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Park district throws a party for the fields
As the Vashon Fields project sits at a standstill — its grass under-watered and its coffers empty — the Vashon Park District hopes a large fundraising event this weekend will renew community interest in the project and generate enough money to get it back on track.
The district’s fundraising goal for the event, $10,000, seems small in light of the approximately $300,000 needed to finish the fields complex by The Harbor School. But every bit matters, and the district considers the event a kick-off to introduce the partially finished fields to the community and reinvigorate fundraising, said Jan Milligan, the park district’s executive director before her termination was announced Monday.
“All summer we’ve been looking at late summer as the start-up of a community campaign again,” she said. “We’re hoping that the community rallies around the project this fall, for the next two to three months, and we can continue some work up there.”
The Friday event — booked as a dance party replete with live music by the Portage Fill Big Band — was first planned to take place at the athletic fields and coincide with the fields’ opening for the soccer season.
However, funds for the project ran dry before the district could purchase a $36,000 electrical hook-up for the site, and a generator put in place to temporarily power irrigation has been unable to keep up with the grass’ watering needs — especially during the recent hot spell. As a result, park district officials say, the fields won’t be ready for play, much less a large event, any time this month.
At a park board meeting last week, Ron Krieger, the district’s athletic fields groundskeeper, explained to commissioners that the grass hasn’t been watered enough to develop deep roots, and play on the fields this month would likely damage it.
“As much as (the park board) wants to open for the soccer season, it’s really not a good idea,” Milligan said. “All the wishful thinking in the world won’t change the condition of the grass.”
The district is pushing forward, though, planning the fundraising event at Ober Park and keeping a careful eye on the fields’ growth.
Milligan said on Monday that if fall rains deliver up much-needed water, the fields could open in September for limited play — something that would free up pressure on other athletic fields during the busy soccer season.
In addition, Milligan said, the park board has issued an official request to the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) to clarify its requirements for opening the fields complex, such as whether a fence around the fields has to be completed or handicapped accessible restrooms built. Any funds raised during and after this weekend’s event will go toward bringing electricity to the site and fulfilling DDES’s requirements, Milligan said.
“That’s what we’re going to shoot for first, whatever the county wants from us to use the property. Any safety issues are paramount,” she said.
David Hackett, a parks commissioner who will be playing trombone with Portage Fill at Friday’s fundraiser, said he believes many who will use the fields most have yet to give to the project, and he hopes they’ll show at the fundraiser. Vashon, he said, is home to thousands of soccer, baseball and softball players of all ages.
“It’s just like our high school — these things don’t magically pay for and build themselves. (People) have to step up and support the things they do on this Island,” Hackett said.
The district will provide multiple ways to give at Friday’s event, hoping to appeal to all kinds of donors, said Susan McCabe, the park district’s program director and interim executive director. Large, hollow soccer balls will be placed around Ober Park for cash donations, and attendees can enter a dance contest or vote for their favorite dancers with their dollars. `
“Like we vote for unofficial mayor, often and with money,” McCabe said.
A silent auction will offer up items such as a weekend stay at the keepers quarters at Point Robinson or a package of fine wine, while “surprise balloons” at $20 a pop will get buyers items worth up to $50 at local retailers.
Proceeds from a wine and beer garden will also go to the fields, as will 10 percent of the proceeds from the two food vendors — La Biondo Pizza and Bob’s Bakery.
McCabe said the district’s goal is ambitious, but she hoped between dancing and dining it would all add up at the first large, community-wide fundraiser for the fields.
“We’re promising them a good time,” she said.
As for the rest of the $300,000, Milligan said the district plans to more aggressively pursue grants and large donations from businesses and foundations, both on and off the Island.
“We’re targeting some of the companies we purchase supplies from,” she said. “It’s going to have to be foundations and companies, corporate gifts from off-Island.”
Hackett said the funds may come in slowly, and it may be years before the complex boasts all of its planned amenities, such as field lights, restrooms and a concession stand.
“Right now we’re focused on getting it open. It’s one step at a time,” he said. “It might take several years to raise the rest of the money — it might be four or five years — but in the end we’ll have a park.”
Swing and a Hit for Vashon Fields will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at Ober Park. Free swing dance lessons begin at 6:30 p.m. For more information see www.vashonparkdistrict.org.