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Park usage takes center stage in Chiefland

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Chiefland City Recreation Committee meets at noon today to finalize details on a deal that will allow public access to the city’s athletic fields, including the Chiefland Area Athletic Association and the Gulf Coast Panthers semi-pro football team.

With only three members attending — Vice Mayor Teresa Barron, and Commissioners Sammy Cason and Frank Buie — the city commission held a workshop Tuesday to address updating its rules for city park use and to settle how the CAAA and the Panthers would share practice fields and a soccer field in dire need of grass repair.

The major change in the proposed rules is requiring organizers of sports or special events to file for a special use permit that details when and which park facilities will be used. The city manager’s office will handle the permit requests.

The proposal covers all the city recreation facilities: Delma Locke Park, Charles Strickland Recreational Park, Eddie Buie Recreational Park and the Chiefland Trailhead.

The need for the special use permit arose after the Panthers started practicing at night on the lighter soccer fields at Strickland and the CAAA complained to the City Commission that the field was being damaged by the use and players’ cleats.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the Panthers agreed to hold practices on the open field behind the baseball fields and to hold their games on the soccer practice field where they have been held.

Also, one of the bleachers, which had been removed from the soccer area, will be returned to the area in time for the next Panthers game on Saturday Feb. 28.

Barron opened the meeting saying: “It’s been brought to our attention that a semi-pro team is playing in Chiefland.” She went on to say there had been some miscommunication about the team’s use of the park.

“We want you guys to use the park,” she said. But she also said the city and all the interested parties need to work on getting the soccer field in shape.

Laurie Copeland, project director for the city, said she had consulted IFAS — the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences on a recommendation.

The field is currently planted with Pensacola bahia grass and it died off in October when the weather cooled. The CAAA reseeded with bahia on the advice of an agent they consulted, but the football teams season started in November and the seed had not taken hold.

Copeland said IFAS recommended Bermuda TIF dwarf blend “which is not cheap.”

“It must be laid in by a sprigger,” she said. “With rotation it takes a year before the field is dense.”

Mickey Morgan, soccer commissioner for the CAAA, was the only representative of the association present at the meeting. He reiterated his concern about the soccer field’s condition.

“We just need to fix the area that’s broke,” he said, the original concern he voiced at last week’s commission meeting.

In addition, Morgan and Lee Bell, owner of the Gulf Coast Panthers team, said Hispanic groups also use the field for soccer games, including one that has held games on Sundays.

Former City Commissioner Alice Monyei joined her nephew Bell in speaking to the commission on Tuesday.

She said published reports of drinking and the use of profanity were incorrect. She said that in looking at the current and proposed rule changes for use of the parks she said, “They follow all the rules.”

She also asked the commission about the concession stand at Strickland Park. “The CAAA can make money with them,” she said. “But I’m asking if his team would be allowed to use the concession stand.”

She said the football team needs to raise funds. Lee has mentioned that the players and donations from the audience must put up the $400 for referees for the games.

Monyei said if the team could sell food and sodas, “They could even donate some money to the grass maintenance.”

The CAAA, which has operated the concession stand, has equipment stored in the stand at this time, but Morgan said they would work on a solution.

Cason suggested that the football team, which holds its games on a side of the park away from the stand could arrange with a soda vendor to have a sales cart placed at the game field. The only restriction would be that the team would have to sell only the sodas provided by the cart’s owner.

“On Saturday we have people coming from out of town and they would like to have something,” Monyei said.

Barron said the discussing would continue at today’s recreation meeting on an arrangement.

On the propose use rule changes, the full commission will consider at it’s Monday meeting:

— Use of the park would be limited to sunrise to 10 p.m.

— Profanity, pets, alcoholic beverages would be prohibited in the parks.

— Special use permits would be needed for organized athletic, special events and sleeping overnight in the park.

— Those using the park that incurs costs, such as lighting, restroom use, etc., can be charged for their use.

— Require at least a $1 million umbrella insurance coverage with the city named as beneficiary for events and organized activities.

— The city also reserves the right to deny use of the fields in order to do maintenance under the ordinance.