By Gary Gray
A $5 million proposal to place four, regulation-size soccer fields near Winged Deer Park’s Boone Lake waterfront to meet growing demand was well received last week in a Johnson City Commission/Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting.
Though several similar concepts have popped up throughout the years for placement of fields on the only piece of city-owned lakefront, each has been turned away in favor of maintaining the park’s passive recreation area and avoiding conflict with boating and lakeside events.
“You’ve kind of got the best of both worlds here, because we’re keeping the large green space between the lake and the fields,” said Advisory Board Chair Jonathan Kinnick. “This looks a lot better than I thought it would.”
The 60- by 125-yard fields with bleachers are laid out side to side just off Carroll Creek Road above the existing playground area on relatively flat land.
The plan, which will not affect the amphitheater and annual Lakeside Concert Series, or the existing passive recreation area, includes a new access road, bike rack, restrooms and pavilion in a central location, an asphalt walking trail and the addition of more than 200 parking spaces at the northeast corner of the complex.
Volleyball areas would be relocated near an existing fire station, and use of the current parking on the west side of the proposed complex (C.B. Kinch Landing) would bring to 400 the total number of spaces available, depending on event scheduling.
“This is the second plan we generated,” said Daniel Boutte, a senior landscape architect with Knoxville’s Lose & Associates who has been working with Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis on various options. “It includes a one-mile trail around the new parking area and fields. And we felt this would also incorporate parking for the lakeside concerts.”
A search for additional rectangular and diamond-shaped fields has been underway for sometime, and one location being considered – Washington County-owned land adjacent to the new Boones Creek K-8 – appears to be sliding off the negotiating table.
Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin tersely asked Boutte whether commissioners should continue efforts to make that plan work.
“It could be engineered, and developed, but it doesn’t seem to meet your needs,” Boutte said during a conference call. “And, it will not be spectator friendly. We’ve concluded that is a lot of recreation facilities to cram onto that site. From everything we’ve heard from James and David (Parks and Recreation Athletic Director David Carmichel), it just doesn’t seem like it will work.”
No one challenged that opinion, and Ellis agreed with Boutte that Parks and Recreation needs to add four, 300-foot diamond-shaped fields to its inventory and the Boones Creek location would not likely work.
“If it’s not spectator friendly, it’s a deal breaker,” said Vice Mayor Jenny Brock.
City Manager Pete Peterson asked Boutte if the four fields could be built at the county site.
“We could, but it will definitely move us toward synthetic turf and it will move one of the fields away and disconnected with the others,” he said. “The space between the fields and school buildings is very tight.”
County Mayor Dan Eldridge has said the facility at the Boones Creek site currently has an $8 million price tag, which includes the land purchase, grading and construction of four diamond-shaped fields and a soccer/football field with a track. But the county now wants the city to pay for lighting, irrigation and grounds maintenance at the facility.
A joint task force formed to see if a city/county partnership could be implemented at the Boones Creek site is set to meet this week. It last met Nov. 21. If the sentiment at the commission/advisory board meeting is any indication, it may be the last meeting.
Construction of four new soccer fields at Winged Deer Park would bring to seven the total number rectangular fields available to both local league and tournament play.
Boutte said additional space was intentionally included around the proposed fields for possible expansion to fit tournament regulations.
“My main intent would be for this to be for local recreational facilities, but we do want there to be tournaments and benefit economically from that,” Van Brocklin said.
The highest construction cost would be the estimated $1.3 million for fields, bleachers, team benches, irrigation and sod, LED lighting and a 4-foot chain-link fence. Paving, which includes new curbing and gutter, new access road, parking lot, concrete plaza, trail and parking strips comes to nearly $985,000. Grading and earthwork follow in cost at an estimated $695,000.
Though Boone Lake Dam currently is being repaired and the lake is empty, Peterson warned that the fishing enthusiasts likely will make some noise about the plan – much more so than local residents. Peterson said the fishermen would “go nuts.”
“At this time, no tournaments are scheduled at the same time as the lakeside concerts,” Ellis said. “There will be no need to park on the grass area.
There are bass tournaments, and that would take some creative scheduling.”
Parks and Recreation also has its Winged Deer Park maintenance facility just across Carroll Creek Road, and Peterson suggested additional parking could be added near the facility if needed.
Comments were made about continuing to explore the possibility of purchasing some of the nearby Wilson and Sell properties for diamond-shaped fields. Kinnick said this will be discussed in more detail at the board’s next meeting. A joint meeting with commissioners will then be scheduled.