A true turf war

Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer has come and gone. Pools are open, park use explodes, festivals and outdoor concerts and events fill summer calendars in communities across Georgia. And on tiny Tybee Island, an idyllic coastal isthmus past the marshlands and intracoastal waterways off U.S. Highway 80, near Savannah—Tybeeans are in a fury and a pickle over the turf and lawn of popular Jaycee Park. On the island’s north end, in the Historic Fort Screven District, the 8- to 9-acre Jaycee Park has greenspaces as well as baseball and soccer fields, and potentially new pickleball courts.

The Tybee Island Recreation Department is managed by the Tybee Island YMCA. Due to heavy use, limited ability to irrigate, desire to reduce water use, and the challenges of growing grass in the island’s sandy soil, the Y decided artificial turf would be the more practical, long-term option. The front-end installation costs are higher than laying sod or replanting turf, but the current irrigation and shallow well system also need upgrades if the playing fields were to continue with natural turf and sod.

Jaycee Park has been a popular hangout and youth recreational spot since the 1970s. The playing fields proposed for turf conversion are a combined soccer/baseball field of 1.5 acres. The turf proposal quickly drew the ire of several urban refugees, retired natives and transplants, and the ever-vocal contingent of Tybee beach buddies and latter-day naturalists.

Natural turf requires regular watering and mowing as well as chemical treatments for sand spurs, fire ants, and weeds. Heavier duty sports such as soccer also place a lot of wear and tear on their field in a single season and require near constant resodding, reseeding, and a repeat of that cycle.

Similar concerns, more about the aesthetic, caused the city of Decatur a decade ago to spend hundreds of thousands continually resodding and replanting a small natural grass lawn atop the Decatur MARTA Station, and surrounding the Historic Decatur Court House, bandstand, and square.

After nearly half a dozen years of bare patches, exposed red clay, and muddy lawns for outdoor spring and summer events, Decatur finally bit the bullet and installed artificial turf, which no longer resembles the Putt-Putt course green carpeting of the 1970s. Most modern turf includes padding, domed installation to guide drainage, and is easily cleaned with a hose or pressure washer – and it lasts for years.

DeKalb County Parks & Recreation has taken note of the choice by its county seat (Decatur), and artificial turf has become the first choice when upgrading and replacing children’s playground surfaces throughout the county. A mud-packed and frequently flooded children’s play area at Medlock Park in central DeKalb is now again crowded with children daily. Of the nearby picnic pavilions, multiple baseball diamonds, batting cage, PATH trail, and a community pool, the turf-covered play park appears to be the best maintained of the lot.

Yet the tempest on Tybee has a couple of other sticky wickets in the mix. An existing Frisbee golf course, also with natural turf, could be encroached by the fencing for three new pickleball courts, a sport gaining popularity in the beach community.

Overall, park improvement plans would also require the removal of 14 trees. Tybee residents hug their trees almost as strongly as they cleave to their beaches, dunes, and sea turtle nests. The president of the local disk golf club is among those telling the pickleball crowd to go to Memorial Park four miles away, instead.

Four miles may seem like a short hop, but all of Tybee Island is 3.19 square miles. I’ll wager that the Birkenstock crowd is more vocal and exercised, but there are likely more resident voters among the headcount of parents of the league softball and soccer teams.

Tiny Tybee Island is also a resort community with the benefit of a tax base funded by visitors and tourism that reduces the pain of the more costly initial turf installation costs, field doming, and other maintenance requirements such as dealing with the summertime pleasures of no-see-ums, fire ants, noxious and invasive weed species, and patchy/sandy lawns.

Go with the turf, and one less pickleball court; it’s called compromise.

There you go, turf wars solved. No charge. Play ball.

Bill Crane is political analyst and commentator in metro Atlanta, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can contact him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

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