News

Drain the swamp?

All but one of the five soccer fields along Langley Road have serious drainage problems. One of the fields turns into a swampy marsh at the hint of rain. Part of the $1.6 million the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District is asking voters to approve on Feb. 19 will be used to renovate the fields, allowing full use of them for soccer fans. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
All but one of the five soccer fields along Langley Road have serious drainage problems. One of the fields turns into a swampy marsh at the hint of rain. Part of the $1.6 million the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District is asking voters to approve on Feb. 19 will be used to renovate the fields, allowing full use of them for soccer fans.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — His official title may be “Facilities and Grounds Supervisor,” but Tom Fallon insists he’s simply “the maintenance guy.”

And if the levy and bond proposal from the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District is approved by voters on Feb. 19, Fallon will be the one most affected — the money raised will keep Fallon very, very busy. The supervisor will be the go-to guy in making sure essential improvements are made at South Whidbey Community Park and other district facilities.

The district’s proposal is in two parts; the first for continuation of their current levy, 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, to cover operating and maintenance costs.

The second is a 20-year general obligation bond worth $1.6 million for capital improvements, or just under 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed property evaluation.

The levy covers the two years commencing next January for collection in the years 2009 and 2010.

Regardless of the vote’s outcome, Fallon has his work cut out for him.

This winter he and his staff of two have worked improving the trail system that winds its way through the woods of the 117-acre main park.

“We applied over 100 yards of new gravel to help footing and we’ll do more if the bond passes,” he said. “Lots of folks have noticed the new color-coded signage, especially high school cross country runners and first-time users.”

Part of the trail complex was designed by former track coach

Carl Westling and bears his name. Each fall, athletes from all over the state gather for the 3.1-mile Westling Invitational.

In fact, during the warmer months the park resonates with recreational users of all kinds: summer day campers, the Chum Run for adults and kids, triathletes, baseball players, soccer kids, skateboarders and picnic shelter users.

“If the bond passes, it will greatly expand the usability of fields for everyone,” Fallon noted. “We’ll spend less time repairing damaged facilities and more time on routine maintenance.”

A good example are the soccer fields that are next to Langley Road.

In 2005 the district drained

Field 1 — there are a total of five — and the results were startling as a quick “squish test” demonstrated.

The drained field feels firm and solid underfoot, perfect for making a quick kick to the goal.

The undrained fields are, well, “squishy.” And in one spot, a swampy marsh is developing.

“It’s like night and day,” Fallon said. “We need to drain all the fields, allowing more flexibility for the huge soccer community on the island.

Other improvements are also planned.

“Next to the restrooms we’ll build a pavilion; last June at SoccerFest there were hundreds of parents and kids out here in the rain. We need a place for them to stay dry.”

Fallon pointed out that paving installed in certain areas has drastically reduced maintenance headaches; no grading or weeding is now needed. The district hopes to expand hard surfaces where feasible.

Even on a chilly winter day, the park has its followers.

For several years Mike Boyd and Chuck Bower have walked through the park’s woods for their daily constitution.

“If we don’t walk, we’ll die,” Boyd said. “This is a safe place, there are friendly folks about and they really take care of it.”

Another project is the skatepark apron. Kids on BMX bikes slide into the dirt then wheel around for a return circuit, thereby creating a slimy hazard for skaters, especially when the ground is wet.

“Extending the asphalt apron will help eliminate the problem,” Fallon said.

One real concern is Castle Park. The structure has deteriorated over the years from weather damage and the added wear-and-tear of thousands of children climbing through and over the expansive structure’s wooden nooks and crannies.

On an almost daily basis, Fallon has to carefully check the bottom of the posts for rot. He also repairs old tires, replaces nuts and bolts and removes splinters that could hurt kids.

“You can see fungus growing on some of the stair treads,” he said.

The bond will provide $300,000 to renovate the park.

“It’s reaching its end-of-life span,” Fallon said. “But it’s a huge part of the complex and heavily-used by locals and visitors alike.”

Parks director Terri Arnold agreed that repairs are needed throughout the district.

“Many of the facilities are 15 to 20 years old and need serious maintenance,” Arnold said. “If we don’t do it now, costs will only increase.”

Fallon has deep roots in the community. He graduated from South Whidbey High School in 1987 and started working for Boeing but was laid off during a boom-and-bust cycle. The company’s retraining program gave him the chance to pursue a horticultural degree from Edmonds Community College, which led to a job for Oak Harbor’s parks department for a few years.

“Boeing called me back,” Fallon recalled. “It was a tough decision, there was more money involved, but I wanted to stay on the island.”

A volunteer assistant coach for the high school baseball team, Fallon has been working for the parks district since 1998.

“The park only had 44 acres then and I’ve really enjoyed seeing it expand; the support we get from the community has been just amazing.”

He’s witnessed a lot of positive changes since then.

“Ten years ago there wasn’t much of a daily park presence,” Fallon recalled. “Today, vandalism comes and goes but overall there’s a lot less and the number of people enjoying themselves has grown.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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