Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs High School lacrosse team will host a game Friday, a week after the city received six feet of snow in six days.
Lacrosse in Steamboat in early March - that's a pretty remarkable achievement that would not be possible without the artificial turf on Gardner Field. Those who have made it happen are to be commended for their efforts.
Still, it is becoming clear that one outdoor, artificial turf field is not going to solve all of Steamboat's spring sports challenges. Our expectations - which, it should be noted, were raised by the field's most ardent advocates - must be tempered.
The artificial turf came to pass because of the generosity of Steamboat residents who raised more than $250,000 and got the Education Fund Board to match that amount. We supported the turf, arguing it was a perfect use of the Fund Board's sales tax dollars. The board was able to leverage private funding to provide the school district with an amenity it otherwise could not afford.
Still, there are questions the school district should address. First, we would like to better understand what the long-term plan is for snow removal. Second, the availability of the field for public use should be articulated.
The artificial turf was sold to residents as an academic issue. Principal Mike Knezevich argued athletes miss 1.5 hours of class time every time they have to practice or play games away from Steamboat. The turf would keep athletes in class longer. Also, because practice had to be held in a limited number of indoor facilities, some student-athletes were practicing until 10 p.m.
Artificial turf has not fully resolved those issues. The track and baseball teams still must practice indoors. And with at least three other sports - boys and girls lacrosse and girls soccer - vying for time on the artificial turf, some must still practice indoors.
Then there is the issue of snow removal. It took a Herculean effort to get all of the snow that had accumulated off the field. School Board member Pat Gleason and Knezevich headed up the removal effort. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Native Excavating donated equipment and labor.
Care must be taken during snow removal not to damage the field or the track surrounding it. There also is limited snow storage. Gleason said every inch of snow on the field translates to a foot of surface on each side of the field that's lost to snow storage. Eventually, snow storage will encroach on the playing surface. And inevitably there will be times when it will be more efficient to let the snow melt than try to remove it.
While we appreciate the contributions that have been made, we would ask how realistic it is to expect Gleason, Ski Corp., Native Excavating and others to donate time, manpower and equipment to keep clearing the field. Counting on continued generosity is not a definitive snow removal plan.
Finally, there is the question of who has access to the field. The private donors requested an advisory committee make recommendations on usage. The committee's priorities are, in order, school-related activities, city-based youth programs and then the community at large. But it is not clear what community availability there is for the field, if any at all. It would be beneficial if the school district or the committee could better communicate such usage.
The big picture is that the artificial turf field has created a new era of spring sports at high school. That's certainly worth celebrating. But in doing so, we should not overlook issues surrounding the field, including ongoing maintenance and usage.