New artificial turf soccer fields to open in SF's Golden Gate Park

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Thursday, December 3, 2015
New artificial turf soccer fields to open in SF's Golden Gate Park
New soccer fields made with artificial turf will finally open in Golden Gate Park, but some are concerned about the health impact.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New soccer fields made with artificial turf will finally open in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It comes after a long controversy that may not be over yet.

The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields are steps from Ocean Beach in the shadow of two iconic windmills.

Some kids told ABC7 News they think the new field is amazing and cool. It's getting cheers from players and soccer moms alike.

It's a project that was 10 years in the making. Four new fields of high tech turf have replaced the grass fields some called treacherous.

"The original fields out here were full of gopher holes. There are so many really sad stories of people being out here, competitive soccer players, that have ended their career on these fields. That's not going to happen here," San Francisco Recreation and Parks Director Phil Ginsburg said.

The new soccer fields will never closed for maintenance or watering and have lights so athletes can play into the evening.

Ginsburg said the lights are "tripling the amount of time kids right here can spend playing."

Coaches say it is a victory for youth soccer. "More practices, more play. I'm surprised by how beautiful it all came out," America Scores soccer coach Colin Schmidt said.

But not everyone is thrilled to see these fields finally open. In fact, there's one group that's been fighting the project for years. Not because there's anything wrong with having beautiful, green, new soccer fields, but because of what these specific fields are made of.

"We have real concerns about the toxic effects on children," Kathleen McCowin with the group Healthy Soccer San Francisco said.

The controversy is over crumbs of recycled tires that give the field its soft surface.

"Respected toxicologists say the risk is similar to that of a moderate smoker if your kids play on these fields," McCowin said.

Local opponents joined with the Sierra Club to battle the city in court.

McCowin was even arrested when she blocked workers from starting construction. She said, "Had it not been children's lives at stake, I would never have done that."

The city won the legal fight and won again at the ballot box.

"We are totally open to continued study about the project, but the best available science right now says that we need to get kids outside and exercising, and that's what this project does," Ginsburg said.

Opponents are backing a state bill to outlaw tire crumbs, pushing alternatives like coconut shells.

For now, these coaches and parents say they'll live with the risk.