Miami-Dade County has turned Chapman Field Park into a post-apocalyptic dump contaminated by arsenic, overgrown by invasive species and mostly unusable by us, its owners. 483 acres of our precious waterfront parkland and mangroves have been mismanaged into disaster.
The 1972 county “Decades of Progress” bonds funded the construction of three lighted baseball fields, batting cages and and related facilities at Chapman Field Park. In 2014, arsenic contamination forced the closure of those fields, displacing the Howard Palmetto ball leagues and the Miami Palmetto Senior High School baseball team. The high school team has since found a new home at Palmetto Bay’s Coral Reef Park, while the Howard Palmetto leagues have been making do at other area ball fields and losing participants. Local families looking for baseball and softball programs are driving deep into Kendall looking for playing fields.
A sad dog park devoid of shade, trees or seating and without water for human and canine visitors is half-heartedly operating in the park. That area is covered with signage warning visitors about crocodiles.
A public meeting hosted by the County’s Parks and Recreation department at the Deering Estate on December 18, 2018 painted a stark and sad portrait of Chapman Field Park’s future. They foresee spending $3 million over the next two years to remediate the arsenic contamination in just one ball field, rebuild that field, fix up the wonky parking lot next to it and run some water down to a dog drinking fountain in the County’s sad, strange dog park. They will use a small part of the funds to chop down the trees that have grown up in the other playing fields so that it looks less overgrown, but that’s it for the rest of the baseball facilities.
Those other fields may or may not be remediated at some undetermined date in a hypothetical “Phase II” because no master plan for the park has been drawn up and no funding sources for any improvements are available. What a sad state of affairs.
Many residents are melancholy about losing the baseball and softball culture that used to be so strong down here is South Dade. I feel their pain. I played softball all through the childhood and on my high school team. It was a great experience for me and a nexus of connection and community for my neighbors. The local municipalities are doing what they can to fill the void, but space for ball fields is hard to come by in established communities.
The worst part of this mess is that it is self-inflicted. The County did this to itself. Scientists from DERM believe that the most likely source of contamination by arsenic in the fields was from a herbicide the County used for years to maintain the fields. In fact, they now know that countywide there is a correlation between baseball fields and arsenic contamination. So the County literally poisoned itself.
At the same time, County mismanagement of our gorgeous valuable public spaces has reached its most shocking and depressing state over at Chapman Field Park. Years of bad budgeting, messed up priorities and ignoring the things that make a community livable and joyous have resulted in one of our most valuable resources being useless and unusable.