Feature Article - October 2017
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From The Ground Up

How Grounds Maintenance Professionals Keep Moving Forward

By Dave Ramont

And what about eco-friendly practices in the grounds management realm? After all, it is the "green" industry. Kovolyan feels that the landscape and athletic field industries have always been leaders in green practices, due to workers coming from agriculture backgrounds, combined with shrinking budgets along with rising costs for products and water. "You learn quickly to do more with less."

Grounds managers at the parks and recreation level have a wide array of responsibilities. In Forsyth County, they maintain everything from horseshoe pits and a BMX bike track to fishing lakes and dog parks.

At Puget Sound, he said, they leave clippings behind when possible, compost their green waste through a contractor, use more local products and reuse wood chips from tree work. "We constantly test and update our irrigation heads for water efficiency. We only spot-spray for weeds and haven't used any insecticides in six years. We pay closer attention to plant material that promotes pollinators, but it's always a fine line on a small campus because as soon as someone is stung, all bees are bad. Even in the garage we recycle all the fluids, metal, tires, batteries—even the rags through a service so they can be reused."

Van Loo said they also strive to be "greener." He described two steep hillsides adjacent to their stadium, and how it was hard to keep grass there because water runs off and they would dry out. So this year they tackled the west side, turning it over and planting some native grasses. "Now we're not out there mowing it every week, we're not spraying it for weeds. I'm hoping after next year of looking good, I get the OK to do the east side." He described other areas that rarely saw foot traffic, such as around their cross country course, and said they've turned these into no-mow areas, decreasing their mowing by around five acres so far. "Honestly, it looks better because of it."

The STMA recently launched its Environmental Facility Certification Program, developed to document the environmental stewardship of STMA members. Interested facilities complete an electronic assessment where they're judged in 10 different areas. If they achieve 80 percent compliance, then an attester does a walk-through of the facility to validate their environmental practices. Van Loo, who's personally attested three different facilities, said they were shooting for 50 facilities the first year and they were just shy of that.

PGMS recognizes that eco-friendly practices are a large part of most grounds programs, and in 2013 launched the Landscape Management and Operations Accreditation program, which "evaluates strategic grounds management principles and practices that produce and guide the delivery of properties to an attractive, healthy, sustainable and high-quality state," according to Baldwin-Abbott. PGMS has also presented programs on sustainability at the annual School of Grounds Management & Green Industry and Equipment Expo, including "Managing Your Water Needs in a Sustainable Landscape," "Organic Pest Control" and "Landscape Design and Management for a Sustainable Future."

Sometimes green practices and new technologies overlap. Van Loo said they've utilized GPS on their sprayers, which allows much more precision and eliminates overspray—especially on, say, a softball field where there are rounded edges and you don't want to overlap onto the infield. "The GPS has really helped us be more efficient with our chemical, and it's just better for the environment. That's one of the other technologies we've tapped into."

Over in Forsyth County, Weavil explained how GIS technology has allowed them to map their facilities and locations. "We can easily inventory grounds areas, locate problem areas referenced by visitors and pinpoint the area for staff to address."

Grass seed and bridge-type fertilizers have seen great advancements, according to Kovolyan. "The new generation of growth regulators is something we're experimenting with and excited about. Some of the new irrigation controllers and soil moisture meters are coming along. We're always looking for a better way to monitor and control the moisture at the root level of the plant," he added.

Kovolyan advises other grounds professionals, "Keep learning, stay involved in the industry and have fun doing it." He pointed out that both the STMA and PGMS have great national and local events and chapters all over the country. "It's a great way to meet with your peers, learn something new and share with others what you've learned. It's easy to feel like you're all alone facing the challenges of the industry, but there are a lot more of us than you think doing the same thing."