A building is under construction along the first base line of McGuire Field in the CARA complex in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Gary Burns isn’t sure how many people know the truth about the sports complex on Piggery Road in Augusta.

“The consensus of a lot of people is that this is the City of Augusta’s taxpayers’ operation. And it’s not,” he said. “It’s 95 percent volunteers. We just need something that says to the people of Augusta ‘Look, you’ve got this tremendous complex, built up by a bunch of volunteers in the last 46 years. Pay attention.’ ”

And, Burns said, do your part. The Capitol Area Recreation Association (CARA) complex, which includes two Little League baseball fields, two youth softball fields, two regulation baseball fields and multi-use soccer fields, is the nerve center of the Augusta sports scene, but it’s not something that’s run by the city the way other recreational facilities are. The state owns the land, and CARA leases it. That means it’s up to CARA to make sure the fields look as good as they do. And that means it’s up to volunteers to do the work.

It’s a lot of work. And there are rarely a lot of people lining up to do it.

Signs lining the field where the Cony soccer teams play are shown in the CARA complex in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We need more volunteers,” said Burns, 76, a former CARA president who is now on the board of directors. “We want the public to know what they have there. It’s a treasure. … They still think, many of them still think, that the City of Augusta owns and operates that complex because it’s been around for so long.”

The city lost one of its biggest behind-the-scenes contributors at the CARA complex when Joe Linscott died in September. Linscott for decades had been the man that did the thankless work that kept the fields going, lending hours of his time in the spring and summer to make sure the fields were mowed, the facilities were clean, the fencing was in good condition and every other little task that the player or fan showing up to a game takes for granted.

“It’s going to be tough going forward without Joe,” said Al Cloutier, a CARA director. “Joe was there just about every day.”

As Linscott had to cut back on his hours in later years, the already strained group of volunteers had to stretch itself even thinner. For the Morton and McGuire baseball fields, Cloutier and Steve Brooks took on most of the field labor, with Cloutier estimating he spends nearly 20 hours a week on maintenance work. Paul Potvin and Ray Beaudoin work primarily on the softball facilities. Tony Dumont and Dave Hastings do most of the work on the soccer fields.

It’s been a loyal group. But with all of the aforementioned volunteers at least in their 60s, and some in their 70s, there’s a need for manpower that’s growing each year.

“Educate yourselves as to the history and going on, and if you can help out we thank you for doing that. We need some help,” said Burns, who stressed a need for volunteer coaches as well. “We’re not struggling right now, it’s not going to fall over next week, but just take a look at what you’ve got there. We don’t want to lose that. … It’s a big benefit to the city. CARA wants to stay independent.”

Cloutier worries more about how the next few years will look if CARA doesn’t get a new wave of volunteers to help lighten the work load.

A building is under construction along the first base line of McGuire Field in the CARA complex in Augusta. The concrete pad in the foreground is where there used to be a two-story building that housed a concession stand, press box and storage. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“(I’m) very concerned,” he said. “It’s been trending towards that the last five to 10 years, probably.”

“They’re not going to be able to keep this up. Somebody’s got to step up,” Burns said. “The people saying ‘How can I help out?’ We’re not getting that like we used to.”

Cloutier’s been working on recruiting others to help out, the way Linscott did with him years ago.

“I’m constantly looking. I’ve coached a lot of kids coming up through the years that played for me at Cony or that type of thing,” he said. “Hopefully, we get some kids coming along and they might take an interest in taking this project over and letting me oversee it.”

Signs lining the field where the Cony soccer teams play in the CARA complex in Augusta are shown Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The list of jobs that need to be done around the fields, particularly the bigger baseball fields, is extensive. There’s mowing, pretty much every day. There are weeds that need to be cut. Fences that need to be repaired. Concession stands that need to be run. Batting cages that need to be kept in shape. The infields and mounds need to be raked. And this is throughout the spring, throughout the summer, into the fall.

“There’s always something to do,” Cloutier said. “It’s pretty much a full-time job for volunteers.”

That’s why the hope isn’t for someone to sign up for everything, but rather for many people to chip in with more manageable tasks.

“The more people we get trained, the better,” Cloutier said. “More of a rotating-type basis.”

It’s a simple enough request, particularly given the long list of families that come through and see their kids grow up on those fields. Young Augusta area athletes have a special place to call home, and those facilities don’t maintain themselves, even if it can be easy to think they do.

“How many places like this do you have in the whole country?” Burns said. “I’ll compare that complex to any place in the state of Maine.”

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