Kevin: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast – the show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology & Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Paul Cady as he speaks with Michael Stachowicz, turf manager for the National Mall. In the third and final installment of this three part series, they’ll talk about the maintenance of the National Mall turf renovation project.
Paul: Ok Michael, would you mind giving me a brief description of your role in this turf project?
Michael: The project itself was almost 90-95% complete by the time they brought me on board. My role really has been to help finish it out and deal with punch list items and get the turf program and care of this project going. They just did a completely super job with the consultants they hired and how they went about it.
Paul: How do you maintain the new turf, differently than the older turf?
Michael: Actually with the older turf there’s, there really isn’t much care at all. It’s basically mowing. Other than the 6.5 acres that we’re starting with, the other panels just don’t get any sort of protection, just mowing. Protection [is] anything from decking or just letting people know the times that you can’t use the turf because it’s wet or if there’s frosty conditions, or frozen conditions, or that sort of thing. The new turf has got a real turf program which has fertilizer, it has pest control, it has cultural practices such as aeration, over seeding, all the things that you can do to agronomically get the turf to be healthy and grow. In addition to that, we control events. How you can use events on this turf is restricted because we want the damage to the turf to be prevented and to never happen so we work with event planners to make sure that they use the turf in a very positive way. They’re trying to minimize the damage.
Paul: So since you’re putting a lot more inputs into the turf is it requiring a lot more people than it did before? Or time?
Michael: Well it certainly requires more time. We’re still in the process of trying to build a turf team, or how we’re going to go about caring for it. Right now I’m really the only person taking care of it; I do have a contract company that’s contracted for a lot of the turf care. There’s a lot more focus on the 6 acres compared to the other five or six hundred acres that the park has. Then it’ll be a philosophical question for us, or a budgetary question, do we continue doing it with contractors to try to get it done or do we build a team here to get it done? Either way, it’s definitely more of a focus on keeping turf healthy and growing on these areas.
Paul: Do you use volunteers or recruit volunteers to help maintain it?
Michael: Yeah, the landscape in general of the mall is a great volunteer program. People are really interested in volunteering in general at this park and there’s a lot of things that they do. In as far as my little section of turf we had volunteers after the 4th of July to help with cleanup. These new turf panels have, a drainage system with grates and these grates get clogged with debris, so we’ve had volunteers that help clean up. Coming from the private sector to this, it’s a little bit of a learning curve for me but it’s a very exciting one.
Paul: Are you seeing people using the new turf differently than the older turf? Or more? Or…
Michael: Absolutely. I’ve talked to people who put together pick up games and recreational leagues on the mall. It’s interesting that people are far more interested in playing and coming out. Attendance is definitely up. When it comes to how people [are] recreating on the mall, and then there is also the casual visitor and how they use it as well, I can see a difference between the old turf and this turf how it gets used: pictures that get taken, the lounging around, picnics, the laying out, the games with kids that sort of thing. It’s just a much more welcoming environment for people to come, and definitely it’s got a lot of excitement as well. People can really appreciate the Park Service doing this project, and putting the effort into keeping it up, which is kind of odd to have the public actually articulate that.
Paul: Are they working as designed? I know there’s some kind of drainage system underneath, and is it all working as you hoped?
Michael: Yeah, we’ve still got some bugs to work out on the irrigation. The irrigation system is storm water reclamation, we have 500,000 gallons right now and when the project is done we’ll have a million [gallons] (I mean the entire mall) of storm water harvesting. We have these cisterns and we are trying to get the cisterns to work with the pump station and the filtering systems. DC requires the filtering and sanitation of that storm water before putting it back out. Figuring those things out and working it out, it’s a very unique and complex system especially on this scale, so if it went together without us having to tweak a few things out I would have been surprised. Soil engineering has been really great as far as handling more water and rainfall. We’ve had a really wet spring, as a lot of people have on the east coast, [the turf] never got muddy, it drained really well. It’s not only the soil medium the grass is growing on, it’s the drainage that’s underneath. So that is working well. The grass types that we’ve, that were, chosen for it so far seem to be pretty hardy like they were supposed to be. They were supposed to use less water and be more disease resistant, and insect resistant, and so far all of those things (although we haven’t really tested it for very long) those things seem to be true. All the technical insight that went into building this seems to be paying off.
Paul: Has there been any unexpected hardships or unforeseen benefits to this?
Michael: The idea more people want to use it is a double edged sword. More people are using it, therefore that’s the greatest unknown factor, the hardest factor. Growing turf is not as complicated as growing turf under traffic. This probably goes back to the other question, but unforeseen benefits really have been how people are using it, how many people are using it, and the goodwill that’s generated by the investment in this green space.
Paul: So if other sites are considering a project like this, maybe not quite on this same scale, what would you suggest to them in their initial design phase or in the maintenance phase at the end?
Michael: Every single area of the country is different, [they have] different microenvironments. There are people who are used to working in certain areas of the country that know the types of grasses to pick. People who are in their own public space or park know what kind of traffic they are going to get, they would know which turf to pick based on the environment. They would also help with the soil; when you make soils to grow turf on there’s a pull there, contradiction, where the more you want it to drain the sandier the soil gets. You may want it to hold more water so that means that the soil will be heavier with soil. That all depends upon traffic and what you have for resources, do you have enough water to be able to do that, or whether you need the drainage, or whether you need to combat the traffic. There’s so many things that go into tailoring this for any area. Bringing in turf agronomists and somebody with some soils background to help develop that from the start would be really great and the other thing would be to help build a turf program afterwards. Look at what the cost of that turf program is afterwards. The mall turf panels are pretty straight forward because it’s a flat, wide open area. There might be, looking at maintenance afterwards [and] what you have to spend on maintenance afterward, you might do things a little differently during construction. Whether you would make it a little bit more maintenance friendly by not having so much trim work, or if you didn’t have the maintenance to clean drains all the time you might change some characteristics of the drainage system. You gotta kind of know what your resources are afterwards so that you can build the turf to kind of match that and make it sustainable. There is a saying around here in the Park Service that if it’s not maintainable it’s not sustainable. So, let’s look at what we have, let’s build a realistic budget and model for turf maintenance afterward, and then see if we can do that so we can be as sustainable as possible.
Paul: That was really great thank you for talking to me. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the upkeep or the maintenance of this landscape?
Michael: In closing, one of the things that I thought was pretty great about when they pulled together this program was just this idea that it wasn’t just the type of turf you picked or the infrastructure (and when I’m talking infrastructure I’m talking about the soil the drainage the irrigation) but there was the idea of management, how people use it. It’s like a social aspect; it’s like how is it culturally used and trying to find out how to control that. The guidelines that they put together by bringing in people who do protect turf at concert venues for a living, and developing an Operations and Maintenance manual, really took that into account and made that part of it and that’s a huge part/realization. I’d like to point to the Park Service and how they did look at how it was going to get used, and how to control how it gets used, so that we can keep turf on what we see as, and many people who travel here see as, America’s front lawn.
Paul: Alright. Well thank you very much for talking to me Michael, I appreciate it.
Michael: Well thank you, it was a pleasure.
Kevin: That was Paul Cady’s conversation with Sean Kennealy (pronounced kaNEEly). You can find the transcript of this interview on our website. That’s ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time…