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Hartford Tells Ultimate Frisbee, Soccer Players To Stop Using Bushnell Park

City Wants Them To Take Their Games To Athletic Fields; Mayor Says He Wants To Discuss The Issue


September 19, 2012

HARTFORD Are friendly soccer games and rounds of Ultimate Frisbee no longer welcome at Bushnell Park?

The historic city park near the Capitol has become a prime spot for nearby workers who play on the expansive green during their lunch hour or on weekends.

But the city recently asked the players to take their games elsewhere, citing damage to the turf and a renewed focus under Mayor Pedro Segarra's administration to protect the parks.

Bushnell Park is intended for "passive" use, said Kevin Burnham, the city's public works director.

"It's not meant to be an athletic field," he said.

"We do have numerous athletic fields throughout the park system, and that's where games should be played.

"It's one thing if you go out to catch some sun. If you go out with cleats and goal posts, that's more than a casual pickup game."

Dan Cabral, an employee at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, said a Saturday morning tradition over the past two years has been playing soccer at the park with his brother and a group of friends, many of whom are Hartford residents.

A couple of weekends ago, Cabral said, a public works employee told them to stop their match because their cleats were "ruining the whole park."

The group continued to play on the east side of Bushnell Park, Cabral said, until city police eventually requested that the players leave.

The city has directed them to Colt Park, which has about 100 acres of athletic fields that require a permit and reservation for organized sports teams to use. Cabral said he got in touch with public works on Friday and asked if they could wear sneakers or indoor soccer shoes at Bushnell Park instead of cleats.

The answer was the same, he said: No.

Cabral believes the city's concern is "a little over-exaggerated."

"We're just a bunch of guys kicking around a soccer ball and trying to have fun," said Cabral, 24, a youth soccer coach in East Hartford. "If it rains, we don't play because we don't want to mess up the field. We don't ruin the park."

"I have friends in New York who go to Central Park and they can play soccer, football and Ultimate Frisbee, and they're not getting kicked out," added Cabral, who played at Colt Park with his brother and friends last Saturday. "We're bringing business into Hartford. When we're not playing soccer, it's not like we just leave. We have a few drinks and grab a meal."

On Monday night, Segarra said he would "need to have a sitdown" with Burnham to further discuss the evolving use of Bushnell Park, which is often the scene of city festivals and special events.

The mayor said the park's popularity among the Ultimate Frisbee and soccer crowd has grown in recent years, and that he didn't want to "overregulate" something that draws people downtown.

"For me, it's a great problem to have different people wanting to use the park. ... This is positive," Segarra said. "You can both protect the parks and accommodate the different interests. ... If we're not accommodating the different interests, then we're doing something wrong."

Early on Monday, 10 Ultimate Frisbee players ran up and down roughly 70 yards of grass in the park's eastern section. They arranged miniature orange cones to mark end zones for a match under a cloudless sky.

Half the players wore cleats and most were on their lunch breaks from downtown jobs at companies such as Travelers, United Technologies Corp. and UnitedHealthcare. The turf was green, with some small patches of dirt where pickup games are played almost daily. Players in the area sign up on an online listserv for that day's Ultimate Frisbee matchup.

At the start of summer, several said, the public works department advised them that they would need a city permit to play regularly.

However, the players said, the group has continued to play at Bushnell Park after receiving an informal OK from the mayor's office.

Burnham said Monday afternoon that "the Ultimate guys have been talked to" about finding another location. "It's one thing if someone is tossing a Frisbee on a spontaneous basis and happened to be there. ... A league-type activity is certainly not what that park is for," he said.

Ultimate Frisbee player Jesse Breither, 28, a resident of Tolland County who works in Hartford, said, "It'd be one thing if this looked like a barren mudscape ... if we're damaging the fields."

"It's a nice space; it's a beautiful park," Breither said. "What happens if I take a walk every day? Does that mean I'm going to have to start getting a permit to take a walk through the park?"

"We're definitely supporting the use of the parks," Burnham said. "We want to have activity in all our parks, but it has to be the right activity."

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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