Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

The drought has delayed the re-opening for the upper sports field at Rollo McLay Community Park.

The upper ‘Ducky’ field, one of only two dedicated sports fields on Gabriola, underwent a much-need extra dose of maintenance this spring, including fraise mowing, a process that removes thatch and organic matter in an attempt to level out areas of the field. Both the Ducky and lower ‘Dogfish’ fields were also aerated, top dressed with sand, seeded and fertilized.

That maintenance began in mid-April and the Regional District of Nanaimo parks department anticipated the Ducky field would be closed for 12 weeks to allow time for new grass seed to germinate and establish. But the prolonged drought conditions have delayed the re-opening indefinitely.

In a release, the RDN said the closure will be in effect “until the drought conditions have ended and the grass turf is able to establish roots strong enough to withstand sports play.” The Dogfish field continues to remain open for use.

Rick Daykin, RDN manager of parks, said the turf maintenance work was completed at the end of May.

“The seed took very well and turned into blades of grass, but it did not thrive during the drought.” With limited water in the reservoir for irrigation, the turf has yet to establish deep roots. “Extending the closure will allow the field to perform better for the long term by establishing deeper roots as we enter the cooler, wetter season,” Daykin said.

Andrea McLuckie, president of the Gabriola Softball Association, which plays its season at Rollo McLay, says the closure will likely mean cancelling the Fall Classic softball tournament.

She said, “it’s really a shame as this tournament is still young, but we have a good following of softballers from all over Vancouver Island and even the mainland.” Funds raised during the Fall Classic have paid for new equipment as well as levelling and packing the infield of the lower field. The RDN and the softball association discuss field conditions and the association “has the option to fill the gaps in maintenance,” McLuckie said. The association has been advocating for repairs to the upper sports field for three years due to deteriorating conditions exacerbated by the 2021 heat dome and the 2022 summer drought, and was pleased to see the maintenance work get underway this year.

McLuckie said, “as it stands right now, we are hoping for lots of rain which might allow us to play, but the tournament is only [two] weeks away.

“We are not feeling all that optimistic at this point and are considering backup plans.”

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