Forsyth County has some of the highest growth rates, nicest parks and best athletics in the state, but, as with all things, too much of a good thing could be a bad thing.
As the county grows and adds more sports and players, there is only so much field space available in the area. Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said that the county is doing all it can, but there is a huge demand for field space.
“It’s all a supply, demand type of issue,” Pryor said. “The county is very gracious in the fact that it works with several different user groups, all your booster clubs, the United Futbol Academy, which is the biggest soccer program in the state, even the YMCA, their programs are able to use the parks.
“Combine that with just general open play of the public and there’s just a whole lot of demand for the space that we have.”
With several different groups using the fields nearly year round, the issue is magnified since fields wear down and don’t always have the proper time to regenerate.
“So there’s really not any time to shut your fields down and maintain your turf,” Pryor said. ”It’s just an ongoing year-round thing. It’s really, really tough to maintain without shutting it down, and it’s hard to shut it down with all the demand.”
Paul Zeman is president of the Longhorn Youth Lacrosse Association a group that serves around 750 players, and said that while the county is doing what it can, there is a need for twice as many fields as the county currently has.
“The biggest issues that we’re having with field space is that there’s not enough to go around based on the number of youth athletes that we have,” Zeman said. “The county has 24 rectangular fields and easily has the need for 48 or more, so you could double what we have.”
Zeman also said that one way to relieve the issue was to only allow county residents to play youth sports.
“We do have a number of out of county athletes playing on our fields,” he said. “You can roll through Fowler Park … and the license plates in the park are Gwinnett County, Fulton County, Cherokee County, at least by a ratio of three to one.”
The lack of field space is also affecting the private sector. Deo Moleka is executive director of operations for the United Futbol Academy, which serves about 4,200 players, and said the group has had to put limitations on the number of players that they are able to serve.
“The waiting list grows,” Moleka said. “Every season we have to have cut off dates, which we used not to have. We need to have a certain amount of teams … so you just cannot serve as many kids as you would love to.”
Moleka said that he felt the county was doing all it could do, but that it was still lagging behind community growth.
“The good thing about Forsyth, Forsyth has done a good job building all of those facilities,” he said. “The only thing is that the population is growing faster than the facilities are building, so you just can never get ahead of it.”
Though lack of field space is a headache for youth athletics around the county, there is some relief on the way in the form of synthetic turf fields, the county currently has 14, and two new parks in the north part of the county.
“I’ve dealt with this as long as I’ve been a director everywhere,” he said. “This is always the problem. Youth athletics is huge and the request for field space and the number one thing is that you make sure that you maximize each field.
“We have more coming down the line here when we get Lanierland and Matt Community developed,”
Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents north Forsyth, said that the new parks should break ground fairly soon.
“I’ve been told that we will do a ground breaking [for Matt Community] sometime in the next month or so. They haven’t set a date yet,” Mills said. “Lanierland should be within the next three months after that. Lanierland is being permitted now. I’m hopeful that in the next few months that we will have those parks. ”
Mills said she hoped that once the parks are started that they could be completed in around nine months, and that the parks would make it easier for parents in that part of the county.
“It’s a big issue for north Forsyth, because we really have so few rectangular fields,” she said. “There’s only the one field at Bennett Park and the one at Coal Mountain. So that means all the parents that have children who play soccer, lacrosse, football … are having to travel long distances for their kids to practice.”