Watson Park has long been the place to go to see an old-fashioned locomotive, and it soon will be the place to see old-fashioned, chemical-free gardening, too.
City commissioners tonight are scheduled to approve a plan by Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department leaders to designate Watson Park as a test case for a much-talked-about effort to make the city's parks pesticide- and herbicide-free.
Fred DeVictor, director of Parks and Recreation, said Watson Park - which is a two-block park in the northwest corner of the downtown area, between Kentucky and Tennessee streets - met the commission's requirement to convert a highly visible park into a pesticide-free area.
"Watson is one of the parks that takes some of the most maintenance in terms of our flowerbeds and landscaping," DeVictor said. "We want to keep it up to the standards that we have today. It will be a good case study for us."
World Online: Panorama -- Buford M. Watson Jr. Park Study: Pesticide-free parks would heap on costs for city (05-17-05) City Commission to consider plan to rid parks of pesticides (03-29-05) On the Street: Should the use of pesticides be banned in Lawrence's city parks? (03-29-05) Letter to the city commission about the proposal (pdf) Proposal outline (pdf) Compost giveaway returning (03-26-05) 6News video: Recycling changes lead to frustration (03-23-05) Environmentalists say it's easy being green in Lawrence (02-13-05) Local environmentalists pleased with city's response to concerns (05-21-02)
Parks and Recreation leaders made the recommendation after area residents continued to push commissioners to convert the entire city park system into pesticide-free areas, citing possible health risks associated with the chemicals. Marie Stockett, a member of Lawrence's Pesticide Free Parks Project, said she was encouraged that Parks and Recreation leaders were now willing to give the idea a try.
"I really hope that they'll give it their all," Stockett said. "I think there is so much public support behind pesticide-free parks in Lawrence that it will be hard to take a step backward."
Parks and Recreation leaders last month had issued a report saying that by 2009 the city would be spending an extra $200,000 per year to maintain all its parks without pesticides or herbicides. And even then, Parks and Recreation officials couldn't wholeheartedly recommend the plan, the report said.
Some city commissioners questioned the costs associated with the plan, and now DeVictor is saying that his department will use Watson Park to get a better idea of how much pesticide-free management will cost the city.
He has alerted city commissioners that his department may ask for one additional maintenance person to help keep up with weeding, mulching and overseeding of the park. But DeVictor said that the department first would try to establish a volunteer program with the adjacent Old West Lawrence neighborhood or other interested groups to help with some of the extra work.
Stockett, who lives in the Old West Lawrence area, said she thought neighbors would respond well to the idea.
"I think it will be exciting to get the community involved in maintaining our parks," Stockett said.
Other supporters of a pesticide-free park program said they thought the city would be pleasantly surprised by the results of the test project.
"I think some people are making it a lot more difficult than it is," said Terry Shistar, a member of the Pesticide Free Parks Project and adjunct assistant professor in environmental studies at Kansas University. "And they won't be doing this in a vacuum. Other cities across the country have done this."
Shistar said she didn't think residents would notice any major changes in the aesthetics of the park. She said more frequent mowings would help control weeds in open spaces, while heavier mulching would control weeds in flowerbeds and play areas.
The city currently maintains Ludlam Park, 2800 W. Ninth St., and Parnell Park, 901 E. 15th St., as pesticide- and herbicide-free areas. That practice will continue, and Parks and Recreation leaders say they'll look for other smaller areas to maintain as pesticide-free as well.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.