Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Organic Parks: The Challenge of Managing and Maintaining Well-Manicured Landscapes

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Organic Parks: The Challenge of Managing and Maintaining Well-Manicured Landscapes

Article excerpt

Balancing the need to effectively manage weeds and pests in parks, the mandate to protect and conserve valuable natural resources and the demand for well-manicured recreational areas can be a big challenge for land managers. The negative environmental and human health impacts of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have been widely documented and some park agencies are seeking and testing new landscape management methods to strike a balance that would satisfy park users and managers.

Some park agencies have committed to going pesticide-free, herbicide-free or organic, while others have taken a piecemeal approach and are devising site-specific management strategies.

Mixed Results

In Durango, Colorado, for example, in response to strong pressure from residents, the Durango Parks and Recreation Department and Durango City Council adopted the Organically Managed Lands Program, agreeing to initiate a three-year pilot program to switch half-a-dozen parks in Durango to organic--meaning they would only manage them using organic fertilization and herbicides--absolutely no synthetic chemicals. The trial period ended last spring with mixed results. According to Scott McClain, parks manager for the city of Durango, undesirable turf increased from 5 percent to 50 percent in the three-year period.

The organic methods produced results that were less desirable, required more maintenance and were more expensive, particularly for sports fields. He noted that expectations were very high in the community and there was little tolerance for weeds, leading to a high-maintenance management plan. The city is now looking at ways to modify the program so plant materials get the nutrients they need to establish healthy turf with the use of fewer chemicals to keep weeds at bay. The issue is a highly contentious one for the community and emotions run high. It leads one to wonder: Are organic parks unattainable?

Well, it's not all black or white. There are many examples of parks implementing more responsible and environmentally sensitive approaches to managing turf that are effective and economical.

Managing Expectations

Ryan Anderson, program and communications manager for Midwest Pesticide Action Center (MPAC), explains: "Some parks have been using pesticides for so long that the soil has become dependent, so going cold turkey is not the best option. We recommend coming up with a plan over three to five years and weaning the soil off the dependency, while building organic matter." For the past eight years, the Chicago Park District has partnered with MPAC and committed to limit the use of pesticides in its parks.

Close to 90 percent of Chicago parks now practice natural lawn care and avoid spraying weed control chemicals. MPAC aims to reduce the use of harmful synthetic pesticides in parks by promoting safer, natural alternatives as part of its "A Natural Park Is a Healthy Park" campaign. The agency does this by empowering citizen action groups with information and working with them and the city to improve policies. Anderson also noted that it's very important to manage community expectations when it comes to costs, and it can be helpful to start with a demonstration field.

Also partnering with MPAC is the city of Boulder Parks and Recreation. It primarily uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices while trying to balance the needs of athletic field users who desire a weed-free turf. …

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