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November 22, 2014

Ohatchee leaders eye land for new ball fields

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Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:25 pm | Updated: 7:35 pm, Thu Jul 31, 2014.

OHATCHEE – In the spring, Ohatchee’s youth sports fields seem more like a drainage ditch than a place to play baseball.

Since being built on a piece of land the town bought from Alabama Power Company in the 1980s, the fields sitting down the road from Alabama 77 have flooded almost every March. The water has ruined sports equipment, broken electronic scoreboards and made a concession stand all but useless, according to the town’s mayor, Steve Baswell.

“This is basically a big lake,” Baswell said, driving his car into the parking lot of the fields this week. “You can’t even get in here.”

Baswell and the Ohatchee Town Council are working on a solution. Another tract of land behind Alabama 144, which Alabama Power also owns, is for sale for $60,000. That’s a big chunk of money for little Ohatchee, Baswell said, which operates on a budget of a little more than $1 million annually. Baswell said it's worth the investment if it will mean a better park.

It’s only been in the last couple of months that the town has considered buying the land, but Chad Snow, the president of the volunteer Ohatchee Youth Sports League, said it’s never been a secret that the current baseball fields weren’t exactly a great spot to build a park.

“It only takes a little bit of rain, and we go under water,” Snow said, noting the property sits well below the level of nearby Neely Henry Lake.

“When Alabama Power opens up those flood gates, forget it, we’re under water,” he said.

Over the years, the town and the league have worked around Mother Nature, Snow said. The town pitched in money to buy a mobile concession stand so it could be moved from the fields in case of emergency. Entire weeks’ worth of games every year have to be canceled or rescheduled, Snow said. And when the league can’t get anyone to go to the games, it doesn’t make any money on concessions.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s always been on the back of everyone’s mind, if we could get a new field, but there’s never been a place to put it,” Snow said. “Now we might have something.”

Even if Ohatchee buys the new land, it would still be a few years before it could become a useful field. The 38 acres is completely covered by brush, and a park project would have to get in line for funding behind the town’s plans to build new recreation and meeting centers.

Baswell said, though, he’s not in a hurry. While the current baseball fields are in an inconvenient location, the town knew that when it purchased the land.

“At the time, we thought something is better than nothing,” Baswell said. “And I’d rather have one quality park than rush into building a lot of not-so-good parks.”

Other than the flooding, Baswell said the current baseball fields more than serve their purpose in the community.

“They’re not bad, but they could be better,” Baswell said. “And whenever you have the opportunity to make it better, that’s a good thing.”

Building a quality park is just one of many initiatives Baswell said he’d like to undertake to help improve the quality of life in Ohatchee, especially for younger residents. Last year the town bought a storage barn from Calhoun County’s Highway Department. Town officials hope to turn it into a recreation center, including a possible indoor basketball court.

“We just want a place for the kids in Ohatchee to be able to go,” Baswell said. “It’s been a long time since Ohatchee had a place for them.”

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