Unbelievable Gift. DeWilde Fields a Jewel of PNW Rugby
Unbelievable Gift. DeWilde Fields a Jewel of PNW Rugby
For many years the Chuckanut Rugby Club in Ferndale, Wash., just south of the Canadian border, has operated a go-to venue for rugby games in the Pacific Northwest, but now it's even better.
The Polo Fields were leased by the club and it was there that Chuckanut operated two full-size rugby fields where they hosted home games for their Men's, Women's, Boys, Girls, and Youth teams, playing opposition from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia as well as further afield. The Chuckanut Polo Fields hosted the USA Rugby Club 7s Championships on two occasions, and a hugely popular Can-Am 7s tournament, as well as various regional rugby championships.
But the club didn't own the fields ... didn't, that is, until now. The owners, the deWilde Family, decided in 2019 to make a gift of 17 acres to the club. This allowed the club to do some things it wasn't able to as a tenant. Key among those was to professionally level the fields—while the Polo Fields playing surface was important in the PNW rugby landscape, the fields weren't perfectly level. What that meant was sometimes when you were on a breakaway, if you weren't careful, the group might dip or rise on you and you've end up taking a tumble.
"The fields haven't been exactly perfectly level but we couldn't do much about it because we didn't own the facility," said club president Todd Vasey. But then the deWilde Family gave them "just an unbelievable gift."
And the timing was right. The gift happened just before the COVID pandemic hit, shutting down most rugby in the region. So the Chuckanut Rugby Club got to work raising funds to level the ground and make some improvements, chiefly leveling the field and putting in an irrigation system.
"We are just super lucky, we have just an unbelievable group of volunteers," said Vasey, adding that the donations started to come in, too.
With some outreach help from Madak the club set to work to ensure that what is now called the deWilde Fields remain a home for rugby in the Pacific Northwest. Madak helped develop a website and materials to outline what fundraising efforts will support. But in the end this is the story about a somewhat unique rugby club taking a major step forward.
Chuckanut Rugby Club has had a long cross-border history because they are so close to British Columbia, and often not only will there be games against BC opponents at the Chuckanut fields, but you might also see other Washington clubs play BC opposition there as a more easily-reached neutral site. The fields themselves are in a rural area of Whatcom County north of Bellingham, Wash. and (on clear days) under the silent surveillance of Mount Baker.
It's a beautiful setting, although not easily found as you have to wend your way a little bit through farm country. The neighbors are farms and large-acreage homesteads, and ensuring that busy rugby weekends don't disrupt those people has always been important to the rugby club.
They run community events on the site. The people in the community are free to use it as a community park.
"We need to make sure we maintain a good relationship with the owners because it is a rural setting," said Vasey, telling them "this is your facility to use and allow them the opportunity to take pride in ownership and so they realize what a gift it is to keep it in a park-like setting."
When there was a large wedding in the neighborhood it was the Chuckanut Rugby Club that provided overflow parking, including space for two campers. When the club held a dinner auction to raise money, the neighbors were invited for free, and club officers spoke to them asking for feedback.
"We work very hard at it," said Vasey. "[We ask them] what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? How do we keep the facility in a state that doesn't bother people and so everybody appreciates what we have?"
See more about the deWilde Rugby Fields at: www.dewilderugbyfields.com
Meanwhile, the re-development of the fields has improved membership drastically. Vasey said he'd like them to have two teams at every age level. They are making moves in that direction, but at the highest levels Chuckanut has already made a splash. Eagles in 15s—Nick Wallace, Shawn Pittman, Titi Lamositele—and 7s—Ben Brosell—have comes from Chuckanut and Vasey said he was asked recently how a club from such a small area has had that level of success.
"I think it comes down to our culture," he said. "People want to come out and play and if you make it where it's fun to come play the game and people feel at home you it'll just draw people and athletes."
And having a special rugby place to call home is important, too.
There are more plans on the horizon. Vasey said that breaking down the improvement plans into manageable chunks has been important to the planning process. It also shows donors exactly where their money is going and what benchmarks are met. So the leveling of the fields and the irrigation system are both done. Next up, said Vasey, will probably be resurfacing the parking lot. On-site showers and bathrooms are on the wish list, but since it's a rural setting that requires installation of a septic system that can handle 30 people showering at one time as well as fans on a busy Saturday using the facilities. So that might take some time.
Also on the plans is a clubhouse/grandstand.
But with the ownership of the deWilde Rugby & Polo Fields in Chuckanut Rugby Club hands, they have time to make those big plans.