ELKTON — To nurture the Cecil County Department of Parks and Recreation’s blossoming local and regional success, County Executive Alan McCarthy’s budget includes $2.2 million in capital funding, roughly half is devoted to a new astroturf field at Bohemia Manor High School, along with a nearly 29 percent increase in operating funds, budgeting for additional full-time employees to maintain a new county park and deal with increasing inquiries for sports tourism.
Clyde Van Dyke, county parks and recreation director, said Tuesday that if the council approves the $1.12 million turf field, it would mirror efforts at Perryville High School, which became the first turf field at a county high school last October. Calvert Regional Park was the first overall to have a tournament-style turf field.
“Right now, [the BHMS students] can’t play soccer on the field because the width doesn’t meet standards. Once it’s done, it’ll be wide enough to accommodate all high school sports,” he told the council during a budget hearing last week.
County officials plan to install turf fields at all five high schools, and earlier this year that McCarthy hoped to do at least one installation a year. The current fields are natural grass fields that deteriorate as students or the public use them, and often need money and effort to maintain them. Turf fields cost more initially, but can last years with little maintenance.
In its first year, Perryville’s turf field is a hit with the students and those looking to rent it for practice or games — and Van Dyke reported that there’s rentals on a regular basis.
“We do have some issues with people deciding not to go through the permitting process. One week, the Perryville teams were the only ones that had lacrosse games because the other school’s fields were inundated with water,” Van Dyke said. “It’ll continue to be heavily used as we expand our field hockey and lacrosse programs.”
With these turf fields, the Cecil County hopes to tap into the multi-million-dollar sports tourism market. Van Dyke estimates that rentals of Calvert Regional Park, which has a number of tournament-style turf fields, is projected to directly contribute $125,000 to the general fund. The local tourism, he thought, would see about $750,000. Ten tournaments are booked for this year, some for as long as three days.
“That brought an estimated 42,000 visitors from coast to coast. We’re doing a very good job of putting Cecil County on the map,” Van Dyke said. “I hear from the general public how protective I am about these fields, but the first thing out of their mouths [when they come for tourism] is how pristine they are.”
Calvert Regional Park is also scheduled to see more funding in fiscal year 2019. The capital budget has $700,000 earmarked for the design plans of phase III, which looks to add 23 acres to the park for play and parking. The overall goal is to double the park’s playing fields to 24.
Six of those acres would come from neighboring Rising Sun High School, to further cement the partnership between Cecil County Public Schools and the Parks and Recreation Department.
Calvert Regional Park is scheduled to receive another $1.6 million in FY 2020.
Meanwhile, transforming the former Brantwood Golf Course is also funded at $400,000 this year. Cleanup efforts have already begun, and the parks and rec department has scheduled the next volunteer cleanup day for May 19.
The park will be partially open by mid-June or July, since it will take time to replace two bridges that connect the mile-long trail were deemed structurally unsound. Part of Van Dyke’s vision is to open a pond, complete with a boardwalk, for catch-and-release fishing. Exercise and playground equipment will also be installed.
“Much to my pleasant surprise, the reaction on this has been overwhelming,” he told the council “The quicker we clean it, the quicker people want to access and the quicker I’ll come back to ask for money to develop it.”
The capital improvement project budget does not yet note any future funding for the Brantwood park, which still awaits an official name.
“We want people to enjoy it, but it was eight years before we broke ground at Calvert,” he said. “I’m not sure with this kind of public support we’re going to get away with another eight years without backlash. We want to have a master plan, and we want it done right.”
The budget also makes an allocation to hire another employee for the recreation programing division. Overall, the Parks and Recreation Department has 11 full-time staff members and 60 part-time staff members responsible for 150 recreation programs that it hosts for children, teens and adults.
A council majority allocated funding for two additional staff to help prepare the Brantwood property, but those staff members will later be responsible for Stemmer’s Run boat ramp, Fredricktown boat ramp, Fletchwood Park and Elk Mills Park.
Without the additional staff, Van Dyke estimated that 45 new programs will not start and the department will end 17 programs. Club Bulldog, a popular after-school program for North East Middle School students run in partnership with CCPS, has already staff stretched thin with 80 to 90 kids a day, he said.
After its success, the goal would be to expand the program to other middle schools in order to keep kids busy and out of trouble — but that proves difficult with the small staff, Van Dyke said.
“If this program was free to all five middle schools, we’d have the opportunity to impact 600 to 800 students,” he said. “In Maryland, it costs $295,000 to incarcerate one juvenile … compare that with the $166,000, that would be subsidized with CCPS, for this. It behooves us to put money in front of the problem rather than throw up the white flag and try and fix it when the damage is done.”