Mark Morical
The Bulletin

The lack of available athletic fields has long been an issue for sports programs in Central Oregon.

The Bend FC Timbers soccer club has helped alleviate some of that frustration, breaking ground on two new synthetic turf fields at Bend’s Pine Nursery Park on Tuesday.

“The growth in Bend and the growth in our soccer club has been huge,” says Tara Bilanski, executive director of Bend FC Timbers. “To not have a home base to train, play games, and not have the ability to play year-round has really been detrimental to our ability to grow as soccer players and in numbers.”

According to Bilanski, the Bend FC Timbers’ 28 club teams and more than 3,200 competitive and recreational players will have access to the two new fields, which are expected to be completed in about three months. The fields will be lighted, making them usable at night.

The organization is also planning to offer new soccer opportunities, including advanced technical training, adult leagues, advanced summer camps and more tournaments.

“I envision being able to offer more options for our current players, both high-level and lower-level kids,” Bilanski says. “One of the biggest problems is having enough space to provide other options. I think the door is wide open for what we will provide. We have great coaches and great staff members, we just have lacked the facility.”

Bilanski says the fields will be used by other sports leagues as well, including lacrosse, rugby, ultimate Frisbee and more. The fields can be cleared of snow in the winter, making for potential year-round play when the temperature allows.

“The soccer purists will always love well-maintained grass,” Bilanski says. “But over here (in Central ­Oregon), with our weather and our cycle of seasons, the grass becomes unplayable so you have that detriment, and you can’t really shovel or clear it.”

Choosing to build artificial-turf fields was key, Bilanski says, not just for easier maintenance and all-year play but also to help the Bend FC Timbers teams become more competitive. She says that 99% of the youth program’s road games — at locations such as Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford — are played on synthetic fields. That has put the Bend FC Timbers teams at a disadvantage because the ball typically moves faster and bounces higher on artificial turf, and they are accustomed to playing on grass fields at home.

“When you talk to the kids, that’s the No. 1 thing they’ll say: ‘I can’t wait until we can practice on (artificial) turf and be able to play against those Portland teams,’” Bilanski says. “The kids really notice that and really feel the competitive disadvantage.”

Funds to build the fields — which cost $2.3 million — were raised through a fundraising project called the Build it Forward Campaign. The 10-year project includes two phases to transform an 8-acre parcel of Pine Nursery Park, which was a mostly bare grass field near the pickleball courts until construction began on Tuesday.

According to Bilanski, the first phase will consist of field design and engineering, site-work construction, building two synthetic-turf fields, and erecting lighting and fencing. The second phase, planned for 2025, will feature construction of two additional synthetic-turf fields.

A group of volunteers with Bend FC Timbers went to the Bend Park & Recreation District in 2012 and negotiated a deal for a 30-year renewable lease on the Pine Nursery acreage, according to Bilanski. Bend FC Timbers came up with the money to build the fields, while the park district has put in the infrastructure around them, such as parking and sidewalks.

Knife River Corporation is the main contractor hired by Bend FC Timbers to construct the fields.

“We spearheaded the fundraising efforts to get the money and build the fields,” Bilanski says. “We are still actively fundraising and looking for sponsorships to finish that out. It’s been a massive team effort to where we’re at.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

23875743