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Residents upset that county park used only for select soccer

Residents living near a 91-acre park in Greene County are frustrated because they are locked out of the green space, which is used only for select soccer tournaments staged on fields maintained by their tax dollars.

Hobson Freedom Park in Beavercreek Twp. opened in 2010 with plans calling for “a recreational venue for use by the general public,” according to a resolution by the Greene County Board of Commissioners. Original plans included a walking path and multi-sport fields.

Those plans haven’t materialized due to a lack of funding, officials say. Three years later, the gates remain locked and a chain-link fence left over from the park’s days as an Air Force radar site keeps people out.

The only activity at the park on Trebein Road occurs when big youth soccer tournaments are held at the site. Those events serve as noisy reminders to the park’s neighbors and local youth groups that they are not welcome.

“I called and emailed (Greene County Parks) several times to rent out the fields and they didn’t even bother to get back with me,” said Blake Easterling, Fairborn Wee Hawks football president. “We’re using poor fields now and it would’ve been great land to use, but no one seemed to care that we were interested.”

The park was named after former Congressman Dave Hobson in honor of his efforts to acquire the land. It encompasses 14 soccer fields available for tournament play only, according to the county.

Hobson said he’s proud of the economic and tourism impact the tournaments have on the local economy, but the park has veered away from the original intent, he said.

“I guess I was disappointed,” he said. “I thought it would be open to all of the public. The intent, I thought, was that it would be a general-use park and the soccer would enhance the use of the park.”

Kicked out

Residents in neighboring subdivisions said the development of the park initially brought excitement to the community, but now point to quality-of-life issues because of excessive noise and traffic from the tournaments.

“When Representative Hobson came and we christened the park, everyone was excited about it,” said Mark Ahles, who lives in the area. “They had some great plans for mixed use. It sounded great so we were eagerly waiting, but we knew funding was limited.”

In 2005, a $250,000 State Capital Improvement Grant was awarded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for construction of the complex. Another $100,000 was awarded for additional project costs. Construction of the soccer fields was completed in 2008 at a total cost of $364,000.

Once the park began hosting soccer tournaments in 2010, residents realized they weren’t welcome to use the county land.

“Not long after they put in the soccer fields, I was bicycle riding with the kids,” Ahles said. “We saw the gate was open and thought we could go for a bike ride through (the park). We were sternly turned away and told this park was for soccer use only. We weren’t welcome to even ride our bikes there.”

Ahles said he was kicked out of the park by the Beavercreek Soccer Association. BSA, one of the area’s largest youth soccer organizations, is the park’s most frequent tenant. Other soccer organizations that have rented the fields include the Warrior Soccer Club and the Ohio Youth Soccer Association.

“So it seems more like the soccer people are controlling the park,” said Jim Nolan, a neighborhood resident and executive director of the Tecumseh Boy Scouts Council.

Noisy tournaments

Beyond the limited access to the property, crowd noise and traffic congestion from tournaments affect daily life and home values in the area, Nolan said. He has made it his mission to bring the issue to the attention of government officials and has enlisted the help of his neighbors. More than 52 residents have signed a petition asking for change at the park.

In 2010, during the first year of soccer at the park, only two tournaments were held at the facility. That increased to eight in 2011. Seven were held in 2012 and four tournaments have used the park so far this year.

Park neighbors said the increased traffic coming out of the complex — there is only one entrance onto Treibein Road — congests roads in the residential area and creates a potentially dangerous driving environment.

“There’s that dip in the road right before the park and people are coming along at 45 mph and you don’t even know about the traffic jam until you get to that hill,” Nolan said. “They’ve had some minor accidents, but it’s only going to be a matter of time until there’s a chain reaction with injuries.”

John Ankeney, executive director of the Beavercreek Soccer Association, said he hires help from the county sheriff’s department to direct traffic during tournaments.

“There’s always going to be a traffic problem, but we can do things to help,” he said, adding that he is concerned the fields could be damaged if the public has unrestricted access. “I think there’s a solution (to their concerns) and I respect the neighbors. But you can’t trash the fields.”

Protecting property

BSA rents Hobson Freedom Park from Greene County for spring and fall tournaments. Its fall Haunted Classic and the Warrior Soccer Classic, held in the spring, bring thousands of people to the area.

That’s a positive, but state Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek), who was a county commissioner when the park opened, said initial plans were more inclusive.

“I don’t think we ever said the soccer fields were multi-use, but the (entire) complex was supposed to be,” Perales said. “My hope was, there was supposed to be a walking track, so residents could walk around that three times or four times to walk a mile, instead of just walking on the street. There was going to be phases, first phase was the soccer fields.

“As someone who helped start this, it was supposed to be an asset to local soccer communities (including rec clubs) and homeowners adjacent to the park.”

By locking the gates to the park, county officials are protecting an investment, said Chrisbell Bednar, director of Greene County Parks.

“There’s $350,000 worth of investment in that site, in terms of the development of the tournament-quality athletic fields,” she said. “By keeping those gates locked, we’re ensuring that somebody doesn’t go in there and joyride and do four-wheeling across those tournament-quality fields.”

Greene County Parks & Trails employs 11 maintenance workers to maintain 2,600 acres of land and 62 miles of paved trails. Park sites typically are mowed every 7 to 10 days, but Hobson Freedom Park is mowed up to twice a week before tournaments by three maintenance workers.

Greene County Commissioner Tom Koogler said local officials shouldn’t view the land as strictly county property, but a place for residents. He said other county commissioners don’t agree.

“A part of the park should be open,” Koogler said. “We’re dealing with an issue that is impacting quality of life for these residents.”

According to the county, Hobson Freedom Park brought in $47,310 from 2010 through May 2013. The county generates revenue through facility use agreements. BSA pays the county up to $5,250 for two-day field rentals.

BSA, which holds events at venues throughout the area including its large complex in Beavercreek, spent $321,339 on tournament costs in 2011. It brought in total revenue of $1,281,740, according to tax documents filed by the nonprofit.

“The only people who play soccer there are the select leagues, and they’ve turned a park into a government-subsidized commercial venture,” Ahles said. “It’s a sports center. It’s not a community park.”

Phase 2 on hold

Hobson Freedom Park will be the site of more tournaments this fall, but there is no development planned for the near future. County officials have applied for several state and federal grants, but haven’t secured funding to facilitate “Phase 2” of the park development.

In one grant request, Greene County Parks & Trails Department said the goal of the second phase was “to position Hobson Freedom Park as a major player in the ongoing attraction of new tournaments to the region that bring excess of 500 teams per event, tens of thousands of spectators, and infuses millions of dollars in the regions economy.”

Bednar said proposed improvements are not soccer-specific; she said the plan has been to create a multi-use park.

“What I’m hearing in the community is that it’s going to be more quality tournament soccer fields. No. That’s not the case,” she said. “There will be no lights at the park and no sound systems.”

Regardless of funding, Ahles said it’s unsettling that county officials would maintain a park where residents are prohibited to enter while select soccer rental remains a priority.

“It’s a matter of management,” Hobson said. “Someone just needs to look at it and say, ‘Is this the best use of this property or can we adjust it to better accommodate both sides here? And where do we find the funds to do it?’ ”