There is a good debate underway at the River Forest Park District over a coming decision on installing artificial turf in two local parks vs. upgrading the natural grass for youth sports playing surfaces.

To its credit, well in advance of any final choice, the park board is actively seeking out input and expertise on what is absolutely a conflicted decision. Last week it heard from the village government’s Sustainability Commission. No, this group is not a fan of artificial turf and cited a lot of strong evidence that it is environmentally unhealthy and also a health threat to youngsters who will be playing soccer, baseball and softball on the surface.

We’ve seen that evidence and find it compelling. Fake grass is not porous, adding to legitimate flood worries. Temperatures on the playing surface run substantially higher than on grass. And its components can be problematic for young players with allergies.

Artificial turf isn’t cheap and has a surprisingly short shelf life. 

So what’s the case for artificial turf? In a landlocked village with a lot of kids and a lot of organized sports, fake turf is always ready at game time. That is a practical reality for youth sports leagues.

The Sustainability Commission argued for an aggressive approach to rethinking natural turf. With pesticides long and rightly banned from public spaces, a lot of what passes for grass in our local parks is hard-scrabble weeds and crab grass. And then there is the weather’s impact. Also not a great playing surface for kids. The commission is suggesting new varieties of grass, continuous aeration and nutrients. In other words, an ongoing investment. 

This choice won’t be made until at least spring of 2019. Good for the park district for taking an open-minded approach to what is a complicated decision.

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