It’s Cold Outside!

by Doug Knauss, CPRP, CPSI, Park & Recreation Director, Susquehanna Township

As many of us know field use is increasing every year and the opportunity to restore athletic fields becomes more and more limited.  Many practitioners try to enforce field closures to restore fields, limit use to restore fields, or just wait and sod fields in the spring with hopes that it will take hold and be ready for the upcoming season.  Many of these approaches are unsuccessful and can cause significant backlash from your community. 

Park maintenance plans can take a page out of the golf course management handbook and grow grass during the winter months with the use of turf blankets.  You may have seen these large white mats out on some athletic fields and may have been curious about what these are and their purpose.  Turf blankets are how you can grow grass all winter long when it is cold outside.  These blankets serve as lack of a better term “greenhouse” over the area of repair.  These blankets have proven to allow grass to grow all winter and when they are removed in early spring will reveal grass in areas in need of restoration you can then limit your time of field closures.  These blankets can be customized to the size you need and can last from 7 to 15 years, over time this is an inexpensive and successful way to restore an area over sod.

We over-aerate the repair area with multiple passes of a core aerator, lay down organic material or fertilizer over the repair area, and then seed.  We then cover the area with a turf blanket and secure it to the ground with ground stakes and then you let the magic happen.  We will remove the blankets in early spring and keep the area closed for about two weeks to allow for the grass to strengthen and then the fields will be open for use.

You can perform these types of field repairs up to about Thanksgiving and then remove the blankets in the first week or two of March.  We have found over time we shrink the area of repair each year due to the strength of the grass.

So, for an economical and successful field maintenance solution turf blankets could be your solution.


The other “new normal”- natural disasters

Recovery in natural lands

In September 2021, Upper Dublin Township was hit by an EF-2 tornado which ripped through several parks, devastating natural areas. I was responsible for overseeing debris removal and restoration in these natural areas. With strong storms predicted to increase, we can’t assume they won’t affect us. Nothing can make the recovery process easy, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from our experience.

Tannerie Run Park, September 2021. This 8.5-acre park was directly in the path of the tornado.

Keep a log of culverts, trails, and other infrastructure in the natural areas of your parks. Take photos and keep records of any upkeep, for example, cleaning debris out of culverts or removing hazardous trees.

Clearly mark your property boundaries. Under our emergency debris management contract, contractors could only work on public property. We had many of our park boundaries clearly marked in advance. This made it easier for crews to work efficiently, without constant guidance on property lines, and to keep heavy equipment off of neighbors’ properties, especially when it was difficult to see through thick debris. You may not have access to maps or computers after a storm, so familiarize yourself and other staff with property lines before a storm hits.

Take photographs. Always remember to photograph damaged amenities, including hazardous trees, before beginning cleanup.

Determine your course of action for restoration. Will you replant an area, clear debris but let it regrow naturally, or leave it as-is? Here are a few things to consider:

 Is the park heavily trafficked? Will amenities or previous investments be undermined by doing nothing? These parks may be priorities for restoration.

● Successful plantings require regular mowing, maintenance, and invasive species control for several years. If your organization doesn’t have the capacity to absorb this additional work, replanting may be a wasted investment.

● How many trees survived? In forests that kept the majority of their tree canopy, we opted to let them repopulate the area on their own. Forests that lost most of their trees needed a jumpstart through planting.

● How many invasive plants were present? In forests that have dense invasive species populations, native species may struggle to regenerate.

Plan erosion control measures with long-term maintenance in mind. Erosion control measures may be needed, and some of these can be integrated with long-term site plans to reduce future headaches. For example, we seeded one park with winter rye for erosion control, which is less persistent and weedy than the more commonly used annual rye, to avoid excessive competition as we re-establish native trees.

Retention tree

Retain some trees- even if they aren’t pretty. We planned to retain as many trees as possible. Though they won’t fully recover, they provide wildlife habitat, continued shade, root sprouts and seeds to speed regeneration, and large root systems to stabilize soil.

We stuck to a few guidelines when choosing which trees to retain:

● Don’t retain trees that could hit private property, trails, or other targets if they fail.

● Retain as many trees as possible along streams.

● Shoot for 3-6 snags per acre for wildlife, with particular attention to den trees (trees with cavities).

Research prior to planting. If you are planning to replant, check out sources on successful large-scale planting, such as  Stroud Water Resource Center (which focuses on streamside plantings, but many of the same practices apply on uplands).

Don’t give up on your parks. I was amazed at how quickly nature began to recover, and our parks began flourishing again. Don’t write them off too soon.

Tannerie Run Park, November 2021. Logs from the site were used to slow water on steep slopes.
March 2022, following erosion control, seeding, and planting. Trees were planted in rows for easier mowing, and tubes were installed for deer protection.
August 2022, the site has begun to recover and over 200 trees are sprouting above the tops of their tubes.

Celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week

Snippet: PA State Parks and Forests Week is a time to get outside and play. It is also a time to consider the other benefits our public lands provide to us – and to give back to them in a way that lets you use your “outside voice.”

by Pam Metzger, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

I bet your mother said the same thing to you as mine to me when I posted a question about there not being a “Kids” day if there was a “Mothers Day” and a “Fathers Day.” “Because EVERY DAY is Kids Day,” she’d say.

You might react the same way to the idea of celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week. When you are immersed in outdoor recreation, EVERY week is Parks and Forests Week! However, in 2018 (the 125th anniversary of the state parks and forests systems), the week between May 23 and May 30 was officially designated as such by Proclamation of the Governor.

And the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation has been encouraging its celebration ever since.

Why those dates? May 23 represents the anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth’s first state park. And while Valley Forge has now gone on to become a national park, the area was designated as a state park first – on May 23, 1893.

And May 30? That is the date on which the Forestry Commission was formed by the General Assembly tasked with forest fire and to establish a forest reserve system. Their first purchase of 7,500 acres in Clinton County (which eventually became Sproul State Forest) happened five years later.

What does it mean to “celebrate” the state parks and forests? Chances are good that you will take any excuse you have to go out and enjoy the public lands near you. After all, Department of Forests and Waters (now DCNR) Secretary Maurice K. Goddard made it the goal of the agency to place a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. So you don’t have to work hard to find one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or 20 forest districts.

Still, “celebration” takes on a few forms additional to recreation. We – as you – take care to remind everyone that time spent in the outdoors is vital to our health and well-being. In fact, we commissioned the creation of several videos on the subject of the outdoors and emotional, mental, and physical health, including one in Spanish. Find them (and share them, please) on our YouTube channel, easily accessed at (along with a video on the economic benefits of those same outdoor spaces).

Finally, to celebrate the outdoors means to “use your outside voice” to speak for those places. Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests alone face a $1.4 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Unstable dams, accessible recreation amenities no longer wheelchair or stroller friendly, trees lost to invasive species like hemlock wooly adelgid or emerald ash borer, restrooms and other buildings crucial to visitor contentment compromised. The opportunity to recapture some of that deficient backlog, in the form of $175 million from the American Rescue Plan, is within our reach.

Let’s all celebrate PA Parks & Forests Week by encouraging our state representatives and senators to support HB 2020 and SB 525. Go to to send a message.

Tips for Reducing the Cost of Car Maintenance


Between fuel, insurance, and monthly payments, owning a vehicle can get expensive. Fortunately, you can reduce your costs when you take a more hands-on approach to car maintenance.

So, how can you reduce your trips to the mechanic and keep your car in good condition? Here are a few tips that will save you money, regardless of whether your car is new or used.

Learn How to Perform Simple Maintenance Tasks Yourself

If you do your research beforehand, you may be able to perform a few car maintenance tasks yourself.

Some of the simplest maintenance tasks you can perform at home include changing your oil and air filters. Oil is essential to your car’s operation and changing it regularly can prevent accumulated contaminants from creating friction in the engine. When you’re changing your oil, consider replacing the air filters as well.

By learning how to perform just these two maintenance tasks yourself, you can save at least one to two trips to the mechanic annually. Of course, you’ll want to check the owner’s manual before you start.

Check the Owner’s Manual for Maintenance Schedules

Your owner’s manual will give you a straightforward schedule for different car maintenance tasks, generally going by a system of months or miles. For example, an owner’s manual might state that you should check the coolant every 12 months or 12,000 miles – whichever comes first.

When you take your car in for maintenance, it’s crucial to keep the information found in your owner’s manual top of mind. Your service provider may recommend services outside of those recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

You may want to get a second opinion before accepting additional services that your manufacturer doesn’t list in your owner’s manual.

Manuals should include plans for when to check and maintain the following components:

  • Engine oil
  • Coolant levels
  • Transmission fluid
  • Air filters
  • Engine belts
  • Batteries
  • Headlights

If you don’t currently have an owner’s manual, you may be able to find the information for your car’s model and year online or by contacting a dealership. Having an authentic owner’s manual for your vehicle will be useful for scheduling specific services in the future.

Search Online for Coupons from Popular Chains

No matter how much maintenance you can perform yourself, there will still be times when you need to have your car looked at by a professional. Popular auto shop chains tend to have online coupons that you can use to save money on car maintenance. Many auto shops have sales around Memorial Day, Labor Day, and New Year’s.

Of course, it’s important to research the chain that you choose for maintenance. Just because you may have found a coupon doesn’t mean there aren’t other auto shops with great deals and excellent service at a lower price. You’ll also want to consider which chains have the most experience working with your make and model of vehicle.

Take Advantage of Dealer Perks

If you bought your car from a dealership, your purchase may have included perks for saving on maintenance done by their service department. For instance, you may have oil changes included for the first two years or a set number of miles. Additionally, some dealers may provide a loaner vehicle at no cost while your car is in the shop. Even if the base cost for maintenance is higher, it could end up saving you more in the end if you would otherwise need to pay for a rental.

To maximize your savings, be sure you know what you’re entitled to and also inquire about any price matching the dealership may offer if you find the service advertised for a lower price elsewhere.

Seek Out a Second Opinion if Costs Are Too High

If you’re not knowledgeable about auto parts and maintenance, it can be hard to tell what recommendations you should follow and what you can put on hold when you take your car in for work. To help with this, you can reference your manufacturer’s maintenance schedule to give you some general guidance on when certain parts should be repaired or replaced.

If you’re unsure about the services being recommended by your mechanic, you may want to visit another auto shop for a second opinion. You may find that other shops can maintain your car at a much lower cost or that the services suggested by a previous mechanic aren’t necessary. When you’re in doubt about a recommendation, a second opinion can save you money.

Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

Vehicle maintenance is an important part of car ownership, but there will come a point when the work your car needs exceeds its value.

If you find yourself in this position, we can help get you in a car that meets your needs and budget. Our auto loans are available for new or used vehicles and offer flexible terms and competitive rates.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Setting priorities for invasive species management: Don’t get lost in the weeds

When managing invasive species, set priorities based on your resources and goals, and stick to them.

Stick to the plan. I recently found myself repeating this mantra as I worked to remove invasive plants in a township park. The park has been overgrown by invasive species for years. As a natural resource manager, I found myself easily distracted by all the work that needs to be done. I have often doled out advice to land managers about how to set priorities and break down projects into manageable tasks, but it was time to follow it myself.

Do what you can do. Don’t do what you can’t.

The challenge of managing invasive plants on your property can be daunting. It may seem obvious, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves: only do what you can do. Do what is manageable within the scope of your resources. If a project is too big- it might not be right to tackle at this time. Better to choose a project that can be done to completion, and will only require routine maintenance to sustain.

“Do nothing” is an option

Every area of our parks is managed for a certain goal, whether that be a forest, meadow, or ball field. Not every project will improve our ability to meet those goals. Does this project serve those goals? If not, it is ok to move onto the next one.

Break things down into manageable tasks

When faced with a large project, don’t be overwhelmed by the task in its entirety. Focus on what needs to be done this year or this month. Removing the vines. Cutting back the first 50 feet along the trail. Then next year, you can tackle the next step. Often, we don’t tackle a project because it seems too big. But once we change our perspective, the first steps become possible.

Make a plan, but know that the plan can change

Develop a invasive species management plan for your parks, but think of it as a living document. What areas need immediate attention, and which can be put off until later? Make a timeline for each step of your plan. As factors change, adjust your plan accordingly. Making a point to revisit and revise the plan 1-2 times a year can help to keep it realistic.

Never overlook the power of volunteers

I was recently working at a park that had a wall of thorny invasive plants. I wanted to tackle it with a volunteer group, but was worried that it would be overwhelming. But my volunteers were intrepid. Within only a few hours, we had broken through the wall. Never be the barrier to what your volunteers accomplish. Allow them to work to their full potential. For more info on developing your volunteer base, here are some great words of wisdom.

The task of managing natural areas can be overwhelming with all the challenges we face as parks and recreation professionals- from too many deer to too few staff. Look at your goals and set priorities to meet them. Plan ahead, but focus on the task at hand. And you may stay out of the weeds.

Reprioritizing Fall Maintenance Efforts

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

The Pennsylvania Park Maintenance Institute advocates the identification of managed landscapes and other green space as critical infrastructure to human health and happiness, and promotes good environmental stewardship of those spaces. As a result of the pandemic, communities are rediscovering the importance of connecting to the outdoors, and park utilization has increased dramatically. With uncertainty of financial resources, efficiencies in maintenance efforts have never been more vital for the longevity of our capital investments in parks. The following suggestions are intended to provide strategic guidance as park superintendents, property managers, and ground crews schedule tasks for the next few months.

Inspect equipment and assess your needs for next season. Clean, inspect, and maintain your mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, hand tools, vehicles and heavy equipment. Get out attachments needed for fall like aerators or mulching attachments. Inspect and prepare your snow removal equipment like plows, buckets, snow blowers, and shovels, because winter is just around the corner. Take any equipment that needs it to an authorized service representative before the next rush. Preventative maintenance while the weather is favorable will reduce potential hazards from reactive repair in the field while snow is flying.

Keep your fields healthy by aerating. Aeration minimizes soil compaction from heavy use and helps to prevent thatch, a thick layer of roots, stems, and debris that blocks water, oxygen and nutrients from reaching the soil. Deprived of their basic needs by compacted soil, grasses struggle in stressful situations, such as heat and low rainfall, and lose their healthy, rich color. Grasses gradually thin and eventually die out completely, for lack of the oxygen, water and nutrients available just inches away. Aeration encourages roots to grow deeper, encourages greener, thicker turf, and reduces runoff because fields are able to absorb more water.

Continue to mow throughout the fall season. Even though daylight continues to get shorter over the next few months, grass will continue to grow. It is important to continue mowing until the first hard frost. Research the just-right height for your turf based upon species, typically between 2-3 inches, to keep the grass healthy when it turns cold. Maintaining grass height before winter can minimize diseases, like snow mold, that occur when grass is too long over the winter. Additionally, longer grass during winter may encourage vole activity.

Identify which trees or bushes need pruning. While thinning and reduction pruning is not recommended in the fall, it is an opportune time to remove any dead or damaged limbs. Be aware of low-hanging branches that might snap or break under the weight of snow in the winter and cause damage to trees and shrubs. Additionally, Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is a good timing window to remove suckers, trim any perennials with disease issues, cut back plants prone to slugs like hosta, delphinium, or lupine, and prune shrub roses. Be sure to connect with a certified professional to avoid damaging plants, if you do not have someone with expertise on staff.

Reconsider how to manage leaves. With tighter budgets, it is time to reconsider where to cut costs. When you rake or blow and remove leaves, it costs you more than some of the alternative methods. Mulching leaves and leaving them on the grass, rather than raking and bagging them, is good for the turf and the environment. As shredded leaves decompose, they feed grass naturally.  Shredded leaves also make for excellent mulch in flower beds, or could be used to make rich compost for community gardens.  However, too much of a good thing can be bad. A layer of leaves one-fourth to three-eighths inch thick can do some serious damage to your turf. Wet or frozen leaves basically will form a mat over your lawn when the snow comes down. This blocks out the sun, suffocates your lawn, and could increase the chance for fungal diseases.

Although park facilities are the most visible resource our industry provides, essential maintenance services are often taken for granted — not only by residents, but also by the organizations that are responsible for development and stewardship. Ground breakings and ribbon cuttings provide great publicity events, however daily maintenance efforts are the tasks required to provide safe and inclusive space, and offer healthy environments where people can develop a sense of community, identity, and belonging. The Pennsylvania Park Maintenance Institute provides all the resources you need streamline your operations – all in one place.

Brian “BK” Koehler is the director of the Pennsylvania Park Maintenance Institute. BK holds degrees in educational theory and production experience in corporate training and development. He can be reached on LinkedIn at or emailed at

Passing go

IMG_0549In the midst of educating park maintenance staff over the years, I’ve used a technique that has proven beneficial for staff, leadership and myself in the same process. Sounds too good to be true? Think again. Short of any name for the process I just call it “Passing Go” – Those of you that have played or still play board games can relate.  

Disclaimer: This process, as you will see, is predicated on your (or your supervisors) specific background and experience. Although the application is pretty universal to many areas within Parks & Recreation.

The theory is simple, place yourself on the crew/environment for a day or two, whatever you can fit into your schedule to work WITH the staff as a crew member. Yes that may mean a different starting time, work clothes or even weekend work. You become part of the crew for the day doing the tasks that they would typically be assigned to or respond to.

The response is immediate and educational for both sides. Staff will be amazed you took time out to “be one of them” for the day.  A new appreciation for the work can be cemented for both sides. I know I learned intimate details of the job and was able to understand why and how my decisions affected the outcome of the work productivity. It also helped me find out why certain tasks were either not done efficiently or not completed as expected. After doing this myself over time, different seasons and situations, it was invaluable to provide more efficient direction and the crews demonstrated a greater willingness & acceptance of daily directions. We also built a personal connection which was also a very unintended positive consequence.

I still do this with my staff and have an ongoing, maintenance volunteer situation that I call my working vacation. I use two weeks of vacation each year to volunteer to be on the Little League World Series Grounds Crew. Yes I love this work and it helps keep me grounded (yes that is a pun). But over the years it has also taught me what it means to be part of a work crew, take direction and I almost always come away with a new maintenance technique I’ve picked up from another crew member that I can use back on my crews. So “Pass Go”, you might not collect $200, but the outcomes are well worth it.

Creating the “New Normal” In Parks Management

“Where are all of the dandelions?” I was searching for that bright yellow flower while visiting one of our parks and could not find it.  To be clear, I know that a dandelion is a non-native plant, but it was the dandelion, or lack thereof, that alerted me to the fact that our parks could be supporting more.

At their core, parks should exist to support the recreational, physical, mental and emotional needs of us.  They should also exist to provide the basic necessities for nature to survive and thrive.  In most suburban parks, we’ve failed miserably.  Our current park maintenance practices revolve around preserving a grass monoculture that requires too much time and resources – both of which we never have enough of.

There is a place in our industry for the manicured lawn – most of which is sports-related.  In hindsight, rather than designing a few pollinator gardens around an athletic field, we should have been designing the athletic fields around fields of native plants and trees.  If your community is like ours, most of your parks are already constructed without the luxury of ever getting a mulligan on that design.  What if you could change the look and functionality of your parks and reduce maintenance hours while establishing a “new normal” in parks management?

The “new normal” is different for every community, but the visual expectation of what a park should look like is what we sought to alter.  For us, it had to start with being okay with imperfect lawns and giving nature a presence where it hadn’t existed before.

How can you create the “new normal” in your parks?

  • Find the Low Hanging Fruit:  Our very first step was raising our mower decks and mowing less during the summer.  Following that, we started questioning why a location is even mowed.  Mowing is 40% of what we do annually.  If we were going to find time to work on our maintenance backlog, mowing was where those hours would come from.  Conveniently, nature also benefits from this approach.
  • Educate, Retrain & Engage Staff: Gradually introduce topics like no-mow areas, native plants and green infrastructure.  Agree upon new maintenance practices and standards. Ask staff, at all levels, where they think change could occur. 
  • Keep the Public Informed: Educate the public on the why, where and how of what you are doing.  Not everyone will agree with the vision, but remaining transparent and listening will build confidence.  Celebrate your successes on your various marketing platforms.
  • Maintain a Presence: “Low Maintenance” doesn’t mean “No Maintenance”.  This will be a different type of maintenance than what your residents are accustomed to so having a presence is important.  For example, mowing the edges of no-mow areas indicate that a space is still looked after.
  • Trust the Process – With a good plan in place and a little bit of time, your agency will begin seeing tangible benefits like more time to focus on other projects and reduced fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on equipment.  These are two easily measured meters of success. Another benefit, you’ll see a lot more nature also using your parks.

The “new normal” needs to start somewhere – community parks sound like a great place to me.   

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