Unhealthy turf at some of the organically treated parks in the city may prompt Durango city councilors to return some to conventionally maintained parks.
Park Elementary’s field and Needham Park could be removed from the city’s organic program and four other parks could be managed with a blended strategy that would include organic fertilizer and spot treatment for weeds, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said.
Of the eight organic parks in the program currently, Pioneer and Brookside parks would remain.
Metz recently presented the changes to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which agreed with the proposal. The Durango City Council will consider the changes and could make a final decision during a study session to be held in December.
The city’s prospective changes to the organic parks program have been controversial among those who advocate for them. Katrina Blair, with Organic Parks Durango, fought to preserve and expand the program. She argues that the organically managed parks look better than before and the organic strategies help protect the planet.
“Our desire is to add parks into the program not take parks out,” Blair said.
A turf specialist with Colorado State University, Tony Koski, visited Durango’s organic parks earlier this year and found the parks in the organic program were not getting enough nitrogen, Metz said. That prompted the city to consider changes.
The turf at Park and Needham elementary schools are in particularly poor condition, she said.
“We feel like we need to rescue those parks using conventional turf practices,” she said.
Riverfront, Iris, Folsom and Schneider parks could be managed with synthetic fertilizers, and the weeds in those parks could be treated with low-risk products, Metz said. The city would also spot-treat weeds in Pioneer and Brookside parks, but the staff would not use synthetic fertilizer at those parks.
One of the challenges with using organic fertilizer in the Durango area is the soil temperature, Koski said.
“Organic fertilizers work better with warmer soils,” he said.
The organic fertilizer is also four times more expensive than synthetic options, Metz said.
“We are working on the costs of the various scenarios,” Metz said of the budget for the revisions.
This year, the city budgeted $3,910 for each acre of non-organic parks and $6,910 for each acre of organically managed land.
Previously, organic park advocates expressed concern about herbicides the city uses to control weeds.
“All the chemicals we use in the turf grass are safe, whether they are organic or conventional,” Metz said.
Blair had several concerns about the city’s proposal to change the organic parks program because the goal of the program created in 2012 was to expand organic management on city lands.
In addition to using herbicides on school grounds, Blair worried about spreading nitrogen because it washes into the waterways and is a leading cause of dead zones in the oceans, she said.
“It’s just being a responsible citizen of the Earth to notice the cause and effects of what we do,” she said.
Both natural and organic nitrogen can leach into waterways when not managed properly, Koski said.
The city could plant mini clover that would naturally replenish nitrogen in the soil and stay hidden beneath the grass, Blair said.
The city has adopted a flexible budget to manage organic parks. Metz said the current proposal still allows the city staff opportunity to compare the different park management techniques.
She also plans to meet with organic parks advocates ahead of the study session in December, she said.