Relations between the Fairfax County Park Authority and soccer field users are tense these days, a result of outdated policies coupled with an increasing population and its demands for county fields.
As a member of the Soccer Council of Fairfax County and current head commissioner of the Fairfax Women's Soccer Association, I have witnessed a tremendous deterioration of fields in the county under policies that are out of touch with the realities of our county's population.
Our association is currently enrolled in the Adopt-a-Park/Adopt-a-Field program with the Park Authority, under which athletic organizations assume the maintenance at certain athletic fields. We share responsibility for maintaining the three fields at the Pine Ridge complex on Woodburn Road, across from Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Last year alone, we spent $20,000 of our money to mow, seed, aerate and blanket the fields to relieve part of the burden on county resources. Yet we are not guaranteed playing time on those fields because of allocation policies, which are based in part on the number of women soccer players in the association who are from Fairfax.
My purpose here is not to gripe about helping the county, it is to draw attention to the fields' steady demise at the feet of organized walk-on groups who do not pay the county various fees for registration, field use applications, out-of-county players and vending licenses. These walk-on groups play and trash our facilities when they please, as we shell out good money after bad to reclaim destroyed fields.
Pine Ridge and the other fields we use in the county -- at Mason District, Poplar Tree and Braddock District parks -- have deteriorated rapidly in the last three years. The problem lies in what happens to those fields when we are not using them. If we possess permits but have no scheduled games to play, anyone can use the fields.
In theory, that's fine. But unfortunately, these organized walk-on groups choose to play more than 11 vs. 11 -- the number of players for a sanctioned adult soccer game.
Worse still, these groups scour the county on inclement weather days and play anyway, even though the county has closed the fields because playing conditions are dangerous to players and/or playing surfaces. There's nothing worse than spending a weekend chasing poachers off these fields -- fields that I and my league have toiled over to preserve for our community at large.
We carefully explain who we are and why the fields are closed. The group slowly trickles out of the complex, only to return 20 minutes later after they think we're gone. This cat-and-mouse game plays itself out over and over again in the course of a weekend. It's truly a maddening process.
Recently at Pine Ridge, there have been incidents involving drugs, illegal dumping and stealing from cars. An official of the Lee-Mount Vernon Soccer Association has found mounds of human feces next to fields in her area. These problems are countywide.
The county Board of Supervisors needs to close the loophole that allows this kind of damage to its award-winning Park Authority fields and parks. We should take a page out of Prince William County's policy and make field use for groups over 10 people available by permit only. That way, every group would have to play responsibly or risk losing the ability to play in the county. Funding should be restored to allow for Park Authority employee monitoring of the fields; fines should be established and the rules enforced.
By making such a policy change, the county would collect new revenue. The risk of injury from poor playing surfaces would decrease. And the soccer field users' community would benefit from a new parity on a level playing field for all.
Conditions at some of the county's soccer fields prompted this column by Jeny Beausoliel of Annandale, head commissioner of the Fairfax Women's Soccer Association.