Rec field deadline fast approaching

AMHERST – In four weeks all recreation at Cemetery Fields will come to an end, and the town is trying to find out how to make up for the loss of those 48 acres, which have been used for sports for about 15 years.

Sept. 1 is the date the town’s Cemetery Trustees gave selectmen to remove all recreation facilities from the Merrimack Road property.

One possible solution has been bandied about for years, but appears to be pretty much on the scrap heap, at least for now.

Brad Knight owns 47 acres of land on Stearns Road that he wants to lease to the town, but he is not optimistic selectmen will agree to do that.

Selectmen’s Chairman Dwight Brew said there is no money in the budget for leasing the Knight property, and even if there were, a process should be followed, starting with a fields survey by the town’s new Recreation Director Craig Fraley.

“He seems to be a very dynamic, creative individual, and we’ve asked him to look at the existing fields,” Brew said.

Selectmen understand, he said, that soon “we won’t have Cemetery Fields,” but “we need to let that process” continue.

Voters have turned down warrant articles for money to buy fields twice in the past several years, the selectman said, “and we don’t know the reason why – don’t they believe there is a fields shortage or don’t they believe we are using the existing fields efficiently?”

It might be possible to get by with existing fields, other than Cemetery Fields, he said, and there could be ways to organize the sports schedule, perhaps by shortening blocks of usage from one and a half to two hours, for example, or playing games on Saturdays and Sundays.

Leasing property would be only a short-term solution, Brew said, “just pushing the can down the road” and into the future when there will be even fewer large pieces of land available, he said.

But Knight said there is a shortage now, and the solution is on Stearns Road.

“We are still trying to get the selectmen to come to the table,” he said, and “the outlook is bleak.

The board’s chairman and Vice Chairman Brad Galinson “only want to buy land,” he said, and that does not seem to be a realistic solution, given voters’ rejection of the warrant articles, and there are no adequate parcels available anyway.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents of soccer players, and they are baffled about why key selectmen are dragging their feet,” Knight said.

Even if the town could buy land now, he said, it would take five years before it is usable – because first the town would need to appropriate the money, then find the land and then build and seed the fields.

And the problem won’t go away.

Nancy McMillan, who retired as town recreation director last spring, told selectmen a year ago that demand for athletic fields will continue to increase over the next few years. She told them that fields were used for a total of 5,031 hours in 2012 and that will increase to 7,009 hours in 2016. The demand for “flat fields,” used for soccer and lacrosse, will outstrip supply once Cemetery Fields is lost, she said, but diamond space, for baseball and softball, will accommodate the demand.

Fields are being used more than is good for the turf because the high demand doesn’t allow for rest periods, she said.

The board had asked her to analyze the situation in light of the potential loss of Cemetery Fields.

She also outlined options, and they included acquiring new land, upgrading fields so they can provide more playing time and installing lighting so fields can be used later into the night.

Other options include limiting use to residents only, asking sports clubs to either reduce the number of events or limiting their membership.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@