable condition. We do most renovation in-house, but will contract out the more extensive work, depending on what other field maintenance is required at the time.”

All play is coordinated by the city’s recreation department. Felt works closely with them to keep them informed of any field problems or potential field problems. Cancellations are communicated through the recreation department.

Felt says, “We keep the communications flowing both ways via e-mail and cell phones, as well as in-person contact. We also work closely with the various field user groups. We’ve established a good relationship and open communications and continue to keep building on and reinforcing that. Obviously, the amount of usage on our fields is our biggest challenge. Our program works because of the abilities, commitment and dedication of our staff, the support of our administration, and the cooperation of the many field user groups. We all work together with the common goal of providing safe and enjoyable sport facilities maintained to the highest possible standards for the thousands of athletes that use our fields, the thousands of spectators that support them, and all the citizens of Grand Junction.”

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.