OAKHURST — Supporters and organizers gathered at Sierra Mountain Little League (SMLL) fields last week as Rotary Club of Oakhurst Sierra presented a $5,000 check to the SMLL Board of Directors. The money will go toward construction of a desperately needed retaining wall at the back of the little league field where about 175 local kids ages 4 – 12 are playing this season — and where many adults in this area played as children, themselves.
“The goal of the Sierra Mountain Little League and supporting families is to make sure our children are having fun, but most importantly that they are safe,” SMLL president Scott Michel noted in a grant proposal he submitted recently to Rotary on behalf of SMLL for the Wall Project.
The minor field has two issues which can be fixed with one well-engineered wall: there’s a major erosion problem at the north end of the field and, in addition, above and behind the field is an apparently abandoned home that’s been illegally occupied and is not just an eyesore but creates a potential safety risk for the community.
“We are fundraising to complete [our] retaining wall to halt the erosion and keep children away from the dangerous areas,” Michel continued. “The retaining wall will need to be engineered to support the elevated hillside. Estimated costs will most likely exceed $20,000.”
Repairs and modifications to the long-established little league fields have been underway all year as the Board seeks to improve the area adjacent to the Sierra Senior Center and owned currently by the Oakhurst Community Center. Jachie and Matthew Cornell, parents of Carma, successfully raised funds for improvements, making the fields more accessible for the league’s special needs players.
Overall, the organization had an influx of younger kids playing t-ball this season, which is a good sign the program is growing. Now, attention is being turned toward the need for a retaining wall.
The abandoned home and unknown individuals occupying it illegally have been been an issue for some time, Michel says, with incidents including knife-throwing, fires being lit, and unpredictable dogs running around off-leash.
“Last year they broke into our bathrooms, broke into our storage shed, [and] busted some lights out. This year it’s been a little bit better because we’ve taken some measures to keep people out of here: we’ve put up some gates and fencing. It’s a complete eyesore, which is too bad because that property has the potential to be something nice.”
Michel adds that he’s written to the people he believes are the property owners about the dangers, but hasn’t heard back from the Los Banos residents regarding the condition of the building and what he says goes on there. Now in his second year as SMLL president, Michel is the father of two boys ages 5 and 7.
In order to solve the problem, Michel says “we will need to cover the costs of the cement, rebar, grading, and cinder blocks,” in addition to the costs of engineering the wall, surveys and permits. “Putting up a privacy screen will help but it’s more important that we keep kids away from that hillside and that general area so they can’t interact with anybody on the other side of the fence.”
The construction won’t happen without community support.
“We’ve had a ton of people help us out, and it’s really helped with some of the project costs on other things we’ve done around the baseball fields. We’ve got dads that know how to do the work and are volunteering their time. Even guys without kids in the league are coming out to help us with these projects and both Oakhurst Rotary clubs have donated generously to the league.”
Provided additional funds can be raised, Michel anticipates the work will start this fall. The organization is currently seeking donations and actively looking for additional board members.
Thanks to the most recent $5,000 donation from Rotary, which also sponsors a team, SMLL is one step closer to this major improvement of the minor field.
Sierra Mountain Little League Wall Project
PO Box 824, Oakhurst, CA 93644
League ID# 04051014 Tax ID# 83-0616796
George Lurie contributed to this story