More parks to go organic

City’s pilot program would encompass nine parks

A pedestrian walks along the Animas River Trail at Schneider Park. The park is one of several that will be organically managed as part of a pilot program of the city of Durango. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

A pedestrian walks along the Animas River Trail at Schneider Park. The park is one of several that will be organically managed as part of a pilot program of the city of Durango.

To devise a strategy for organically managing Durango’s parks, a consultant this week took soil samples and more than 250 photographs of turf conditions.

Chip Osborne is proposing organic care for the parks of Brookside, Pioneer, Iris, Riverfront, Schneider, the Riverview Sports Complex, Folsom, Needham and Fanto. The pilot program would be implemented this spring.

Collectively, the organic parks would represent about 20 acres out of the total 52 acres of city park land. They’re a diverse sampling of neighborhood parks, school playgrounds and heavily used sports fields.

Osborne, president of Osborne Organics in Marblehead, Mass., takes a three-prong approach to organically managing parks: using all natural products; using tests to understand and respond to the needs of the soil; and then following up with management practices intended to increase the health of the land.

“To me, (organic) implies a proactive approach,” Osborne said.

During a public meeting at the Durango Community Recreation Center on Tuesday, Osborne said his systemic approach was a departure from earlier notions that organic care simply was about swapping out conventional products with all-natural or organic products.

Osborne described the old attitude as, “I’m organic; I don’t do anything. I’m organic by neglect, and that usually ends up in failure.”

At Brookside Park, for example, the city replaced conventional fertilizer with organic fertilizer but did not follow up with organic management practices.

So Brookside has patches of dandelions and clover, but Osborne did not think the weeds were out of control.

Osborne praised city staff as very knowledgeable about lawn care. In many cities, the municipal manager of park lands often naively follows the instructions of salespeople for synthetic pesticides.

Osborne, a professional horticulturist with 35 years of experience, shares the local health and environmental concerns about synthetic pesticides, noting that they were derived from the same science that produced bombs for World War II.

He considers himself a convert to the organic cause.

“My education was entirely conventional,” Osborne said. “We were taught to apply a cocktail mix of various pesticides every seven to 10 days. I held an applicator’s license for 25 years. That was sort of the way we did things.

“Back in the mid-1990s, I decided that, for me personally, it was probably not the healthiest thing to be doing,” he said. “I had young children. I frankly did not want them in that environment. I began to research the use of these products. I taught myself a lot more about product applications that led to alternative-management strategies – strategies that became chemical-free.”

When local activists proposed a ballot initiative to limit synthetic pesticides in city parks this year, City Council appropriated $36,000 for a consultant to devise an organic strategy as a compromise.

If Durango seems on the cutting edge of organics, Marblehead, where Osborne is an elected parks and recreation commissioner, has practiced organic management of its sports fields for the last 11 years. Its health board declared synthetic pesticides to be a public-health issue in 2000.

Osborne, who is on the board of directors for Beyond Pesticides, also is an organic consultant for the National Park Service.

Osborne said turf quality does not have to be sacrificed for organic care.

“A good turf nutritional-management program can match a conventional program spot on,” he said.

Osborne makes exceptions for synthetic treatments in special circumstances where a “rescue” might be required.

To preserve a million-dollar sports-field complex in New Jersey, for example, Osborne once advised a fungicidal treatment.

If fields are properly maintained, there should be less need for synthetic pesticides. Dense turf should crowd out weeds.

Recent studies have shown that nutrient-rich grass treated with organic fertilizer is less attractive to bugs that cannot digest the nutrient content, Osborne said.

“Once we get through transition, we generally see costs decline because you don’t have to do as much three or four years from now,” he said.

While organics always have been criticized as costly, Osborne said “conventional products are much more expensive now because of the petroleum and gas input to make 1 ton of fertilizer. As the petroleum markets spike, so do the costs of conventional fertility products.”

Osborne promised that Durango’s program would be “sensitive to budget.”

“We’re not going to make it so complicated that the staff has this outrageous, complicated management program,” he said.

Osborne will go into more detail when he returns in January or February for a study session with City Council.

He also is offering to meet with the local landscape community. He would never tell them how to do their business, he said, but he would give them tips about how to get into the organic market.

Two people at his talk wanted to know when the organic program would be extended to all city parks.

He said the decision will depend on how well the pilot program works.

Katrina Blair, a local organic advocate, agreed that extending the program will be about “taking an assessment, letting the land guide (us).”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Osborne Enlarge photo

Osborne

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