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The Mayor, Mounted Police Officer Affirm Hartford's Ban On Pickup Games At Bushnell Park


September 19, 2012

HARTFORD A mounted police officer told Ultimate Frisbee players Wednesday afternoon that they were no longer allowed to play at Bushnell Park, citing a directive from the city to limit sports activity on the green.

Several minutes later, Mayor Pedro Segarra said, "If you want to have organized sports at a park, you do need a permit."

The city's public works department has recently begun ordering groups that play pickup games at Bushnell Park to find another location because players' cleats are damaging the turf.

The historic park, where the city builds an ice rink in the winter, was never intended as an athletic field, Public Works Director Kevin Burnham said. The city told one group of young men who play soccer on Saturday mornings to go to Colt Park, for example.

"There are some things we've seen in our parks where the turf has been worn out because of too much activity," Burnham said. "We have to control that demand and see that we protect the park for everybody."

But the Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts, many of whom are downtown workers on their lunch break, have continued to play in the eastern part of Bushnell Park. Depending on turnout, two teams of generally four to five people each are formed on the spot. Small orange cones mark the end zones.

On Monday, several players said public works advised them earlier this summer to get a city permit, but after complaining they received an informal approval from the mayor's office to continue playing there. Burnham said he considered the Ultimate Frisbee group "a league-type activity" that should not be at the park.

The mayoral consent was apparently reversed Wednesday, the day a Courant article was published about the park restrictions.

"It came to our attention that it was a much larger group, and that certain spaces were being designated as part of the field," said Segarra, referring to the orange cones. "In that case, if you're demarcating a field, then that will require a permit."

About eight people had just concluded their Ultimate Frisbee game early Wednesday afternoon when police arrived, witnesses said.

"The police are just the messengers," said Michael Peck, 52, a Hartford entrepreneur who is playing Ultimate Frisbee to lose weight. "They're caught in the middle."

Peck gestured at the park's grass, mixed with weeds.

"You look out here, the soil is compacted hard, the roots don't go very deep, so there's not a lot of healthy soil here... It's not damaged from play," he said. "It's damaged from poor maintenance over the last 30 years."

Carol Smith, who works for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, also played Wednesday and engaged Segarra in a conversation about next steps. Segarra had initially gone to the park to speak with TV reporters.

Segarra said he plans to look into the possibility of the city's recreation division organizing athletic events at Bushnell Park so that they are sanctioned. The public works department later referred all questions to the mayor's office.

"I still have to clear some hurdles to make sure that we do the proper maintenance, but if we sponsor it, then maybe that's a solution," Segarra said.

"If you have teams that are going to come here to compete, and you want to take up areas of the park and exclude other people from that space who just want to lay out in the sun or walk their dog across the park then those kinds of organized activities, unless we become the sponsors or the organizers of it so we coordinate those issues then those things require a permit."

After the mayor left, Peck and Smith said it was possible that Ultimate Frisbee players would return despite the city's order.

"The park's a park, and I think that it's great that everyone is out here using it," said Smith, who called Bushnell Park's popularity "a healthy sign" for Hartford.

Smith said she was open to a partnership with the city.

"Make us some Frisbees that say 'City of Hartford, Bushnell Park' and we'll promote it... If we could resolve this smoothly, that'd be fine," Smith said. "If people just give us lip service and then don't do anything and expect us to go away, then that's not so cool.

"But I don't know, we'll see what happens."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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