The Upper Arlington City Council is expected to determine this month whether the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides will be allowed under a new turf management policy for sports fields in city parks.
Council is expected to hold further discussions June 6 and 13 on a proposed “integrated turf management” policy designed to improve the safety and playability of 60 acres of sports fields in city parks.
With a vote currently scheduled for June 13, the main sticking point among some residents is the proposed use of pesticides and herbicides by city parks and recreation staff.
According to the proposal, these chemicals are “necessary tools” to enable parks and recreation staff to provide “quality sports fields” to the community. They would be hired after a staff member trained in the use of pesticides and herbicides reviewed field conditions for 48 hours over three weeks.
After the assessments, the policy requires field treatments that operate at the Desired Level – or Level 1 – only in isolated point areas of the fields and would generally be done during seasons when the fields are dormant.
According to the proposal, fields deemed to be at maintenance level 2, or when conditions “begin to require additional treatments to improve turf health”, would receive a maximum of three cycles of spot treatment.
The proposal states that fields at maintenance level 3 “is a more intensive program warranted by turf conditions.” These fields would receive up to three herbicide treatment applications “if conditions warrant their use”.
Additionally, the proposal calls Rescue Level the most intensive program for fields “affected by a combination of existing conditions, severe weather events, or use under stressful conditions.” It is intended for short-term use only, with general herbicide applications recommended initially.
Those who fall under the rescue level would receive additional treatments after a re-inspection. Then, “an addition of up to 35% more seed and starter fertilizer is available to help establish grass in bare spots resulting from the absence of unwanted herbaceous vegetation,” the proposal states.
As part of the policy, parks and recreation director Debbie McLaughlin said field mowing would be increased from once a week to twice a week and treatments would be limited to sports fields.
“We’re talking about the sports fields in our parks, with a little buffer zone and not the whole park area,” McLaughlin said. “What we will implement will be domain-by-domain, not system-wide.
“Different terrain, an event in the same park, could be handled differently.”
Park officials have promised that those administering the chemicals to the fields will follow all guidelines from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. The proposal said pesticide and herbicide products would be reviewed by staff “for safety, exposure, durability and environmental impacts” before use.
Still, a number of residents turned out on May 16 to voice concerns about the plan, which would conflict with the city’s longstanding policy against the use of pesticides and herbicides on owned sports fields. to the city and maintained.
Tess Doyle, who said she has children aged 6 and 9, said her children recently participated in an Easter egg hunt in Thompson Park, where they and other children were “crawling on the grass (from park) in search of eggs”.
“I was so thankful that the parks didn’t spray synthetic pesticides or herbicides back then, so I could feel safe with my kids looking for candy there,” Doyle said. “I think this proposed new plan introducing the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which we are not currently using, unfortunately takes us in the opposite direction.
“I would really like to move forward with a more organic approach.”
Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, a group of seven residents appointed by council members to review and make recommendations to council on the city’s parks, programs and recreation facilities, has not been able to reach a consensus on the use of chemicals to treat sports parks. the fields.
“Upper Arlington has historically been a leader in the environmental management of its parks and sports fields with minimal, if any, use of synthetic pesticides,” said board member Matt Petersen. “We are proud of these current practices since we collectively share an affinity for the natural environment and want our families and friends to feel comfortable knowing they can safely enjoy our community’s public parks.”
Petersen added that the advisory board prefers that the city continue to focus on the soils of its park sports fields and issues that affect drainage, rather than using chemicals to address them.
Others, however, said they agreed with the proposal to introduce pesticides and herbicides into the field maintenance policy.
Craig Smith, a representative for the Northwest Kiwanis youth football program and a member of the city’s Field Sports Advisory Committee, said he was “confident that concerns will be addressed as staff of Parks and Recreation will develop the kind of comprehensive and flexible program needed to meet the challenges we all face to ensure our parks are available to all users.”
“I believe that a general ban on the use of herbicides, not just synthetic herbicides, makes it more difficult and more expensive to control native non-grass species, as well as persistent invasive species,” he said.
Ryan DeMay, who identified himself as a resident and a representative of the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation, called the city’s proposal “a very progressive way to look at turf management.”
“What it really focuses on is addressing those site-specific needs,” he said. “We want to see equity between the parks. Currently, we don’t have that equity.
“The path to sustainability is not a choice between conventional and organic. More importantly, the choice that needs to be made is to take care of the infrastructure that is there. It means planting better herbs that don’t require as much of water, planting better grasses that can crowd out and compete with weeds better so that we don’t have to spray herbicides and choose products that protect pollinators and protect life, and time those applications accordingly so that the people using the fields are not affected at all.