“If you build it, he will come,” whispered the ghosts in the Iowa cornfield in the iconic 1989 movie. The City may not have been guided by vocal ethereal spirits, but we did indeed build it. “It” can only refer to the plethora of incredible parks scattered throughout town. For a city with a population barely hitting 10,000 people, Rifle boasts 9 developed parks, 2 undeveloped parks and, of course, Rifle Mountain Park. Drive through other towns with comparable numbers of people and you’re often lucky to find just one. Driving around Rifle you can’t help but notice not only the quantity of the parks, but also the way they are impeccably maintained.
The City of Rifle Parks Department is as impressive as their end products. The level of expertise and dedication is extraordinary. The department is composed of 5 fulltime employees and 13 seasonal employees. Although everyone does everything, each individual brings specific skills, education, experience and talent to the job.
Dave Hadley, the Parks Superintendent, has a degree in Turf Grass Management and spent two decades as a Golf Course Superintendent and irrigation technician. He is a member of the Sports Turf Manager’s Association which is a great resource for getting cutting edge (pun intended) education. He is the self-described “mad scientist” of the group. He lives here in Rifle with his wife, Pauline, and two kids Sophia and Thomas and speaks with contagious enthusiasm when discussing his job.
Speaking with equivalent passion is Rian Wright who specializes in equipment maintenance, operation, welding and fabrication. “I was blessed with this career with the City of Rifle. And when I say ‘blessed’, I mean blessed. After a lifetime in the private sector, there is nothing more gratifying than the peace of mind and comfort that comes with this career,” states Wright. “I have the life I have always prayed for and I pray I’m here until the day I retire. I love this place and the people I am blessed to work with”. He also genuinely loves being able to be working close to his wife and 8 kids and be home each night for dinner. “I can finally work to live, not live to work.”
Ronnie Chick is all things Rifle and Rifle parks. He has been with the Parks Department for over 30 years! Currently, Ronnie oversees the day to day operations at Deerfield Regional Park and assists seasonal workers with the care of Rifle Mountain Park. Ronnie is the go to guy for ballfield layout and measurements and is an unofficial Rifle Parks historian.
Jose Gutierrez is the Irrigation Technician. He works tirelessly to keep the irrigation systems in top condition. No easy task, considering miles of pipes and hundreds of sprinkler heads. Alan Lambert (who splits his time with Grounds and Facilities) is the specialist for electrical work.
According to Dave Hadley, “Public safety is the most important goal”. Daily inspections include looking out for dangerous items that children may pick up and checking to make sure everything is in perfect working order. The safety of the athletic fields is crucial. Lots of aeration, nutrition and proper mowing produces sports fields which are denser and safer to play on. They even mow the soccer fields extra short (2”) so little tykes don’t have problems and the balls they kick can actually go someplace!
Deerfield Park requires 5 times more maintenance than other parks. Drive by the baseball field, Cooper Field, in early spring and you will notice that it is already green making it the envy of other teams who visit here to play. While other ball fields on the Western Slope are still dormant, Rifle utilizes a grow blanket on the field which forms a greenhouse by “fooling the grass into thinking it’s May when it’s really March,” brags Hadley. Experience and expertise indeed.
What makes Cooper Field truly a “field of dreams” right now is that on top of the green grass behind home plate is an incredible painted replica of the Rifle Bear logo. One can only imagine the school pride and motivation for our young athletes seeing that as they warm up to bat.
One recurring theme when speaking to our Parks workers is that they like the diversity in their jobs. Every day is different and presents new challenges and rewards. It’s like “creating an art piece” was the sentiment expressed by Hadley when describing looking at a completed field.
The sheer amount of summer work necessitates the hiring of numerous seasonal employees. The City has 3 soccer fields, 2 baseball fields and 4 softball fields. Of the 13 seasonal employees hired in 2017, 11 are returning for 2018. That speaks volumes about the level of pride flourishing in this department. Seasonal employees are charged with mowing, edging, weed blowing and prepping the fields. The department is also responsible for trash pickup and maintenance of the City’s many trails and Rifle Mountain Park. These “jacks of all trades” may also be called to assist with anything else in the City.
Interestingly, the irrigation systems in all of the parks are run by computers which are centrally programmed at the Parks Administration Building. The building is also one of the most energy efficient in Garfield County, utilizing renewable energy. You can see the solar panels located in front of the structure.
Hadley is quick to point out that he is very grateful for all of the community support for our local parks. He notes that the 1 cent sales tax passed by prophetic voters back in 2005 is the main reason that Rifle has such great parks and sports fields and is able to maintain them.
Rifle is no doubt lucky to have so many places where we can relax, have a picnic or watch a ball game. On any given day there are plenty of soccer players aspiring to be the next Beckham or baseball players training for an eventual shot on the Rockies roster. Fields of dreams right here in Rifle. All thanks to our amazing Parks staff.