Supplement Feature - September 2009
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Tackling Turf

Finding the Right Turf Solution for Your Fields

By Emily Tipping

Since its purchase in 1637 by Dutch Governor Wouter van Twiller, Randall's Island—a nearly 275-acre island situated along the East River between Northern Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx has seen a wide variety of uses. Farmers tilled its soil, British soldiers used it as a station and eventually it was home to a burial ground for the poor, a home for juvenile delinquents, an asylum, a hospital and a rest home for Civil War vets. It wasn't until the 1930s that the island was cleared of all these institutions and began to transform into its current configuration—as a home to active recreation, drawing more than 700,000 visitors each year.

The park is home to the largest collection of ballfields in New York City, and it's also currently home to the country's largest project aimed at renovating athletic fields in the United States. It's a huge undertaking, ultimately involving more than 60 new fields and increasing the city's count of ballfields by more than 5 percent, adding more than 48,000 hours of additional playing time for current and new users.

"The primary thrust of the project is basically to reconstruct and augment all of the active recreation areas on Randall's Island," said Eric Peterson, deputy administrator, Randall's Island, City of New York Parks and Recreation. There's an effort to improve circulation into and out of the park, as well as some environmental projects including wetlands restoration. At this point, the project is about 65 percent complete.

The park, Peterson said, gets a whole lot of use, and the parks and recreation department is partnering with other city agencies, including the Department of Education, to improve accessibility to the island for kids and for others. He added that the circulation patterns on the island are being reconceived as part of this effort.

"It's a very car-dependent place—one of the most car-dependent places in New York City," he explained. "A large number of visitors drive, because there's one bus and no subway service. So we're providing a separate pedestrian and motor vehicle circulation to keep the cars on a central vehicular circulation path and away from the pedestrians and farther away from the fields."

And the fields—they're like a sports lover's dream. In this city, where ballfields are so heavily scheduled it can be tough to reschedule a rainout, the addition of so many ballfields on the island is sure to be welcome to the city's diverse citizens. Appropriately, the fields will accommodate a wide diversity of sports, including soccer, softball, baseball, lacrosse, football, field hockey and rugby. The project includes a mix of natural turf fields as well as artificial turf fields. As Peterson said, often the determination between natural and synthetic turf is made by the site and the situation. What's right in one instance will not always be right in another.