Moving minor baseball out of Nunns Creek Park created a space crunch resulting in conflict among Willow Point Park users and learning about it prompted Mayor Kermit Dahl to apologize for his part in creating the situation.
“Right, I want to thank you as well and apologize for the part that I played in displacing you last year,” Mayor Dahl, who was a city councillor when the move was made in 2021, said at city council’s Dec. 5 regular council meeting. “If I had known it was going to displace one user group over another, the outcome may have been different. We’ll get it figured out.”
The mayor made the comment after a delegation from Campbell River Slo Pitch Society (CRSPS) outlined the shortage of sport fields in Campbell River which was created when city council allowed Campbell River Minor Baseball (CRMB) to move to Willow Point Park because of the dangerous situation in Nunns Creek Park which had become home to a number of people experiencing homelessness.
Minor baseball parents complained to then-city council in 2021 about the park, longtime home to minor baseball, the Campbell River Dog Fanciers Dog Show and the Salmon Festival/Loggers Sports. People experiencing homelessness had been using the park as an encampment for years but the situation had recently escalated from baseball volunteers sweeping the fields for feces and needles to also encountering intoxicated people who threatened people’s safety.
Upon hearing these reports, the council of the day decided to immediately move CRMB to the fields in Willow Point Park for the safety of the children involved.
Campbell River Mirror reporter Mike Davies wrote at the time, “(then-Mayor Andy) Adams admits, however, that there may be complications associated with that decision down the road.”
Those complications came to light at the Dec. 5 council meeting.
“We are here today because it has become incredibly difficult to manage our league,” CRSPS vice-president and treasurer Christy Cross told council. “There are just not enough suitable ball diamonds in Campbell River for slo pitch and sharing our facility is not working.”
CRSPS requested a resolution that gives city parks and recreation staff direction on how to proceed with field bookings, allowing user groups to plan their 2023 season.
“If multiple user groups are expected to share the Sportsplex ball fields, we will need lights on all four fields in order to accommodate back-to-back bookings,” Cross said. “And the use of portable (pitching) mounds will alleviate the issue of some groups not being able to use some of the fields.”
CRSPS has called Willow Point Park home for over 30 years but this past year, the group was not able to run its slowpitch season in the way it usually does. The organization usually has 50-60 teams but has to consider limiting membership because of the lack of facilities due to sharing with minor baseball.
When minor baseball asked to move out of Nunns Creek Park, CRSPS offered its support as a temporary measure.
“But our user group has had to make many concessions and compromises to make this work,” Cross said. “We cut four weeks from our season schedule. And then we were still not able to complete games due to the lack of daylight when we finally began our season a month late. We lost the use of two fields completely when dirt mounds were installed for minor baseball and lost the ability to host charitable tournaments at one facility.”
Cross added, “Moving an entire user group out of a sporting facility is not a solution. And moving a user group to a facility that has existing user groups has disrupted many other leagues, tournaments and activities from being held at the Sportsplex.”
Slowpitch has nothing against minor baseball.
“There is a large overlap with minor baseball parents and slowpitch players,” Cross said. “But this last year has been a contentious one and has created a big divide amongst us. Our children play or have played baseball. And when they age out of minor baseball, they transition into slowpitch. We are one big family and we should be supporting each other. But this has not been the case since minor baseball was moved.”
CRSPS is simply asking that decisions be made so that both user groups can function in a safe and fair manner.
Coun. Ron Kerr, who was also a member of city council when the Nunns Creek Park situation was dealt with in haste, said he believes the city has to clean up the situation and that can only be done by having the different groups in the same room talking to one another and figuring it out. He hoped that in the new year, a new committee or portfolio system will be in place and someone on council can make sure it gets sorted out before the next ball season.
Nunns Creek Park was in the news last summer as well when the Salmon Festival Society came to council asking for help to move the homeless encampment out of the logger sports portion of the park or else the 2022 festival would not be able to go ahead.
Coun. Ben Lanyon asked if there are any plans to open Nunns Creek Park up to baseball again to which council was informed that there aren’t any in place.
The discussion expanded to include the situation with school fields and other user groups. Coun. Tanille Johnston made a motion to prioritize a meeting with the school district to have a conversation about a collaborative approach to maintaining all fields, baseball and soccer, that would benefit the recreation of the community. The motion was carried.