From Coal Mines to Sports Fields

The development of Mylan Park

Mylan Park is a model recreational haven that shows what surface mine reclamation can accomplish. Nine years ago, all the land of the 396-acre site in Morgantown, W.Va., was donated by the coal company that had mined it with the goal of creating diverse recreational space to serve the surrounding community.

What started as bare rock now features two baseball and two softball fields; 22 acres of open turf area for soccer, football and special events; and a rubberized-surfaced Miracle Field offering sports opportunities to the physically challenged. There’s a certified cross-country course and a 2-acre, 24-pit horseshoe court. A horse show and event center, complete with two large outdoor arenas, spread across 60 acres. Another feature currently in the construction processs is the 50,000-square-foot activities center that is used for craft shows, and indoor boat, recreational vehicle or cars shows, along with other special events.

This aerial view of Mylan Park shows the baseball and softball fields in Morgantown, W. Va.

An alternative learning school provides trade school options with hands-on training for high school age students, both within the building and in the landscaped area around it. Also on site, but managed by a separate entity, Pro Performance Rx, is a facility featuring an 85-yard indoor football field used for football, soccer and indoor baseball.

The site is also home to the Mylan Park central office, the landscaping and site beautification around the buildings and the entrance to the park, and the parking areas to serve the various venues.  

The first stages of the ongoing development began in February of 1999. As new facilities were added, attention to the upkeep of the athletic fields diminished. Pete Benevento was hired as field manager in January of 2006, with the initial responsibility of getting the field back into playing condition. In early 2007, he advanced to the position of facilities supervisor.

Benevento says, “It’s now my responsibility to oversee the entire site and make sure everything gets done and done correctly. We’re using about 300 acres of the space now. The remaining 96 acres consist of general turf that we just keep cut at this point and natural woodlands. The site is in a mountain range and the woodlands run up the hillside and cover its peak. The cross-country course does have a turf path running through the woods, but the remainder of that area is retained in its native condition.”

Two adult level softball fields on a lower level of the site are slotted for completion in late 2008 and will open for play in 2009. Benevento says, “We plan on using portable fences to convert those fields for softball and youth baseball play when they’re not in use for adult leagues.”

Developing the fields

Following the surface mining, the site was basically rock with a few pockets of soil remaining. Benevento says, “The first step was to regrade, refill and backfill to create adequate surfaces for the fields and buildings. Water flow was a major consideration throughout that process and remains so in our ongoing construction and all of our land management practices.

“Soil is hard to find within a mountain range, and it’s especially difficult to find enough to recover such a large area. They didn’t attempt to set specs for the whole site, so though our site is all native soil, the actual breakdown varies depending on where it was sourced. It’s basically a blend of native material with a fairly high clay content.”

The athletic fields have a 7-inch top layer of native soil. Beneath that is a 12-inch layer of blue clay. Corrugated drainage pipe is imbedded within this sub-layer, running in straight patterns that gradually channel any excess subsurface water toward retention ponds. There’s a 1 percent grade on the fields to channel surface water off the playing surfaces while keeping it retained on the site.

Benevento says, “If you dig down about 2 feet anywhere on the property you’ll find rock ranging from gravel to boulders. We monitor our water flow, both from natural rainfall and from irrigation, not just to control infiltration, but also to track percolation through the soil and movement into the retention ponds.

Pete Benevento checks on the sports fields at Mylan Park.

“We have an electric rain gate on our irrigation system that shuts off the water if any rain is received during the night. We use granular fertilizers, splitting the recommended rate into small increments applied in two or three separate applications. We irrigate lightly following each application to just move the material into the soil surface so it can work its way into the rootzone with no surface or subsurface runoff. So, by the time any water reaches our retaining ponds, it’s clear and free of any contaminants.”

Field renovation and maintenance

The athletic field turf is a blend of five bluegrass varieties overseeded with six perennial ryegrass varieties. When Benevento first arrived, he focused on renovation of the baseball and softball fields, regrading, reconstructing the mounds, pitching circles and home plate areas and reestablishing the turf.

He says, “The baseball fields have turf infields. The base paths and the skinned infields on the softball fields are 45 percent clay, 15 percent silt and 40 percent sand. I work the skinned areas daily using a Toro Workman with groomer attachments.

“All of the irrigation systems on the four fields had been damaged to point of becoming nonfunctional. My first year, I renovated the irrigation on one of the baseball fields. This spring, I reworked the system on one of the softball fields. I hope to have the other two field systems operational for the 2008 season.  

“We don’t have inground irrigation on the multipurpose fields. I work around natural rainfall as much as possible there, supplementing as needed with a large area water reel. That space is being used primarily for large-scale special events other than sports at this point.”

Benevento has three park employees that are assigned to mowing the extremities of the sports complex and maintaining the lawns and landscape of the non-field areas, and general maintenance of the buildings. An additional employee works with him on the athletic side of the turf program. He says, “Approximately 85 percent of my time is allocated to turf management. The other 15 percent is concentrated on management responsibilities.”

Field use

Three high school baseball programs and three high school softball programs use the fields during their season. The fields are home to the Division II baseball program of Fairmont State University. Four youth organizations and the West Virginia club baseball team practice and play their games on the Mylan Park fields. Benevento says, “We also rent out the fields for about seven tournaments each summer. That works out to approximately 250 games and 275 to 300 practices on each field.”

He works closely with Ian McAra, who handles the Mylan Park event and game scheduling. He also interacts daily with the athletic directors, coaches and umpires during the playing season. Benevento says, “I’m the bearer of bad news for weather issues. I generally give them all the details of the conditions they’ll be facing so they understand the situation and the reasons behind any cancellations.”

Field maintenance program

The first spring practice is February 21, so field preparation begins in early February. Snow removal, freeze/thaw cycles and frost are all factors that early in the season. Once practices begin, the fields are used every day and night of the week and on Saturday mornings, so it’s hard to work in maintenance.

Benevento says, “I do as much field work in the fall as possible. I core aerate in early October and again in November using 5/8-inch tines to a depth of 3.5 inches. I use a Toro core pulverizer to break up the material and drag it back into the profile. That opens up the field and brings up natural organisms to help break down the thatch. I’ll overseed at the same time. Snows usually hit around Thanksgiving.”

Often spiking with an Aerovator is the only aeration spring conditions will allow. Benevento works spiking into the program as often as possible during the spring and again in the fall, skipping the summers to avoid additional stress when temperatures are the highest.

Currently, the fields are mowed with a John Deere 1600, though he’s working a Toro Groundsmaster into the budget. Mowing height is 2.5 inches from February through early March. That drops down to 1.75 inches for spring play and rises to 2 inches in the summer and throughout the rest of the year.

Benevento works with Jim Yamnitzky of EH Griffith to develop the fertilization program based on annual soil test results. The first application is the first week in June and is combined with broadleaf weed control. The next application comes in mid-July, with monthly application through October. The final application is made either in November or February, depending on weather patterns.

Standard IPM procedures are followed with control products only used as necessary on the targeted area. Grubs are the main insect pest. With the multiple microclimates on the property and summers fluctuating between hot dry and hot humid conditions, Benevento monitors the turf closely for disease activity. He adjusts irrigation and cleans mowing decks after each mowing to limit any outbreaks that do occur, to reduce the need for spot fungicide applications.

Benevento says, “It’s incredibly rewarding to work with all that’s been accomplished during the reclamation of this site and help bring it to an even higher level. The foresight of the coal company and the Mylan Park organization has created a huge benefit for the entire community and a model for others to follow.”

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.