Feature Article - November 2003
Find a printable version here

Ground Rules

From berms to xeriscape, landscaping ideas to please your patrons and your budget

By Kimberly Tobin


New to emerge in outdoor scene improvement is the concept of offering something for everyone by including more features, which can help draw more visitors. Facilities like sports fields and city parks are moving beyond utilitarian bleachers and baseball diamonds to offer small play areas for young children, shelters and picnic facilities, as well as more comfortable seating options.

"I think landscape architects are encouraging their clients to put in enhancements like playgrounds, covered bleachers and shelters because of how they can draw in things like tournaments," Sweek says. "This means economic development for a community."

"We're also paying a lot of attention to spectator needs and comfort," she adds. "For example, when one member of a family is a Little Leaguer, what is there for the younger sibling to do? We've designed things like playgrounds and walking trails, so it's much more of a family experience."

Covered seating is also on the upswing at parks, especially in climates where shade is coveted.

"We're doing a lot with shade structures over athletic field seating—using metal poles and polypropylene fabrics to provide cooling over bleachers and score stands," Sweek says. "It's getting to be much more common now than 10 years ago."

The concept of being all things to all visitors can not be addressed without mentioning Fred Beekman Park, Ohio State University's recreational sports facility in Columbus. More than a standard set of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, the 43-acre site offers more than 24 different recreational activities, up to and including relaxation. The state-of-the-art park has won several awards and was constructed as part of a mission to raise the standards for outdoor park facilities, according to the university's associate director of recreational sports, Dr. Bruce Maurer.

"Traditionally, colleges and universities were basically softball diamonds and flag football fields that served primarily a white-male-dominated, highly competitive group of users for that type of space," Maurer says. "So, when planning Beekman, we started looking at some of the best park and recreation facilities, and we found that their theme was one of inclusion, rather than exclusion."

Variety is key.

"Additionally, Ohio State has a strong commitment to diversity—of skin color, gender, age, and an emphasis on diversity of sports interests," he adds. "Now, the gamut of activities that students take part in is incredible. We also wanted a place where men, women, students, adults, children and older adults—either from the campus or the community—could participate."

Built four years ago with a budget of $5.3 million, the park sits on three levels to accommodate a 40-foot elevation change from west to east. The levels, each separated by 8-to-12 foot slopes, function as the facility's primary activity zones. The sloped areas provide vistas and hillside seating for the park's thousands of visitors.

The first tier, which forms a wagon-wheel shape, accommodates four softball and flag football fields that surround a central service center, making it easy to supervise and schedule. A children's play area adjacent to it adds to the family-friendly environment.

The second tier, which is square, features softball diamonds in the corners.

"This has opened up fields centrally for cricket, lacrosse, play group games, rugby, soccer, ultimate disc and flag football," Maurer says. To date, more than 425 softball teams and 350 flag football teams use the park annually.

In addition to the organized sport areas, visitors can use a mile-long paved path designed for running, walking, cycling, inline skating, wheelchairs (for Special Olympics events) and baby strollers.

The bottom level consists of two rectangular fields, which were designed with very wide safety margins to allow flexibility in field size and shape. The fields can accommodate a variety of activities, from rugby to soccer and lacrosse. The wide margins have also been a factor in keeping the turf well maintained, according to Maurer.

"Most architects will look at the recommended field size and will put in things like light poles and irrigation control valve boxes close to the outside of those margins," Maurer says. "This can kill the ability to rotate or adjust your field space, which is critical to maintaining good turf when you use it for a variety of activities. It was also important to not lock ourselves into specific activities when we carved out those spaces."

And if all the mentioned activities aren't quite enough to keep visitors happy, the park boasts two basketball courts just inside its entrance and four sand volleyball courts, which are conveniently located next to one of the park's two sheltered picnic areas.

"Beyond its obvious physical attributes, I think the number-one reason that Beekman has been so successful is the fact that it caters to such a diverse user group," says Edsall, principal landscape architect and consultant for the project.

The aesthetics of the overall design at this award-winning facility include nearly 550 trees representing 17 different species and 10 planting bed areas.

"What we endeavored to do with the grading and the plantings was to give a sense of varying spatial areas, so there wasn't just one huge open plain," Edsall adds. "It really allows for a sense of outdoor space."