Feature Article - September 2016
Find a printable version here

Greener Grounds

Strategies for Successful Grounds Management

By Deborah L. Vence

Maintenance Challenges

Sometimes challenges arise in grounds maintenance, but experts say there are ways to deal with them.

For example, Graham said you can deal with budget constraints. "Through the reduction of chemical use—and that does not mean complete elimination—a reduction in operational costs can be seen. We have also assisted park districts in evaluating the useable space needed for the higher, more active programming needs.

"The purpose is to evaluate where and how much land is needed for programmed events and uses and then to consider converting other lands to lower-maintenance options like passive ground or potentially native grasslands that may offer other benefits to the community," he said. "The converted lands may help maintain stormwater, provide pollinator landscapes and in doing so reduce the need for energy and man hours in their maintenance."

Meanwhile, Putman noted that the biggest challenge in grounds maintenance at a public park is counteracting certain cultural practices and the physical wear and tear of use by park visitors.

"Driving across turf areas can be damaging, as well as soil compaction due to hundreds of people trampling various areas throughout the park. Improper training can also take a toll as over-mowing, over-fertilizing and over-watering can be very damaging for plantings and turf areas," he said.

"Educating not only the grounds staff but the larger staff group at the park, such as wedding staff and caterers, about some of these challenges we face can go a long way in combating some of the damage done to the grounds," Putman said.

"We also use physical barriers to control pedestrian traffic and build up our plantings with watering, fertilizer and other maintenance practices as much as possible so they withstand the high use of the park," he said.

Another challenge is "perception."

"Many residents have an idea of what parks should look like," Graham said. "When the appearance is altered they may voice a differing opinion. Also, the competition between sports groups and efforts to maintain areas in a more natural means has caused some battles as well."

McManus noted, too, that to help avoid challenges in keeping up the grounds, choosing the right mower is important.

"Use sharp blades so you're not tearing it. Sharpen blades every day. That will cut it straight," he said.

He also believes the key to dealing with any challenges or problems is to get solutions from your staff, too.

"Don't think the managers have to be the ones with all the answers. We're under the false illusion that we're the smartest person in the room," he said, adding that it is important to empower the staff. "You get better buy-ins and answers."