I think we can all agree that the condition of Schenectady's Hillhurst Park is a problem.
Once alive with the sounds of Little League, the park has steadily eroded, a direct consequence of a city-wide decline in youth baseball participation. The clubhouse is now a dilapidated, mold-caked structure, and the dugout is flooded and sinking into the ground.
It's a sad state of affairs, to be sure.
But it might also hint at future opportunities.
Baseball has a storied history in Schenectady, but it isn't the only game in town.
Today's youth have myriad interests, and it's time to take a broader look at how the city's network of parks and fields might better serve the community.
If the interest in baseball is no longer there, perhaps there are other uses for these fields.
Which isn't to say that I don't like baseball, or that I don't think it has a future in Schenectady.
I do like baseball -- and I applaud efforts to rekindle interest in it.
But it's pretty clear that the days when you could rely on Little League teams to clean and maintain the parks they used are long over.
And I'm skeptical that they'll ever return.
Three years ago, the baseball field at Hillhurst Park was renovated to great fanfare, only to fall into disuse when the baseball organization that planned on having its youth teams play there decided that taking care of the park was more than it could handle and walked away.
This experience suggests that it's time to discuss whether there are other ways to use the park. One radical idea is simply letting nature reclaim it, and having it transform back into a woods.
The problems at Hillhurst are about more than one park.
They're about the need for Schenectady to develop a plan for its parks -- to ask what kinds of activities residents would like to see offered at city parks, and to reach out to non-profits and other local groups to see whether they'd be interested in using city parks for programming.
The City Council should solicit ideas from community leaders, with a particular emphasis on those who work with youth. Learning more about what today's youth are interested in doing might lend direction to efforts to revitalize underused parks.
Back in May, City Councilman John Polimeni floated the idea of creating a "commissioner of baseball" position to bolster participation in youth sports.
It's an idea that has merit, although I'd name the position something else, and I'd encourage the commissioner to look past sports for ways to use city parks.
Being outside is good for kids -- they don't need to be engaged in an organized sport to enjoy spending time in a park.
In Albany, a group of parents host a Sunday morning pop-up playground in Washington Park. Could a similar initiative take root in Schenectady?
At a meeting of the city's Health & Recreation Committee earlier this week, City Engineer Chris Wallin recommended demolishing the clubhouse and dugout at Hillhurst Park.
He also provided an update on a baseball concession stand in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood that's fallen into disrepair, describing it as salvageable, but at considerable cost.
Right now, these mostly unused city parks are a burden on the city.
But that can change.
With planning and outreach, they can be turned back into community assets. Even if they never field another Little League team again.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]