There’s nothing crazy about it. Some of the newest sports fields in Mecklenburg County are going organic. Yep! The artificial turf fields at Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews and the newest field at William R. Davie Park are now sown with coconut rather than crumb rubber.
The material, called Geofill, is actually ground coconut fiber and some coconut peat. It is a totally organic and 100% natural field infill material that’s made in Italy.
“So far we are having good results,” Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation manager, Robert Reardon told us. “It does cost more to use this material as compared to crumb rubber, but part of that additional cost is due to the installation of a shock absorption pad placed underneath the carpet.”
Reardon says players like the firmness of the fields and new infill material as it feels very similar to a real grass surface. After the initial installation, the life expectancy is the same for both materials and there isn’t a lot of difference in the maintenance of the two. Another benefit of Geofill is it stays much cooler in hot temperatures as compared to crumb rubber.
Ballfields, parks and playgrounds across the country have turned to synthetic turf for decades as an economically and environmentally-sound means of keeping fields open in less-than-perfect weather, as well as reducing maintenance costs and game cancellations. That’s a big bonus for players and coaches, too.
“Rain, snow, sleet, or hail – anything hard at the goalie’s feet (on turf) will end up sitting under the crossbar by his ear,” said Myers Park High School lacrosse coach, Ian Samson. “On regular grass in bad weather…all you hear is the splat of the ball in the crease and you hope it skims into the goal.”
And turf has come a long, long way since “AstroTurf” became a household word when it was rolled out in the home field of the Houston Astros. Back in the day, synthetic or “artificial” turf wasn’t much more than short-cropped, plastic carpet put down over a concrete surface. It was low maintenance, for sure, but the harder surface led to injuries from hard surface falls, not to mention the rugs burns, or the high, tricky bounces a ball could make on the stuff. Enter the ’90’s, and manufacturers produced the turf we’re more familiar with today, with taller blades of “grass” a more forgiving underlayment, and the crumb rubber infill that further softens the landing, and keeps the players and the grass bouncing back with extended use.
Yes, there are still questions about the safety of the crumb rubber, which is made from recycled or chipped-up bits of old tires. In a Los Angeles Times article from earlier this year, synthetic turf manufacturers cited 60 studies over the past few decades that show the fields – and the crumb rubber – are safe. Several independent government studies are due out next year. Mecklenburg County will wait for those studies before deciding which infill products to use going forward.
Crumb rubber works quite well, is easy to maintain, cushions the turf, and costs a lot less than organic products. But organic fibers might not be the infill product for every field.
“Sites like Revolution Park are in a flood plain that does flood fairly regularly,” adds Rearden. “Geofill would not be a good choice there, as the coconut fiber would probably wash away.”
“Turf does keep you from some classic ‘Mud Bowl’ games though,” jokes Samson. “It’s tough to deep six a guy in a puddle when the field drains so well!”
Well, nothing’s perfect. But if you’ve got a kid involved in league sports, or participate in adult sports programs through Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, you’ll likely play on these surfaces soon! Fields can be reserved for tournament and league play here:
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