SALISBURY — A planned expansion of the Henry S. Parker Sports Complex is still under consideration by the Salisbury City Council with the condition that efforts be made to preserve local hiking and biking trails and to facilitate new trails on nearby city property.
Adding more playing fields to the Parker complex could lead to its development as a major sports and tournament destination, according to Wicomico County officials. The complex is already a popular spot for the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Fast Pitch Softball World Series in the summer months and other events and the goal is to keep adding baseball, soccer and lacrosse fields to attract more tournaments.
However, clearing out the space for new fields would mean encroaching on a long-standing network of existing trails, something which hikers and mountain bikers balked at. Several members of the bike community were in attendance during Tuesday’s council work session and they were eager to see some protection of trails.
Michael Perry, a local and member of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), said that he supports the complex growing and becoming more of a destination but doesn’t want to see all of the surrounding trails sacrificed.
“We want you to succeed, we want all of what you can get, but we want it without damaging what is a really nice system back there along the trails,” said Perry.
The current plan calls for Salisbury to transfer 35 acres to Wicomico to be used as space to build approximately nine new baseball fields and eight or nine soccer fields. It’s a $3 million project and relies heavily on grant funding. The expansion would be significant but City Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said Monday that she doesn’t think new fields should mean the abolition of trails.
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t build this field or that field because there’s a trail there and we have to maintain all of the trails. But I don’t think that we have to dismiss the trails altogether and just go out and do this. I think it can be both,” she said.
Perry recommended that the county think about re-designing some of its preliminary layouts to shift the fields around in a way that would cause a lesser impact on the nearby network of trails in the neighboring forested area. But the field layout is a delicate balance, according to Gary Mackes, director of Recreation and Parks. The fields need to be placed for maximum efficiency to make sure there’s enough space for everything and issues like sun exposure need to be taken into account.
“We have a defined set of space. We’re trying to use the [Leonard Mill Branch] stream for a clean division,” said Mackes. “We’re trying to build to have some room for expansion here as the market develops. And what’s pushing this is economic development, that’s why we’re doing this.”
Mackes reminded the council that early county estimates believe an expansion of the complex could be a major trigger for economic growth.
“We’re expecting, in round numbers, another $10 million in economic activity, 12 new tournaments over the next four years after that facility is built,” he said during an earlier meeting on the expansion in July.
While many of the trails would have to be cleared for the expansion, the council eventually began to talk about adding new trails on nearby city-owned property.
“From what I’m hearing, this is what I would recommend. I’d recommend that we continue consideration of the transfer of the property with the county,” said Council President Jake Day. “And that process would include, as a portion of the agreement, to develop on city-owned property to the southwest of the property in question new bike trails. That would be a city, county and Eastern Shore IMBA contract for trail maintenance and management.”
Day also suggested that steep slopes north and west of the complex be considered for preservation whenever possible during the expansion process and that a bridge over the neighboring stream be a priority to provide access to the new trails.
Both the county and the audience seemed happy with the proposal.
One other area that the council examined while considering transferring property was traffic.
The county conducted a traffic study on Naylor Mill Road to determine if a Parker complex expansion would trigger traffic problems. Currently, Naylor Mill has a capacity for about 10,000 vehicle trips per day. Even during peak uses like the USSSA World Series, the traffic study found that the road was well under the maximum use.
“We’ve got about 50-percent capacity remaining along Naylor Mill Road at this time. I didn’t really see a huge effect,” said Lee Beauchamp, director of Public Works for Wicomico.
A council consensus was reached for the city to continue consideration of the land transfer to the county and to discuss the issue at a future meeting. Mackes thanked the council for having a “spirit of cooperation,” and singled out Day’s leadership in improving relations between Salisbury and Wicomico.