Groups compete for recreational space as Trace project nears

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Planned extension of the Natchez Trace Parkway has the Natchez-Adams School District and local athletic groups competing for recreational space.

The school district recently converted the adult softball field at Liberty Park into a temporary soccer field, removing the baseline fences and erecting a new fence that encompasses the fields and the parking lot.

School district officials say they need the field, which they bought in a city-county land swap a few years ago, to develop athletic space around Natchez High School and compensate for the Trace extension.

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But, adult league members believe they are gradually being pushed out of Liberty Park and worry they will not have a place to play when their season begins in late January.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the adult softball leagues played and practiced on two fields in Liberty Park, one for women and one for men, the latter of which they built themselves, said Commissioner William Barnes.

About seven years ago, the Dixie Boys baseball league took over what had been the women’s field, leaving the one field for men’s, women’s and co-ed teams.

The leagues did not play last year because water lines serving the concession stand and restrooms were damaged by crews hired by the school district to remove horse barns near the field, he said.

Barnes said he is suspicious that the school district did not repair the lines to discourage the leagues from playing there.

Dr. Carl Davis, school district supervisor, said the school district checked with the recreation department before converting the field and were told that the adult league did not play last year and were probably not going to play again this year.

&uot;But to be honest, we were probably going to have to use it anyway,&uot; Davis said.

Davis said the school district had intended to allow the fields to continue to be open for public use, but announcement of the Trace’s pathway down Liberty Road changed their long-term plans.

&uot;When the Trace came in, it really hit us a lick, because they took all that land and we had to rethink how we wanted to develop it,&uot; he said.

Once the field and other land is &uot;developed properly,&uot; Davis said it is the intention of the school district to allow others to use facilities.

But Barnes and others say they want the city to move ahead with plans to build a sports complex at the location that has come to be known as the bean field, between Natchez high and U.S. 61 North.

Jimmy Allgood, a former league commissioner who has been involved with adult recreation for more than 20 years, said Natchez is &uot;missing the boat&uot; when it comes to recreation.

&uot;We have fought for many years to persuade the people is this town that much more recreation is needed, especially fields,&uot; Allgood said.

As a town dependent on tourism, Natchez needs a sports complex to compete with cities like Brookhaven and Jackson as a setting for softball tournaments, he said.

Allgood said it is common for state-wide tournaments to draw up to 125 teams of 15 to 20 players each, who supply &uot;guaranteed tourism dollars.&uot;

As for the upcoming season, &uot;We don’t know what we’re going to do,&uot; Allgood said. &uot;We want answers from the city and the county. What are you going to do to replace what we had?&uot;

Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said adult fields are included in plans for a sports complex, but &uot;it is way too early to tell anybody anything with certainty&uot; about construction of the complex.

Until then, Smith said he believes with proper scheduling, the adult league could share the Dixie Boys field.

&uot;I’m trying to do what we can to accommodate all recreation,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t want to leave anybody out.&uot;

Virginia Salmon, Adams County Board of Supervisors president, said no one has approached the board about problems at the Liberty Park ballfields.

&uot;We’re so desperately trying to take care of those people who work there everyday,&uot; she said of county efforts to transplant agencies affected by the Trace extension on Liberty Road.