Pesticide Free Failure | Durango Colorado 2014| 50% weeds in Organic Parks | Chip Osborne | Cut from the team – Durango Telegraph
Folsom Park, off Florida Road, has been part of the city’s Organically Managed Lands Program for the past year, However, due to concerns over weeds and playing turf, it might not be in the coming year./Photo by Jennaye Derge
Cut from the team
Organic parks program could lose three, keep six
Three are out. Six remain. Out of the nine parks in the Organically Managed Lands Program, the city is proposing to remove three, saving Durango about $66,000 a year.
Although that’s more than three quarters of the total budget for the program, it’s not about the money. “It wasn’t just money, we’ve been getting complaints from the community,” explained Cathy Metz, Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director.
What: Public hearing on the proposed 2015 city budget
The program, which started in earnest about one year ago, transitioned the city’s conventional style of park maintenance, which tends to feed the grass with synthetic materials, to an organic one, which uses natural products and processes to create a healthy soil and, therefore, healthy grass.
After only one year, the city’s two most heavily used athletic fields, Folsom and Riverview Sports Complex, are looking worse for wear, and Metz is hearing about it.
She said the turf, particularly the soil in this area, just doesn’t respond as quickly to high traffic when using organic methods. “The organic program is not as responsive,” she added.
The subject came up during the 2015 proposed budget process because removing the two parks directly affect it.
This year the city spent about $85,0004 on the Organically Managed Lands Program, however much of that was used to maintain Folsom and Riverview.
The same heavy traffic and high usage that contributed to the wear and tear also contributed to the products and labor needed to maintain them.
Tricia Gourley, an advocate for organic land management, plans to attend an upcoming meeting on the 2015 proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 3, at City Hall, 949 E. 2nd Ave., when the public is welcome to speak on any aspect of the budget, including organic parks.
She said she is disappointed with the city since the program is just one year into its implementation.
“It is a tragedy that this ecologically inspired long term goal has gotten derailed by short term budget considerations,” she added.
The organic program was created after a local group, Organically Managed Parks Durango, of which Gourley is a member, organized a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have applied specific organic practices to all lands owned and leased by the city.
The debate over the initiative was less about the support for organic land management and more about the process and wording behind it.
The Durango City Council, citing concerns with some of the language and potential unintended consequences of its implementation, requested the group withdraw the initiative in favor of collaboration. The group did so and the two worked together to create the current Organically Managed Lands Program in a resolution that was unanimously passed by the council last year.
Following its passage, the city contracted Chip Osborne, founder and president of Osborne Organics based in Marblehead, Mass., to create the organic program.
Phase I began in August 2013 with the first application of organic products, including kelp, sea minerals and molasses. Equipment was also purchased by the city with fundraising help from the Organically Managed Parks Durango group.
The initial phases of the program were expected to take three years.
“In the Organic Lands Resolution … it is written that we need to allow time to grow the health of the soil for the best results – a recommended wait of three years,” explained Katrina Blair, founder of Turtle Lake Refuge and an advocate for organically managed parks. “It has only been one year.”
Osborne, who has more than 10 years of experience in the field, suggested a rescue treatment for Riverview Sports Complex after a visit in August using an organic herbicide, which does not contain 2, 4-D, the synthetic herbicide commonly used to control broadleaf weeds. Instead, the organic one uses salt or iron as a base compound.
Brookside, the third park recommended to be out of the program, was managed using organic methods in 2008, prior to the program’s creation.
“It’s progressively gotten more and more weeds,” Metz said.
Now at 50 percent weeds, Brookside has surpassed the city’s 5 to 10 percent standard.
“I recommend that everyone go and visit Brookside Park in person and see for yourself the condition of the grass. It is a beautiful, well-managed park,” Blair said. “It is just one perspective that a monoculture of grass looks better than a lawn with a few other diverse plants mixed in.”
Gourley said the park had already exceeded the city standard prior to its inclusion in the organic program; and, Osborne informed the city it would take time to reestablish Brookside since it had not been transitioned to organic methods in 2008 the same way the other parks had when the program was created 2013.
If the 5 to 10 percent benchmark is truly the issue, she said, then perhaps it’s time to revisit those standards.
“We need to re-examine our values and ask ourselves what is a truly healthy lawn,” she said. “It makes no sense to me to be pouring thousands of gallons of toxic pesticides on our public and private spaces.”
Metz said the city is not abandoning the organic program and plans to continue it in six of the nine parks originally included: Fanto, Iris, Needham, Pioneer, Riverfront and Schneider.
“We did what we could but are not going to lower our standards,” she added.