Sorosis irrigation

Irrigated grass gives way to dried grass and dirt at Sorosis Park, where maintenance crews are struggling to keep the irrigation system operational. Removal of dead pine trees this winter added to the unsightliness.

About 40 percent of Sorosis Park is brown, but the parks district is working with contractors to do irrigation repairs, Executive Director Scott Baker said.

“The irrigation situation is bad up there, we have a plan to fix it and we’re soliciting bids,” said Baker, of the Northern Wasco County Park and Recreation District.

The district has budgeted $60,000 for irrigation work, and the scope of work will depend on what contractors propose, Baker said. One factor will be who can do the work soonest.

While the board has saved enough to spend $60,000 on irrigation, bringing it up to where the district would like it to be would cost $300,000, Baker said.

The funds allocated for this year will be put toward the areas that need it most, he said. Those areas are parts of the park that were damaged earlier this year by contractors removing diseased and dead pine trees that were infected with pine bark beetles.

Those areas are on the eastern side of the park, between the shelter and Columbia Gorge Community College, and north past the bathroom, including the rose garden at the front of the park.

“We’re going to try and get as much of that done for $60,000 as we can,” he said.

The pine bark beetle problem, which the district has been battling for years, may not be entirely addressed. The district removed 17 trees last year and 55 this past February, but Baker suspects there’s still some infested trees. They won’t know until fall, when the tops of any infested trees would turn brown and die.

Baker said good things are happening at the park too, including a new roof on the bathrooms, new asphalt in the shelter, new tops, benches and paint for the picnic tables, new parking lot striping, new infield irrigation at both softball fields, new pickleball courts and a new windscreen installed, new safety surfacing at Tree Top Play Park, new sand on the walking path and new fencing and concrete benches at Kelly Viewpoint.

The work was done with community partners including the City of The Dalles, the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, The Dalles Girls Softball Association, Browns Roofing, Jordan Chelsea Landscaping, and numerous community volunteers.

A new grant-funded exercise area will go in this summer.

Also, the 100th anniversary of Sorosis Park is coming in 2021, and planning is underway with the Fort Dalles Museum for a celebration, Baker said.

The tree removal was done in winter to reduce fire danger because the diseased trees had to be burned on site. The downside was that the ground was soft and got torn up by heavy equipment.

But that project also had an upside, Baker said. The usable portions of the trees were donated to the community wood program, which in turn donates it to needy families. Benches were made for the high school, milled by Paul Black.

The parks district is facing other challenges, including a $20,000 increase in its retirement costs. It is part of the state PERS (Public Employee Retirement System). Its total PERS cost this year is $76,000.

“People talk about PERS in this abstract way, but it really impacts little districts like ours where a $20,000 increase means not hiring additional seasonal help,” Baker said. “When you have a crew as small as ours, one person makes a difference.”

They not only lost staffing capability, but a 30-year employee, Cliff Clason, retired last year and took his knowledge with him, Baker said.

The district has a maintenance crew with two full-time, three part-time and one seasonal employee, which takes care of 200-plus acres of parks and the Riverfront Trail. Baker said that is far less staff and money per acre than the national or state average.

Sorosis Park has been brown before, Baker said. “This is not a new problem and so far our resources have only allowed band-aid fixes that get us by for another year or two, but with the leadup to our 100-year celebration of Sorosis, it’s a really good time to give the park some much-needed love.”

The whole area around the tennis courts used to be brown, but the district fixed it last year “and it looks great.” The district put in about seven acres of new irrigation last year. The whole park is 35 acres.

There are grants available for things like irrigation, but they’re highly competitive and decided by a point or two difference on a 100-point scale, he said.

The district will seek grants, but also couldn’t afford to wait to get one, so it opted to do the areas of highest need that would have the most impact.

Giving the parks district a leg up in competition for grants is that it just completed a master plan. Grant funders like to see districts that are organized, working toward goals and have identified needs.

As for the current irrigation system, he said nobody seems to know. He’s heard estimates of 40-60 years old.

As to the brown areas of the park, he said “grass is very forgiving. When you give it a little water, it will likely come back.”

The parts of the lawn that were torn up by the tree removal process will need to be regraded and reseeded, but that will be done as part of the trenching work for the new irrigation.

“We need to rebuild a system that’s robust enough for the long haul,” he said. “We have a focus on short term expensive, long term inexpensive; do it right.”

While parts of the park are brown, most of it is green and beautiful, he said. “That’s where we’ll host the car show, softball picnics. Sorosis is hosting a regional tournament in July, so we focused our efforts this spring on the softball fields and the areas around the softball fields, so that you know we have a welcoming park for our visiting teams.”

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