The maintenance of public green spaces and parks has become a hot topic for a few Hay River residents.
John and Tracy Hill, who are involved in ball leagues, are asking questions about the standards set for the community’s image.
They say the parks have been seeing decreased maintenance over the last few years, but that this year is off to an especially rough start.
They have brought their concerns to the Town of Hay River, as well as the territorial Department of Public Works and Services on matters such as the condition of the field at Diamond Jenness Secondary School.
“This year, the parks were not ready for opening day,” said John Hill, referring to the first day of his ball league. “It’s (the Town of Hay River’s) responsibility to make sure the parks are ready. But we go to the field and the grass is a foot high, the dugouts haven’t been swept. Nothing is ready. It’s very disturbing.”
Glenn Smith is president of the men’s fastpitch team, vice-president of mixed slo-pitch, and chair of the Pine Point Ball Park Expansion Association.
“There are certainly concerns from some of our membership that the parks could be better maintained,” said Smith. “The grass, the infield, the facilities, garbage removal and containment – these are all areas where executing the maintenance plans could be improved.”
Smith said the level of maintenance will set the course for how the fields are used.
“If parks are better maintained, there will be more respect for the facilities,” he said. “People will do their part to maintain it.”
Smith also pointed out that teams visiting during tournaments will be more likely to return if they are provided with an attractive facility.
The Western Canadian Masters Fastpitch Tournament will be hosted in Hay River at the end of July, and John Hill is hoping to see the parks ready for the visitors.
After noticing the lack of maintenance in their own playing grounds, the Hills started to observe other parks and green spaces in town.
“They just cut the grass and leave,” said Tracy of the playgrounds. “They don’t take the extra step to trim around the benches, tables, trees or anything. They don’t pick up the garbage, they just mow over it. It boils down to no attention to detail.”
“When I travel and stop in other places, I see the way the parks are maintained and I think, ‘Why can’t our parks look like that? Why can’t we have the same standards?'” she added. “It’s a reflection on our community. People are driving through here, too, maybe even looking to move here, and they want to see a nice town with nice facilities. We spend so much time covered in snow, so for a short period of time we should be able to showcase our community and take pride in it.”
As business owners, the Hills said the work they’ve seen on the parks would not pass under their command.
“(The maintenance staff) needs guidance and direction, and maybe they’re not getting that,” said Tracy. “You can’t just throw them into a park and tell them to do it. You need to take the whole team to the park and show them how to do it. They’re only going to do as good as the training they’re getting.”
The Town of Hay River currently employs five staff to maintain the parks and recreational spaces. This year they have also brought in a contractor to help keep up with the grass mowing.
Mayor Brad Mapes said with the number of green spaces increasing, and with recent cuts to staff, it is harder for the town to keep up with regular maintenance.
“If you go back to the days when I was a kid, the town didn’t do anything but playgrounds. Maybe six or seven of them,” said Mapes. “Now we have over 25 green zones, and we’ve had to cut back our staff. So what it comes down to is level of service. We need to figure out what level of service we want to have, and we need to make that happen.”
He said the amount of rain this year has also made it harder to keep up with the quickly growing grass.
Mapes said, since the issue has been brought to their attention, town employees have been meeting to discuss how to effectively manage green spaces.
“One idea is that some of the small parks can be easily done with community groups,” he said. “For example, you’d have a community league, and we’d give them X amount of money to manage the park area.”
Coun. Steve Anderson sits on a subcommittee dedicated to parks and recreation. He hopes to see the maintenance standards improve, as well, and agrees that proper training is necessary.
“Let’s encourage people to take pride in this,” he said. “More direction to the people involved in the parks would be an important first step. It’s not just the town but it’s a Public Works thing, too.”
“The schools and government buildings are a mess,” said Mapes. “The town needs to lead by example and encourage stepping up the game.”
“I want to showcase our community,” he said. “When visitors come, I want them to be impressed.”
Attempts to obtain a comment from the Department of Public Works and Services were unsuccessful.