Rumsey Park's High-Tech Turf First Of Its Kind, Among Best In Country

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Green Bay, Indianapolis, Payson.

Sportsmen may visit the Rim Country for its scenic hunting and fishing opportunities, but before long, the sporting world will know us for our world-class artificial-turf fields made of recycled sneakers.

Earlier this week, sports fans from around the country focused on Rumsey Park where the nationally ranked NCAA Arizona State University football team, and its media entourage, flocked to Payson's lush fields of artificial green.

"It's not grass, but it's real close," ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. "We're very, very lucky Payson has something like this."

ASU conducted two practices on the park's south field after heavy rain at Camp Tontozona, east of Payson, made the grass field unplayable during the team's annual summer training.

"For a small community, this is pretty big," Bill Schwind, Payson Parks and Recreation department director said.

Sun Devil coaches chose Payson because two of Rumsey Park's fields are covered with FieldTurf, a professional-grade synthetic surface -- also used by the NFL's Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots -- and engineered to provide maximum drainage and good playing conditions year-round.

In Arizona, one other place has outdoor FieldTurf: Pima Community College in Tucson.

FieldTurf teamed with shoe giant Nike to manufacture Nike Grind, a recycled material made from used athletic shoes as part of the turf's 10-pound-per-square-foot infill rubber mix. The new substance was used in Rumsey Park South when it was built in 2002.

FieldTurf manufacturers said the infill provides a noncompactable, resilient, natural-earth feel that duplicates the playing conditions of real grass.

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Chris McDonald, a sophomore Sun Devil punter, waits on the sidelines of Rumsey Park for Arizona State University coaches to signal the special teams onto the field. McDonald and his ASU teammates practiced on Rumsey Parks' high-tech artificial turf.

"People have asked us what kind of fertilizer we use," said Schwind. "It's not a carpet. It's synthetic grass. Granulated rubber and sand settles down and it gives it that spongy, natural feel."

And unlike AstroTurf from eras past, FieldTurf is easy on joints and injuries.

Rumsey Park's north field, which is smaller than the south facility, was the first FieldTurf installed in the United States, in August 1997.

Back then, it came with a price tag of $105,000. The county paid for half, Schwind said, and the town budgeted the rest.

When the second turf was installed 5 years later for $380,000, including lights and fence, a matching grant provided by the Arizona Heritage Fund -- generated through lottery money -- paid 50 percent. The other half came out of the Park Development Fund.

"This money comes from new growth," said Schwind. "When new building permits are issued, and new houses pop up, fees are collected. It's a park fee that goes into park development to add new facilities as the town grows."

Rumsey a big draw

ASU is not alone in selecting Rumsey Park as a training site.

In the past month, four Phoenix-area high school football teams and a college soccer squad have used the fields for preseason practices.

In late July, after the Arizona Cardinals chose not to travel to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for their training camp, team officials huddled with Schwind about the possibility of conducting camp at Rumsey Park.

Instead, the Cardinals chose Prescott over Payson because of the housing facilities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Schwind is convinced that the Cardinals could be attracted to Payson next year after the team's training camp contract with NAU expires, and plans for the Payson Event Center get under way.

"I think they're going to give us a look," said Schwind. "Flagstaff is not wanting to give up the multimillion dollars they get a year from hosting those camps."

If Schwind is on target, the presence of the Cards would be an economic boon for Payson.

The Cardinals paid NAU about $400,000 a year to use its facilities, while the training camp brought in $2 million a year in tourist dollars, Flagstaff city officials said.

Schwind said he plans to approach the town council at its Aug. 25 meeting to discuss the funding of the two Kiwanis dirt fields located at the west end of Rumsey Park.

Schwind said the extra world-class playing surfaces add even more allure for the Cardinals, ASU and other amateur and professional sports organizations.

The money for the new FieldTurf fields would come from the $250,000 Park Development Fund, created about a half dozen years ago, and other sources.

"Most of the town of Payson's projects can't be done alone," said Schwind. "They're too expensive. We're always looking for partners."

Schwind has also proposed turning the Payson High School football field into a FieldTurf facility.

For that to happen, however, the school would need a benefactor or sponsor to fund the purchase and installation of the surface.

School officials are expected this month to approach the Tonto Apache Tribe about helping fund the project.

According to PHS Athletic Director Dave Bradley, the school also has the option of using some Credit for Kids donations for a new field.

To find out more about FieldTurf, visit the company's website at www.fieldturf.com.; to learn more about Nike Grind, select "Product Information."

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