After years of struggling to plant seeds in “blow sand,” the Old Spanish Trail Arena (OSTA) finally has green grass for the ball fields. County officials marked this achievement — which they say took years of work — with a ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 6.
“I’d like to recognize my staff in this construction project and the maintenance project that it’s become. It far exceeds what we thought would be the workload,” said OSTA manager Steve Swift. “Each of the staff have played a part in bringing the grass up to speed, cleaning the weeds out, [and] chasing dogs and rabbits off the field.”
According to those close to the project, the OSTA grounds — covered in blow sand and rocks — posed natural challenges to growing green, ball field quality grass.
Local resident Mike Steele got involved with the OSTA project during his time as a Grand County High School baseball coach and Recreation Special Service District member. Although the OSTA facilities include an arena and pavilion, Steele said that ball fields were always part of the plan.
“When we cleared it off we knew the sand would blow and we had just hoped that the grass seed would take,” Steele said. “The first year we were just a little bit late in the season and the grass didn’t really take as quick as we thought it would. But it’s just like everything else … you’ve got to put up with the negative for a little while to get to the end product.”
In addition to the challenges with the natural terrain, OSTA staff faced difficulties with the ball fields’ first watering system, which was completed in 2013. Swift said the initial three-inch water line to the ball fields “kept cavitating” due to issues with the pump.
But signs of improvement were visible last year, OSTA employees said, after the county funded the installation of a 1,500-foot, six-inch water pipe to supply more water to the site.
“When I first started it was nothing but dirt and alfalfa fields basically,” said OSTA employee Robert Gustin, who manages the 10 acres of ball fields. “…It really came together this year. We got the infields done, and that was a major project too because that was full of rocks.”
Swift has already noticed individuals and families using the green spaces.
“We want families to come up and use it,” Swift said. “We’ve had kids playing here, and parents bringing their families up to play ball.”
According to Steele, the ball fields will complement further phases of the OSTA grounds, which include plans for playgrounds and picnic areas.
“We tried to make this [area] multi-use, so the imagination’s your limit,” Steele said.
Moab City Parks, Recreation and Trails Director Tif Miller said the availability of the OSTA ball fields could help alleviate current scheduling conflicts for both youth and adult sports programming.
“We have been in close contact with [Swift] as they continued to improve the grass conditions and the outcome from all of their hard work is now great looking playing surfaces,” Miller said. “With field space time for programming sometimes being a challenge to schedule, I think the facility will be a great and welcome addition for recreation in the community as we see increased numbers of people looking for programming for their children and themselves.”
Celebrating the new ball fields Oct. 6 was Moab resident Bobby Hollahan. He told The Times-Independent that Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts would soon host a tournament on the grounds, as an inaugurating event for the green fields.
“We did try to use this [field] two years ago for the tournament … it did not have much you could call grass [then],” Hollahan said. “They put a ton of work into it at that time. Now it’s really high quality with what we hope for playing on.”
Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler says the fields present a “great opportunity” for more events like these.
“Once people come and see how they have upgraded [the fields], it’s just going to attract more people to host different types of events out there,” Gizler said. “It looks beautiful and I really think they’ve done a magnificent job. I think it’s just going to add to everything that we already have.”
In November, the fourth annual Scots on the Rocks event will bring thousands of participants and spectators to OSTA’s fields to highland dance, play pipes and drums, and compete in Celtic athletic games.
Swift imagines OSTA staff will be a bit more “protective” of the green spaces during events like the caber toss, where competitors throw a large tapered pole into the green.
“When they toss the caber we get a bit worried,” Swift said. “[Now,] we’ll get them to chuck it into the dirt so it doesn’t damage the lawn. We’re very protective of the grass.”