A 50-acre field here is now just mud, water and trees.
But if you look through the optimistic eyes of Val Burgess, it’s a million-dollar sports complex.
The newly formed North Idaho-Ponderay Youth Sports Association, of which Burgess is vice president, bought the land more than a year ago. Now, the group wants to turn the property into what it calls a “Dream of Fields.”
The master plan shows one of the largest sports complexes in North Idaho.
It will hold eight soccer fields, eight baseball and softball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a bike path, pavilion, amphitheater, campground and parking for 1,000 cars. It even has a potential spot for the Festival at Sandpoint.
“It is a huge project, but I think we can pull this off,” said Burgess, who holds a degree in recreation. “We have a shortage of fields in Bonner County already. They are totally overcrowded and overused. This would be a great asset for the community and kids,” she said.
Members of the Sandpoint soccer and baseball organizations are part of the new non-profit, incorporated association. The group looked for several years for a site before settling on the Ponderay parcel, about three miles north of Sandpoint off U.S. Highway 95. Through fund-raisers and donations, the group put $10,000 down on the property.
About 20 acres of the land is now planted with 4,900 pounds of grass seed. With any luck, soccer and baseball teams will be on those six fields this summer.
“Things are looking good and we are definitely going to have our fall soccer tournament out there,” said board member Cliff Chapin.
“Some people didn’t think we could do it, but we are making progress,” added Burgess. “In June it won’t look like a million-dollar park, but there will be enough going on out there to get people excited.”
A well to irrigate the seeded fields, a road and power will all go in this year. The group eventually hopes to woo The Festival at Sandpoint.
The trademark festival tent has even been drawn into the park’s master plan.
“We definitely want them out there. We have everything the festival requires in a new site, except for the lake,” said president of the association, Mike Read.
Festival Executive Director Con nie Berghan said she has looked at the Ponderay site. It is under consideration, along with other sites.
The association is determined to build its dream of fields without government help. It will be funded strictly by fees for use of the facility and donations of cash and labor.
Chapin said more than 1,000 people have donated to the project, some giving the group land for the complex. Several corporations have also agreed to sponsor fields with donations of $5,500 to $25,000.
Sandpoint parks director Maurice Dunn said he supports the project. Existing fields operated by the city and schools are beyond full, he said.
Scheduling games and tournaments can be a nightmare with about 1,000 kids in soccer and another 700 in baseball programs.
“Soccer, baseball, softball. They are all growing like crazy,” Dunn said. “I support any green space that we can get around here. I hope they make a go of it.”
Burgess said the park will be open to everyone and may eventually have an indoor swimming pool, miniature golf, volleyball tournaments and the annual Fourth of July Carnival at the site.