Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Ready. Aim. Paintball!

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Ready. Aim. Paintball!

Article excerpt

The city of Palm Bay turned a community paintballing problem into a major park money-maker.

Located on Florida's east coast, the city of Palm Bay may be close to Walt Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, but it isn't known for Mickey Mouse or space shuttles. Instead, the city has become known as the home of the Rogue Warriors, Air Assault and Palm Bay Ball Hogs-just three of the many paintball teams that come to battle in Palm Bay's Hurricane Paintball Park, the only public paintball park in the nation.

Palm Bay is Florida's eighth largest city encompassing almost 70 square miles. With its population of more than 90,000 people, the city still remains lightly developed in some areas and largely residential in the remainder of the city. The problem existed, however, that while there were many retailers from which to purchase paintball equipment, there was no place locally to play the sport. Before the opening of the Hurricane Paintball Park, there existed no private or commercially run paintball fields less than an hour's drive away for local players use.

Even though they are within the city limits, many areas of Palm Bay could be considered rural, with large stands of palmetto palms and pines. These rural conditions provided areas for paintball players to set up courses for weekend play on private property, however the property owners never gave permission. The renegade play grew in popularity until it was not uncommon for 100 or more players to turn out for these weekend events. Once property owners became aware of these trespassers, they called the police department to remove the paintball players from these sites. Property owners expressed fear that they would be held legally and personally responsible for any injuries to paintball players using their property.

Because of these complaints from property owners and the potential for more accidents, the first reaction by city authorities could have been to shut down the paintball games and make some arrests. City Manager Lee Feldman, with the consensus and support of the mayor and city council, decided to try a different approach, and to work with these paintball-playing enthusiasts to investigate other possible solutions to this problem.

The parks and recreation department staff, led by Senior Recreation Leader Julio Bustamante, met with the paintball players to investigate other possibilities for the sport. It quickly became apparent that the idea of developing a paintball park operated by the city was the best solution. Such a facility, it was argued, could provide a safe, supervised park within the community for both experienced players and for the youth of the community just starting to play this sport. With the endorsement of the mayor and city council, and $10,000 of seed money, Bustamante started the task of actually building a park for this activity.

As with the construction of any recreation facility, there were nuances with this sport that had to be considered. For those unfamiliar with paintball, there are two different variations practiced (see sidebar on page TK), so the facility had to accommodate both. An undeveloped park of approximately 15 acres located in the rural area of the city was selected as the site of the new facility because it contained both a wooded area and an open clearing, making it suitable for both variations of the games played.

The construction of this type of facility could have exceeded $120,000 with the costs of land clearing, netting to enclose the playing fields and the construction of bunkers and barriers, but with just $10,000 to work with, Bustamante enlisted the help of the former renegade players to design and build the park.

Once a design was finalized, the parks and recreation department maintenance staff utilized city equipment to clear the property and to erect the netting around the park's playing fields, but much of the construction was done by the members of the Rogue Warriors and other volunteers. …

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