Feature Article - November 2014
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From the Ground Up

Best Practices in Grounds Maintenance for Parks and Golf Courses

By Deborah L. Vence

Going Green

Creating no-mow zones, which are sowed with wildflower seed to benefit wildlife, eliminating mowing cost and providing visitors with some eye candy.

Applying green, eco-friendly approaches is important in regular grounds maintenance, too.

For instance, some of the green initiatives that have been implemented in the County of Bergen dovetail with its cost-saving initiatives.

"In our buildings and restroom facilities, we've installed occupancy sensors for lighting and restroom fixtures," Cochran said. "We've eliminated most of the multitude of cleaning products and substituted an all-purpose, citrus-based cleaner. Not only has this saved money, it is non-toxic, eco-friendly and reduced the amount of products to report under new Jersey's Community Right to Know laws.

Other ways the county is working in a more environmentally and visitor friendly manner include:

  • Adding wide area mowers that save man hours on the mower, and save fuel, maintenance and repairs by using fewer mowers for the same acreage.
  • Creating no-mow zones, which are sowed with wildflower seed to benefit wildlife, eliminating mowing cost and providing visitors with some eye candy.
  • Investing in a vacuum sweeper with an onboard pressure washer to keep pathways free of debris. Previously, paths were cleared with turbine blowers, backpack and walk-behind blowers. The vacuum sweeper is much quieter, and does not create dust or flying debris.
  • Downsizing the fleet both in number and size of vehicles. UTVs have replaced many pickups and have proven to be far less imposing when transporting staff and gear along park paths and drives.

An added benefit to many of these green methods? Cyclists, roller-bladers, joggers and pedestrians all have benefited from cleaner, quieter parks.

Managing Challenges

Sometimes challenges can arise, which calls for the right plan to overcome them.

For instance, one challenge is keeping golf courses well maintained—especially in Florida.

"Our main golf season is from January to April, and we can have as many as 200 rounds of golf each day," Higgins said. "Although we are semi-tropical and, thus, warmer than the North, this is still winter and the grass grows much slower. To have our busiest time of year when the grass is trying not to grow makes for problems."

And, "With that much traffic you have to be more aggressive with fertilization and pest control. But, since it's so busy, it's hard to actually have access to the course to make those applications," she added. "Plus, our soils are sandy so we have to be careful with applications so materials don't leach into our waterways."

To boot, Higgins said that winter is their dry season. "We can receive as much as 80 inches of rain in a year, but usually only get 1 inch per month in the winter," she said. "So, irrigation has to be on point to keep the grass green and to be able to water in applications when they are made."

Having sufficient, capable human resources is an ongoing challenge as well, Cochran noted.

In fact, one of the ways that Bergen County has been supplementing its full-time and seasonal staff is through partnerships with nonprofit and volunteer groups.

"The New York/New Jersey Trail Conference marks, maps and maintains the miles of trail throughout our 5,000 acres of reservation land," Cochran said. "Mahwah Environmental Volunteer Organization (MEVO) performs regular litter patrols, assists in recycling and helps control illegal dumping. Hackensack Riverkeeper helps keep our shorelines clean and, along with Bergen County Audubon Society, gets involved with habitat enhancement and wildlife programs."

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has been partnering with parks since 1920 to create, protect and promote a network of more than 2,000 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep the trails open, safe and enjoyable for the public.