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Vandalism causes Ron Patch ball field’s closure

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Traveling teams could be culprit

John Colson

By Sopris Sun Correspondent

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Bob Dylan once wrote in a song, “The pump don’t work ’cuz the vandals took the handles,” and it appears that something similar has happened in Carbondale, with the closure of the Ron Patch Memorial Baseball Field at the south end of town.

The fields, jointly managed by the town and the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, were closed to public use last week following an incident in which an unknown group of ball players disabled the sprinkler system that waters the field, apparently after the sprinklers came on during a game, according to Mike Dumond, grounds crew supervisor for the school district.

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The field is named after the late Ron Patch, father of Carbondale Mayor Stacey Patch Bernot, and one of 14 coal miners who died in a 1981 coal mine fire near the village of Redstone on the Crystal River.

“I don’t mind letting people use the field, but if they start trashing stuff, it’s not all right,” Dumond told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday, explaining that the district has spent roughly $1,000 a year in repairing damage to the field, gates in the fence around the field, and now, the control valves for the sprinkler system.

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The public historically has been able to use the fields in the late summer, once the town’s recreational softball leagues finish their season.

Carbondale Recreation Director Jeff Jackel this week said that the late-summer use of the Ron Patch field has been dominated by “traveling leagues of … teams” who organize games in towns around the Western Slope, though he was unsure whether the vandalism of the sprinkler system could be blamed on that particular group.

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“Maybe it was just a pickup game” involving players living in the neighborhood, he speculated.

In any event, both men said there have been problems with public use of the field for some time.

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For one thing, according to Dumond and Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, the field has been found littered with empty beer bottles and cans following a game, despite a prohibition against drinking on school property.

“This happens every year,” Dumond said of the littering, although Jackel said that he had talked to a league organizer last year and that the users began clearing up after the games after that.

Following the disabling of the sprinkler controls, Dumond said, the district has put the fields off limits to the public for at least this summer.

Schilling confirmed that the field is not open to public use, and said his officers already have begun patrolling the area with orders to disperse any citizen-organized games they come upon.

Vandalism on the rise?

Carbondale police officers, in the course of handling roughly 300 incidents per week, have steadily reported a small number of cases of vandalism, items stolen from cars, damage to public property and other minor disturbances and crimes, according to weekly summaries of police activities submitted by town manager Jay Harrington to the town’s board of trustees.

Schilling told The Sopris Sun this week that, while some incidents may seem alarming to citizens, in fact they are not out of the ordinary, and are fairly typical for this time of the year.

“We usually get them up in the summer,” he said of the number of vandalism and other cases that often involve local bored teenagers looking for something to do.

“I mean, the kids are out of school in the summer,” Schilling continued, which he indicated contributes to an annual rise in the rate of minor crimes every year.

“But it doesn’t seem out of the norm,” he said of this year’s incidence of such cases. “I wouldn’t characterize it as, things are on the increase. These things go up and down.”

Police are being vigilant, Schilling said, adding that the use of cops on bicycles seems to help minimize the numbers of actual crimes being committed, whether by bored youths or adults.

For instance, he said, several weeks ago a bicycle patrol officer came across two teenagers walking along an unspecified street, looking into cars, apparently checking them out to see if they were locked and if there were keys in the ignition.

The kids were contacted by the officer, Schilling said, but “we didn’t have any proof they were doing anything wrong,” so they were not arrested or charged with any crime.

In another incident, vandals earlier in the summer damaged one of the pedestrian bridges across a town ditch at the western edge of Sopris Park, kicking or ramming out some of the stone work on the bridge. That damage has since been repaired.

And in yet another separate incident, the front windows of the Pour House Saloon and Mary’s Main Street Spirits were both damaged last week. Again, according to Harrington’s summary, the case is under investigation and there were no arrests.

On a positive note, the chief said, “Car thefts are down.”

He said the town experienced a surge of car thefts “about a year and a half ago,” which police attributed to “frequent cases of people joyriding in cars” that were left unlocked and with the keys inside.

Two teenage suspects, who Schilling said were working together, ultimately were arrested and prosecuted, after one was caught by the Glenwood Springs Police Department driving a car that had been stolen in Carbondale.

Schilling said that the number of car thefts reported in Carbondale has dropped off since then.

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