Board OKs fencing for new fields

MERRIMACK – It’s not so much all-terrain vehicles or motorbikes that have bedeviled playing fields in town, said the head of the organization that runs youth sports.

It’s the “regular” four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that have torn up turf on the baseball and soccer fields throughout town, said Terry Benhardt, president of the Merrimack Youth Association.

After heavy rain, owners of these vehicles “get a hankering” to joy-ride onto the fields and spin doughnuts, creating deep, muddy ruts, Benhardt told the Board of Selectmen on Thursday.

And those boulders placed in various places around ball fields to block vehicles?

“A six-pack is a great advocate of getting out and moving those by 10 feet,” he said.

The only way to protect the fields is by encircling them with fences, Benhardt said.

The Board of Selectmen agreed, voting to authorize the town Parks and Recreation Department to spend up to $13,000 from the athletic field capital reserve fund to enclose new fields constructed in the past year on Turkey Hill behind the town Public Works Department garage.

Although $13,000 may seem like a lot, the money will be spent to protect two baseball fields and a rectangular soccer and lacrosse field constructed at the site at a cost of $250,000, said Mike Houseman, the town’s recreation director.

“We have a huge investment there,” added Ed Chase, public works director.

The athletic fields capital reserve fund now contains about $90,000, Houseman said.

Selectman Tom Koenig, who ultimately voted to spend the money for the fencing, first raised the concern that money in the fund should be spent for creating new fields, not putting fences around them.

“I keep hearing how we need more and more fields, and yet

we’re taking money away to

Police Chief and acting Town Manager Bill Mulligan noted that damage from motor vehicles is a common problem at all fields, and has been for years.

“They drive down there, they tear up the sod, and then they leave,” Mulligan said.

Selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch said the investment in galvanized, chain-link fences was worth the cost, particularly since an irrigation system was installed at the Turkey Hill fields.

“One of the things that could really ruin our day is if we had ATVs out there digging up our irrigation system,” he said.