Parks Department Takes First Step Toward Organic Playing Fields

Weinfurtner Field (closest to E 29th) will be converted into an organic field | Steven Okonek for TriMedia

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) It’s a growing topic in parks management, and now the Marshfield Parks & Recreation Department is getting ahead of the trend. This May, the department will be converting Weinfurtner Field at Griese Park into an organic field – meaning no chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.

Ben Steinbach, Parks Superintendent, brought the idea to the Parks & Recreation Department after attending educational classes through the Wisconsin Sports Turf Managers Association.

“Organic has become a bigger and bigger topic,” he said. “We want to do a test field and start going that way, being more green.”

Ultimately, the result will be a softer, safer playing field that requires less maintenance over time. While the cost is bigger upfront, an organic field is cheaper to maintain than a synthetically treated one in the long term.

“You get a quicker result with synthetic, but every year you have to keep on applying the same materials,” said Ryan Virden, Parks Technician and owner of Nature’s Touch, which is providing the materials. “You’re not getting things corrected to fix the issue. Synthetically treated lawns are constantly being touched because they’re killing the biology of the soil.”

Balancing the soil correctly by monitoring the PH level and keeping the micro and macro nutrients at optimal levels stops the spread of weeds naturally. If the levels are too high, for example, the field could have an influx of dandelions. Too low, and the crab grasses begin to flourish.

The first step in the conversion of the playing field to organic will be applying preemergence made of corn gluten meal to inhibit weed growth. Depending on the needs of the soil based on tests conducted by UW-Extension, the field will receive liquid applications containing such things as kelp extracts, horticultural molasses, humic acids, and fungi to balance it. The soil will need around ten applications the first year, then this could be brought down to 3-4 in a year.

The next step in the process is to add a half-inch top layer of vegetative compost made of materials like grass clippings and leaves, which will put nitrogen biology back into the soil.

“There’s no wood mulches, or sawdust, or pellets,” said Virden.

Because it’s all organic, there’s no wait period before kids can use it safely. “As soon as we apply this, you can step on it,” said Cody See, Grounds Specialist.

The changes users will notice is the field will be a softer playing surface for the athletes and that the grass color will be a lighter green. It will take several years, however, to see the full effect of the applications on weeds and bug control.

The Parks & Recreation Department will observe the results of this test field and consider converting other fields in the city to organic in a few years. “We’re hoping with our parks that we continue these safer, more green practices, that’s better for our users,” said See.

The department has already taken steps toward more environmentally friendly practices in recent years, such as by reusing trees and creating a natural water filtration system for the Kodiak Bear Exhibit in 2015. It will repurpose lumber this year for the upcoming cougar exhibit expansion and a new gravel tree bed at the Wildwood Zoo, and has also reduced chemical treatments overall.

“As a whole, we’ve been trying to be greener department,” said Steinbach. “We’re trying to take small steps to make an impact.”