Don’t be fooled by the lush, new green grass at Veterans Park in Vineyard Haven. The park, the first place football was played on Martha’s Vineyard, is off-limits for football this season. It will be off-limits for soccer and softball games in the spring, too, and still for teams next summer. It’s “Keep off the grass” until next September.
The unprecedented length of the park’s closure is intended to secure the success of a half-million dollars’ worth of work, town officials said. So far the ground has been dug up, the soil has been changed. There is underground drainage. Irrigation was added and a whole lot of new sod was planted last month.
The town Department of Public Works orchestrated the $590,000 upgrade of the park, which spans almost 10 acres and was opened to the public 54 years ago this month. John Thayer, chairman of the town’s Department of Public Works, said voters at the annual town meeting in the spring knew that the park would be closed for a full growing season. “You need a full season to let the grass grow before you use it for heavy athletic purposes,” he said. What is different about the original plan is the timing. Originally the commissioners were planning on putting the sod down next April, but when the contractor and the provider of the sod noted that getting the work done sooner was beneficial to reestablishing the grass, the commissioners went for it.
Highway superintendent Fred LaPiana said the closure is intended to protect the grass. “We want to make sure the root system is fully intact before we put anyone on the field,” Mr. LaPiana said. “We’ve gotten this advice from a number of sources.
“We are playing conservatively and carefully. Obviously the use of the field is extraordinary, with almost full-time use in the spring, full-time use in the summer,” he said.
The town’s public works commissioners have met with all the athletic teams, the players who use the field, and won their support, Mr. LaPiana said, adding: “They’ve told us it is okay.”
“We got a good jump on it by doing it in September,” Mr. Thayer said of laying the sod already. Much of the planting of the 135,000 square feet of sod was finished by Oct. 15. Other parts of the field got hydroseeding, and those blades of grass are just coming up. There was plenty of watering with the new irrigation system. In the early morning the sprinkler system resembled the one that operates at Ocean Park. The sprinkler system has since been shut off for the season to prepare for the cold of winter.
Closing access to the field is a big step towards assuring that the future use of the park doesn’t harm the new lawn. “This is not a golf course . . . It is a heavily-used athletic field. We got an early jump on it,” Mr. Thayer said.
“I would agree keeping people off the freshly planted sod is a good thing. It needs time to hold,” said Richard Combra, highway superintendent of Oak Bluffs. “If you allow people on the park ... it will kill the grass. We did the same thing for Ocean Park; I believe there were a few months when it was closed to the public.” Ocean Park is seven acres.
Veterans Park was dedicated on November 11, 1953, six years before the regional high school was completed.
According to a Nov. 6, 1953 Vineyard Gazette story that was published ahead of the Nov. 11 grand opening of the park on Veterans Day: “Men and boys from every Island town have worked on this project, or given material, money or the use of machinery and thus an all-Island proprietorship in the park has been established, which is best disclosed in the interest in recent football games, the first to be held on the Island.”
Veterans Park was once an assemblage of privately held land, a marsh, the watershed to Bass River. The area was referred to as Cat Hollow. According to that same story: “The Legion committee was incorporated, and as a corporation it acquired title to some 10 plots of land in Vineyard Haven, the whole comprising, swamp, marsh and some upland, lying between Beach street, Causeway Road, Main street and Howard avenue, close to 10 acres in all.”
A fund-raising brochure printed back then refers to the cost of the project at $5,800. The plan called for spending $3,500 to complete the plan, $1,500 for upkeep and $800 for a trained director to work summer months. Back then the park was referred to as War Veterans Memorial Park. Today it is called Veterans Memorial Park.
Were someone to propose building a park on a marsh today, it would be turned down because of state and local wetland protection regulations.
There is still plenty of work to do in Veterans Park before it opens next September, though this has nothing to do with the delay in public access. A new scoreboard will be installed. New bleachers and benches will be added (still fitting within the original $590,000 budget).
A total of $100,000 from the Community Preservation Act — a state and local matching fund, administered by a local committee and approved at town meeting — brought the cost to the town to $490,000.
Mr. Thayer said he and others also would begin fund-raising in January to get public donations from across the Island. “There isn’t anyone who uses Memorial Park who doesn’t feel that it is a regional park,” Mr. Thayer said. “There are players in all of the five towns. So this fund-raising effort is intended to go beyond the taxpayers of Tisbury shouldering the cost. We are going to ask the community at large for help in defraying the bond and allowing us to maintain what is now a new facility.
“Seasonal and year-rounders will be asked to help,” he added.
Mr. Thayer said he and others also are concerned about the park becoming a dog park. While the occasional dog-walker might feel they cause no harm to the park, Mr. Thayer said, “I’d like them to bring a plastic bag and clean up after their dog. We have conditions in town. [In the cemetery], where they abuse the privilege and do not clean up after their dog, that is sad. We can’t keep an occasional visitor from walking the park, with a dog or not, but we are most concerned about the heavy use by athletes at this time.”
Mr. Thayer said his commissioners will meet through the coming year and monitor what is going on in the park.
Anyone willing to contribute can make checks to the Committee to Reconstruct Veterans Park and send them care of the Tisbury Department of Public Works, P.O. Box 788, Tisbury, MA 02568.