This is going to leave a mark

Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

Aerial drone view of a huge riverbed, Iceland

Like the 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the current COVID-19 pandemic will jar our senses and society in ways we haven’t anticipated.

The coming shift in our collective psyche is not yet clear in anyone’s cloudy crystal ball, but is likely to be profoundly and broadly pervasive.

But even as park and recreation professionals scramble to respond to the abrupt demands of cancelling and rescheduling programs and events, sanitizing and maintaining facilities, establishing and enforcing new protocols—while remaining on frontline public service duty in food distribution, coping and cognitive therapies, and many other community interactions and enrichments—we must also invest in some leadership forethought to our futures. Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

What will all this mean to our profession when we return (yet again!) to a new normal?

I’m no prophet (nor even a mediocre soothsayer), but it’s likely the long-term impacts of surviving the worldwide pandemic will rock our world socially, economically, environmentally, relationally, psychologically—in short, fundamentally.

And with this disruptive shift, comes a series of thought-provoking considerations to re-establishing our community value and our professional accountability. Among them:

●  How do we navigate the inherent conflicts between social distancing and community engagement?
●  How do we maintain sanitary outdoor play surfaces, and encourage trust in our best practices?
●  What adjustments do we make to our maximum load capacities in aquatic centers and meeting spaces?
●  How do we balance park/program equity with new fiscal realities and responsibilities?
●  How can we leverage increased interest in personal health for more interaction in nature?
●  How can we lessen dependence on governmental funding and operate more entrepreneurially?
●  How do we better assist our most vulnerable populations?
●  How do cancelled school sessions create a new niche we can fill in our summer camps?
●  What new partnerships can we create to build more healthful and resilient neighborhoods?
●  What new protocols need to be established in our recreation centers, swimming pools, children’s services, large-group events, fitness programs, playgrounds, concessions, trails, visitor centers, and other public facilities?

Granted, not all of these questions are newly arriving with a post-pandemic world, but if we practitioners are to remain relevant and, indeed, grow our industry’s uniquely influential role in the public good in its aftermath, we can no longer kick these proverbial cans further down the road.

Instead, I suggest embracing a new metaphor for a preferred future.

With the onset of the pandemic, thousands of park and recreation agencies suddenly have to deal with new, yet simultaneously similar challenges. Our many responses are like the myriad of rivulets produced by a flooding rainstorm. They’re trickling everywhere at once, exploring ways of forward passage, but ultimately leading in the same downslope direction. If we will share our new ideas, our innovative procedures, our lessons from failures and successes; our thousands of earnest rivulets will coalesce to braided stream flows that, just a little bit further on, will produce a stronger, broader channel of unified best-practice standards and indispensable public services, restoring and refreshing us all.

Please share your questions, suggestions and experiences with your peers in the PRPS companion Facebook page, What’s Up P+R?! As we gather resources and can offer authoritative guidance, we will post them on the PRPS Recreation and Park COVID-19 Resources webpage for all to benefit.

During the coming weeks, PRPS will be hosting free Virtual Roundtables (Parks & Recreation – Surviving the Covid Crisis) via Zoom to provide a networking platform for members to share issues and brainstorm about how to move forward during this stressful time. Individual Roundtable topics include Aquatics, Maintenance, Programs/Events/Summer Camp, Leadership/Planning, Therapeutic Recreation, and Urban Recreation.

And join the fluid movement forward!


Is Your House in Order?

How many of you can identify20181102_141353_resized.jpg with this scenario?

You have staff scheduled to drag your ball field for an important softball tournament and the infield machine won’t start. They determine it is a safety switch that needs adjusted. They go to your trusty shop toolbox and look for the 9/16ths socket w/ 1/2” drive with the extension and the universal to reach the adjustment to make the adjustment. But when they look for it, they can only find a 9/16th socket in the 3/4” drive. Ok, so they have to use a tool bigger than they need, no big deal right? Only to realize they don’t have a universal attachment for a 3/4” drive to help reach the bolt to adjust the safety switch to get the infield drag operational!

The universal joint was used yesterday to help make a repair to the lift station and was dropped down into the vault. So they decide with the tools they have to remove the seat, seat frame, and two other hose clamps to be able to access the bolt that is now becoming the needle in the proverbial haystack. As the supervisor, you realize the field still hasn’t been dragged and find maintenance staff fully involved in a mechanical operation that has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes the smallest things can trip up your operations and give you pause. Getting to the root of the problem may be right under your nose, or feet as it were. Not only may your toolbox not have all the correct tools you need but they may be so scattered it takes way too much time to find them or account for them.

Back away from the toolbox and look at your maintenance facility. If you have tools on the floor, power tools laying on your workbench, rakes, and shovels leaning in the corner waiting for someone to step on them and re-create a three stooges short, you may have found the problem. Organizing you maintenance facility can take many hours and some creative thinking of how to store and track your tools & equipment.

However, the time invested in creating a well-organized and maintained maintenance facility over the long run can make your crews more productive and efficient than even they thought possible. Space seems to often be an obstacle. You may have opportunities to use the walls to hang equipment to free up floor space. Rafters are also an opportunity for storage. If you simply do not have any more space, it may be worth looking at how the space is being utilized. A re-organization can also produce better results. Heated vs cold storage should also be considered. An outdoor roof or simple lean-to may be just the ticket for those items that can safely be stored outside.

One of my favorite things to do is visit other facilities and not just park facilities to see how others organize their maintenance facilities. Schools, Ballparks, Commercial Landscapers, Cities, Counties, State Facilities, Commercial Facilities. Chances are you know many of these folks and many would be willing to have you visit. Take pictures and ask questions, there’s a good chance some of the best ideas they have were either from their own staff or from other facility operators. And don’t forget to put that 9/16ths socket back where you found it!


Dog Blog


Yes, this is my first “dog blog” and it can be said, “It’s a dog’s life.” The truth of the matter is for many dog owners, our dogs are much more than pets. We consider them part of our family!

With pet ownership on the rise in the United States, several communities are advertising themselves as “pet-friendly” to help attract new buyers and renters. And municipal park & recreation departments have been leading the pack for many years in dog park development.

Whether you currently have a dog park, looking to improve your dog park or are simply looking for some tips for planning and building a dog park, I hope you find a few dogs gone good tips here you can use.

Location, location, location…. after all, it is real estate we’re talking about. Ideally, you want your dog park to be situated to the side or at the back of a community if possible. Typically a developer will take all prime land for building, but keep in mind a dog park doesn’t necessarily need to be open and flat! A sloping or parcel that has well-established trees can be both interesting and make for good terrain for dogs to roam and play.

Fencing includes two basic structures…

  1. Perimeter fencing which should be a minimum of 5’ high so larger dogs won’t easily jump out. and
  2. a double gate entry to give owners and dog a chance to acclimate and leash or unleash before entering or exiting the main area. Gate placement in corners is not advised as it may create a bottleneck for traffic and possibly enable an onrushing dog to “corner” the new dog entering creating a situation that may lead to a dog becoming aggressive. A great majority of our dog park surfaces are grass, largely due to the low expense to install/establish.

However, contrary to popular belief, grass should be avoided if possible for surfaces for dogs. As many are already experiencing, the constant running, digging and romping of dogs chew up the turf quickly and what is left is a dirty and sometimes muddy mess.

Additionally dog urine has a high amount of nitrogen which can also kill the grass. Selecting an alternative material can often save maintenance costs in the long run. Materials such as crushed granite ranging from 1/4” too sandy consistency is an excellent resource and are very low maintenance. There are also specially designed artificial turfs for dog parks. The initial cost may be high but the long-term maintenance and ease of managing the surface may well be worth the cost.

Having two sections, one for large dogs and one for small dogs is a must. Any veterinarian or dog trainer will confirm this immediately and for good reasons, not the least of which is controlling behavior between competing sizes of dogs.

Clearly displaying and enforcing the rules of your dog park is the first line of defense and operation for the community. A word on water supply, avoid large buckets or baby pools for water as they can create a breeding ground for mosquitoes and or disease. A high/low water fountain is ideal, both for owners and their furry friends. Lots of dogs mean lots of poop. Something you can absolutely count on. A comprehensive pet waste management plan is essential and include several pet waste bag dispensers and keep them filled.

Finally, benches, shade, and places for the owners to congregate is also essential. After all, this is as much a social event for the dogs as it is for the community. What better way to meet a new neighbor than to share pet stories and experiences. Just be sure space is open for owners to keep an eye on their dogs and so they can easily access their pet and visa versa!

Be the master of your sportsfields!

As the title may suggest, being the master of your sports fields can be a daunting task, particularly if they are constantly and heavily used. Couple that with a limited budget and it may seem impossible! Don’t panic.

WhilIMG_3539e budget difficulties may seem endless, in the long run, they more than likely are not. Meanwhile, now is the time to prioritize your activities and plan your attack, not only for the short-term but well into the future. A good place to start is to prioritize fields into separate categories such as A, B & C based on the intensity of your management. Then, without putting all your eggs in one basket, manage your best field(s) at the highest level of your ability & resources (category A). This will demonstrate a number of outcomes…

1. Your ability to provide a safe, high-quality sports field.

2. Demonstrate a source of pride for your department and community.

3. It will put credibility to the conversation/justification for your program.

4. It will showcase what could be done elsewhere when proper turf management practices and budgets are in place.

Your “A” field will be your premier field where the championship games are played. The one you want to showcase. This is the field you have a sound fertilization program, regular overseeding, aerate frequently and ensure your fields are irrigated properly if you have those resources.

Finally working with your user groups and your field programmers to limit use if possible. If you can not limit use, possibly limit the field to games as opposed to practices as it has been well documented that practices typically are more damaging than games.

On management levels B & C, you can reduce overall maintenance slightly in several ways. Overall fertilization can be reduced. If your goal is to provide 4lb of nitrogen per year, cut back to 3lb per year and used a slow release type to help evenly distribute the nutrients over the season. The same can be done with weed control. Rather than yearly applications, rotate those applications every other year. Another option may be to aerate only once a year.

Re-working your maintenance program for the B & C level fields by managing them as a “field with-in-a-field” has become a popular way to re-allocate those resources. For example, on a football field, limit your practices to only the worst areas of the field such as between the hash marks. On a soccer field, limit resources to goal areas and center circle. Eliminate or reduce aeration, fertilization & weed control in common turf areas.

Finally, use volunteer groups to help with field maintenance. This usually works best with baseball and softball programs but can work elsewhere. Volunteers or user groups traditionally take a lot of pride in field maintenance. It is amazing to see what can be accomplished on a baseball or softball field with 8 to 10 volunteers on a Saturday morning.

Maintenance operation musings

The challenges of park maintenance


Park maintenance operations is a wide and multi-discipline function that can mean different things to different people, departments, officials and staff.

The scope is largely dependent on several factors: size, location, budget, staffing and policy. I’m sure you can name several others that are likely a driving force in how you may operate and maintain your parks. But as stewards of parks we are charged with providing a safe and pleasant park experience while practicing good environmental stewardship at a reasonable cost. That is what I would consider a universal policy we all share in Pennsylvania regardless if you serve in a small capacity in a local borough or in a large capacity in a major city or county.

Let’s stop for a minute and think about what that means in a municipal setting. I don’t believe there is anyone dealing with park maintenance that has not found both challenges and conflicts with this statement in their career, regardless if you are new in the position or have spent a long career dealing with these very challenges.

So how do we address the seemingly never-ending challenges and obstacles. A highly respected and successful park professional recently made the analogy to me that he used to be 6’3” when he started his career, but throughout his career has been beat down (he’s semi-retired and 5’7”.) A good chuckle – but it dawned on me that what he was really saying was the success of his parks was not without his own personal struggles and challenges, and that there is a price to pay for that success. That price is for us as park maintenance professionals is to work hard to objectively understand our users needs, identify appropriate resources to meet those needs while moving forward in the direction of the policy makers visions.

If this is beginning to sound like documenting strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, you are right. If we want our parks to be safe and provide a pleasant experience while being good environmental stewards at a reasonable cost, it is imperative to have a handle on these factors to provide a clear and objective presentation of these elements for our leadership to make good, well informed decisions.

Between the work to get that information and the culmination of decisions is where our friend may have experienced his (metaphoric) beating down. But in that process, he experienced amazing success which is now enjoyed by multitudes of park users for years to come. The better we become at providing clear and objective information and data, the better chances we have for our decision makers to move forward to meet the goals of their respective municipalities.

A recent grant award from the DCED and DCNR with support of PRPS is beginning to research these issues in Pennsylvania to provide park maintenance operations professionals a new tool to help them realize their goals.

If you are contacted or see a request for information, please take a few minutes to respond to this request, it may likely help the success of your parks in the near future.

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