Turf at Woodborough Park 2020-10-09 022
Local News

Study shows the need for turf chemicals, but not at all H-F parks

The turf at the 31 parks in the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District are likely to get fewer chemical applications next year, and some will be chemical free.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic gave maintenance staff a chance to implement a care-of-turf study it has been looking at for three years. The park district reduced costs when it eliminated all chemical treatments this year.

Doug Boehm, superintendent of parks and planning, told commissioners at the Oct. 6 meeting, that he had a plan that “focused on three main parks – Apollo, Irwin and Flossmoor. We’d like to maintain three treatments (there) and move to two at most of the others.”

Boehm said he is sensitive to people’s concerns about chemicals, which is why the list includes parks that will not be treated: Butterfield, Cedar, Hollydale, Rover’s Run, Scandia in Homewood; Irons Oaks in Olympia Fields; Flossmoor Hills, Pinehurst, Pheasant Hills in Flossmoor.

The turf at Woodborough Park in Homewood looks green and lush in a photo taken on Oct. 9. Park staff have studied the need for applying chemicals and have found some areas fare better than others. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Boehm explained he worked with Dave Ward, superintendent of golf, and Cheryl Vargo, Irons Oaks manager, on the assessment of the grasses, a monitoring system of how fertilizers were working, and an evaluation process on what they thought would be necessary for park maintenance. They kept records in several areas – the percentage of weeds in spring and summer, and whether the parks developed grubs and crabgrass. 

Boehm said an outside firm has been fertilizing in the parks for years. This study allowed staff to assess whether the three or four applications a year were necessary, and what types of chemicals should be used.

“We were going to start to implement (the study) this year but the pandemic hit and we decided to pull the plug on all of our treatments. See what would happen,” Boehm said. “We can see the results where some of the parks have missed those treatments; some have been OK.”  

A few parks haven’t needed much, but Boehm said the assessment is that most parks will need some treatment. For example, he reported Millennium, Irwin, Balantrae and Patriots Parks “had significant increases in weeds, clover and crabgrass” without treatment. 

Commissioners thanked Boehm, Ward and Vargo for their work on the study, and said it was a good exercise to go through.

“While I think it’s important that we’re not over fertilizing, I think there’s something to be said about the quality and the look of some of these parks. It affects property values and its affects the quality of the parks in general,” Commissioner Stever Johnson said. “I think it’s important that we maintain that.”

Johnson and Commissioner Debbie Dennison said after receiving Boehm’s memo on the turf study they’d been out driving around looking at the parks. They realized that without chemical treatment, especially at the larger parks like Irwin and Flossmoor, there were turf issues.


“They all look impeccable and extremely welcoming to everyone,” Dennison said. “I would agree with Commissioner Johnson that moving forward we still have to be diligent to listen to residents concerns about chemicals and keeping a couple parks that are chemical free for them, but we also still must maintain a certain quality and visual aesthetics for individuals. When you drive around, the parks don’t look that bad, but when you get closer and really look at it, it’s a totally different ballgame.”

Commissioner Brent Bachus said, “I like that we’re not taking a one-size-fits-all approach and that it’s a case-by-case basis. Just the fact that we can say we have an individualized plan tells me just how important this is to us,” he said. “I feel like we’ve continued to step in the right direction on this. When we go cold turkey, the pendulum’s got to swing back just a bit in the other direction.”

“We’re always looking for the COVID 2020 silver lining,” said Debbie Kopas, parks executive director.  When the opportunity presented itself, staff decided to try it this approach. “It turned out pretty well,” she added.

Commissioners recommended the public be notified of the chemical-free parks through the park district’s website and an informational sign posted at the parks.

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