Archive for Saturday, June 16, 2007

Herbicides in parks still a nettlesome issue

City says $60K extra needed

Amanda Wells and her son, Colin, enjoy the shade Friday morning in South Park. The city is grappling with the costs and benefits of having pesticide- and herbicide-free parks.

Amanda Wells and her son, Colin, enjoy the shade Friday morning in South Park. The city is grappling with the costs and benefits of having pesticide- and herbicide-free parks.

June 16, 2007


Audio Clips
Pestidice-Free Parks
Group of concerned citizens push to make Lawrence parks pesticide-free

The city tested out the program with volunteers at 34 parks for the past two years. Now, those volunteers want the city to take it over permanently and expand it to every park. Enlarge video

Those darn weeds.

If Lawrence wants to ban herbicide and pesticide use in all of its parks, residents will need to lower their aesthetic standards or city commissioners will need to come up with about $60,000 extra per year to pay for more weed eater operators, city parks and recreation leaders have determined.

Supporters of a pesticide-free park program, though, are disputing those findings.

"I think that is a sign that there is still a problem with the Parks and Recreation Department being resistant to switching its practices," said Marie Stockett, an organizer of Lawrence's Pesticide-Free Parks Project.

Mark Hecker, the city's park superintendent, said that isn't the case. He said unless the public is willing to live with weeds or tall grass around light poles, trees and fence lines, the city will have to hire six seasonal employees to run string trimmers. Currently, the city - about two times per year - sprays Roundup around the trees and on other areas.

The cost for the additional employees is estimated at $57,600 per year, plus another $1,000 for fuel. The city also would be facing an upfront cost of about $18,000 for a new truck and weed-trimming equipment.

Stockett said additional city employees wouldn't be needed if the city adopted practices such as mulching around trees, fence lines and other hard-to-mow areas.

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will get to decide whether the pesticide-free park idea is a daisy or a dandelion. Two years ago, the previous City Commission selected Watson Park near Sixth and Kentucky streets to serve as part of a pesticide-free pilot project.

Parks and recreation leaders are telling commissioners that they can take some steps toward a pesticide-free park system but can't recommend going as far as some residents want. Here's a look at what they can and can't do:

¢ Can eliminate the use of pesticides in all wood chip areas beneath playground equipment and near picnic shelters. Hecker said that shouldn't cause a significant increase in city costs, although he said residents might notice a few more weeds in those areas.

¢ Can create a public database that shows when and where city crews have applied pesticides. Hecker said the list would be added to the parks and recreation Web site and updated annually. Stockett wants the list updated much more frequently so residents can consult it before going to a park.

¢ Can't recommend eliminating pesticide use on athletic fields. Hecker said the staff would manage the fields using a "least toxic practices" approach. But Hecker said he wants to have the option of using pesticides and herbicides to meet the public's expectations for the fields.

¢ Can't recommend eliminating pesticide use in the city's many mulched flower beds and landscape areas. Hecker said least toxic methods would be used, but pesticides may be needed to protect the "thousands of dollars" in investments that the city makes in plants and flowers. He also said he wasn't optimistic that he could successfully hire enough laborers at a reasonable price to hand-weed the beds.

Previously, some people had volunteered to help weed Watson Park.

"As far as volunteers go, they work great when they show up," Hecker said. "Our experience has been that the hotter it gets, the fewer volunteers we have."

Stockett said banning pesticide use in flower beds is a high priority because children are often drawn to the flower beds to "explore."

City commissioners have expressed varying levels of support for the pesticide-free park idea. The item is back on the agenda to determine if commissioners want to include the additional funding in the 2008 budget, which they already have said faces numerous financial challenges.

The meeting begins at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

The city could over seed with Buffalo Grass a grass that puts out dense growth,stifles weeds,needs no fertilizer or herbicide,no watering not to mention could go with one mowing annually thereby saving enough money to foot the bill for weed pullers.

Also many parks could way back on grassy areas and go with flowering shrubs and perennials plus mulch another huge money saver on the long term.

Mowing is a decent enough weed control. Most weeds have green foliage that blends well with grasses. Tell me why spend so much money on toxic chemicals for a weed free environment which is not the natural order of things? Why continue to spend so much on mowing/gasoline/machine maintenance when Buffalo Grass could all but eliminate the lions share of the cost? A client of mine calls me once a year to mow their buffalo grass at a home off Crestview...anything but the poor side of town. The grass is beautiful in color and as it's 4" height blows in the wind. No it is not evergreen which is more natural to this climate. Any good city landscaper could still create a beautiful Kansas landscape year round without evergreen grass which requires lots of resources during warm Kansas weather. Less need for sprinkler repair and parts.

Plenty of ways to cut back thus providing funding for weed pullers. Surely citizens could live with money saving more natural landscaping and a few weeds in the grass.

Good reasons:

classclown 10 years, 7 months ago

This article is about weeds and overgrowth, not bugs. Why does it keep mentioning pesticides?

Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

classclown (Anonymous) says: This article is about weeds and overgrowth, not bugs. Why does it keep mentioning pesticides?

You make quite a legitimate point.

As you must know weeds are considered pests to some. However the matter actually deals in pesticides and herbicides of which both can trigger allergic reactions that may result in death in a matter of hours. Cancer is the most highlighted potential whereas allergic reactions seldom reach the table.

cowboy 10 years, 7 months ago

Watson park looks pretty ratty and willl only worsen over the annual cycles , a grand idea but not real grand in practice

Oracle_of_Rhode 10 years, 7 months ago

We need to have enough sense not to spray our children's play areas with poisons. Plus numbers of pollinators and backyard birds are in steep decline due to loss of habitat and use of pesticides. Lawrence should be friendly to children, butterflies and birds.

Of course, the conservative Bush boys posting here would rather pave the parks, paint yellow lines on them and turn them into parking lots for new Wal-Marts.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 7 months ago

I despise lawns and everything associated with them.

erod0723 10 years, 7 months ago

"However the matter actually deals in pesticides and herbicides of which both can trigger allergic reactions that may result in death in a matter of hours." How many times a year does this happen in the U.S.? 1? 2? A person is more likely to die from drinking too much water.

Kaw Pickinton 10 years, 7 months ago

"Put to work the miscreats currently ensconced in that thing they call the Douglas County Jail."

That's not a bad idea.

Can I sit on a horse with mirrored sunglasses and shotgun watching over them?

Actually every time I go to Topeka I see a prisoners in orange with a port-a-john on a trailer cutting the grass along I-70.

Redzilla 10 years, 7 months ago

Go ahead and be damned then, Pilgrim. I can't see why we ought to despise our native plants, when they would require the least work to maintain. If you like bluegrass, move somewhere that it grows easily.

blackwalnut 10 years, 7 months ago

Another biased headline. The print edition headline screams "City says $60k extra needed."

Doesn't even hint at what is in the article.

Journal-World fully on board with Sue Hack's tax propaganda. Chad Lawhorn is always the author of these, it seems.

Lousy journalism.

coneflower 10 years, 7 months ago

I agree about the biased headline in the print edition. Saw this in a newsstand, because I quit my subscription when I realized how biased this paper is.

We don't need lawns that look like AstroTurf. We need safe lawns that children can play on. Smarter types of grass would help make this a reality. Buffalo grass, yes - we had this in our lawn when I was growing up. It is soft underfoot and survives any drought. How much would the city save in water?

coneflower 10 years, 7 months ago

I'm envisioning a few hundred teenagers and college students who would be happy to have part-time jobs on summer mornings and would do it for minimum wage.

Let some of those kids on diversion choose weed pulling for their community service.

Hire a few homeless people to pull weeds for minimum wage.

lunacydetector 10 years, 7 months ago

why would the city hire more employees when the kooks are supposed to be volunteering to de-weed the parks?

to use the analogy the kooks use to those who don't agree with them, if you don't want to be in a park that has pesticides, then don't go there or just move.

by the way, buffalo grass doesn't grow well in eastern kansas. in manhattan it works, but not here.

lunacydetector 10 years, 7 months ago

correction again: use BOTH herbicides AND pesticides. there.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 7 months ago

Sell all of the city parks to Wallyworld. Demand that they maintain them with no weeds allowed. Fine them on a per weed basis. Sue them for deploying weapons of mass destruction when they use the 'cides to prevent the fines. Send them to Guantanamo and seize their assets. Allow them to open a Wallymart there, though, and use taxes generated to support torture and detention.

It's the 'merican way!~)


hanni213 10 years, 7 months ago

Herbicides are harmful. My neighbors sprayed their yard for dandelions while I was outside playing with my grandchildren in my yard.--Instant sore throat. I ended up with a severe laryngitis, lost my voice...felt like I had razor blades in my throat, and had to be put on steroids. Took 6 weeks to clear up completely. Luckily my grandchildren were further away and didn't get quite the dose I did, since I took them inside as soon as I realized what was happening.

I believe we need to avoid spraying chemicals whereever possible. Buffalo grass sounds wonderful...will have to see about using it in my yard. What is so terrible about a few dandelions or some clover anyway?...those are signs of a natural, healthy lawn.

hanni213 10 years, 7 months ago

...I think it is irresponsible to poison the environment just because we think it looks prettier.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 7 months ago

"Herbicides are not harmful if used properly,"

That depends to a large extent on how you define "harmful," and the definition that is used by government and industry is generally pretty lax.

hanni213 10 years, 7 months ago

Just because the city has an ordinance agains "overgrown yards" doesn't mean it is law to poison them....overgrown means not kept short.

hanni213 10 years, 7 months ago

..."not harmful"--my doctor would beg to differ with you.

cowboy 10 years, 7 months ago

seems the volunteers who told the city they could do this have flamed out , idealism vs realism. The park is now full of dandelions and clover and does not look good imho.

hanni213 10 years, 7 months ago

Actually it was a professional company that was hired to spray my neighbor's yard. You would think they would know all this. Then again if inhaling a few fumes can do that much damage to an adult, I wonder how much damage it can do by contact in a small child. Truth is we don't know how safe it is. They used to think DDT was safe...oh yes, then there was Thalidomide, etc.etc. The list goes on and on about substances found to be harmful after the damage was done.

I am not willing to see if my grandchildren have any permanent damage just so I can have a pretty lawn in the meanwhile.

fyrfighter1955 10 years, 7 months ago

Let's see. The city is cutting costs everywhere. The bus system is cutting routes. Money is tight everywhere. And a few noisy minority folks(same ones that always make noise) want to spend a lot of money to naturalize the parks. Folks, if you don't like the way things are and have been done here, move back to wherever it is that the world is perfect. Cause it ain't here!! Your child is more likely to be hurt in a traffic accident that by chemicals in a park. Ban all cars! That will give you something to do, as it seems you need something to fill your time.

camper 10 years, 7 months ago

To me, its not a weed if it is green. You really don't see too much yellow if mowing is regularly done. I like the idea of buffalo grass...though I'm not sure what it looks like. I would maybe also suggest bermuda grass. It seems very resilient in summer months. Lawrence may be a liitle too far north though.

Athletic fields. This may be a different matter. The turf on these fields is aesthetically appealing to spectators, but the athletes also appreciate the cushion it provides. There is an injury prevention aspect here that must be recognized.

Pesticides. Though I generally do not like the idea of using them, one must weigh the negative consequences of not using them. Certain insects do provide a degree of health risk (ie. mosquitos and ticks). Chigger bites are also particulary unpleasant and long in duration...though generaly harmless.

Herbicides. Herbicides can hinder the natural spreading of grass by not allowing natural seedlings and spores to germinate. I theorize an excellent form of weed control is to simply let grass overcrowd the weeds.

There are many good comments here.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

Zoysia grass is great for the Kansas climate; it does not require lots of water, it tolerates heat very well, and is low growing. And, when it is healthy, it is very thick, like walking on heavy plush carpet, and it chokes out weeds.

Zoysia goes dormant in November. It becomes a thick, blonde thatch throughout the winter and spring. It greens late. Sometime around late April, early May, it transforms into a deep, green, gorgeous, ground cover.

Zoysia is a "creeper." It spreads rapidly, and is very easily propagated by planting plugs or laying turf.

I had a lovely stand of zoysia grass until my neighbor "accidentally" over-sprayed when he killed his (and my) lawn with Roundup so he could plant a grass that requires constant maintenance and watering.

I plan to re-turf with zoysia in about 4 weeks.


camper 10 years, 7 months ago

Zoysia is a great grass too! How comforting it is to discuss grass. It is taking my mind off of other problems. This is almost as good as car-talk.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

Let us now turn our talk to the virtues of hostas, vinca, columbine, ivy, clover, mint and catnip.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

And, of course, the lill, in all its forms, astilbe, and chrysanthemum. Oh, yeah and roses. Lovely roses.

Why do we devote so much space to grass, anyway?

stbaker 10 years, 7 months ago

So what is so wrong with dandelion? My kids love to pick them--and actually rank them right up with roses and lilies in flower bouquets , and the leaves are edible, right? And clover provide a great food source for honey bees, which I hear are on the decline. Now chiggers....that's another story. I just happen to be battling a bad case of chigger bites right now.

erod0723 10 years, 7 months ago

"I theorize an excellent form of weed control is to simply let grass overcrowd the weeds." Ummm.... the reason they are weeds is because they take over the grass populations. Have you ever heard of the kudzu? This thick woody weed is taking over large parts of the Southeastern US and is slowing making it's way to Kansas. Herbicides are necessary to keep invading plant species from taking over.

camper 10 years, 7 months ago

erod0723 I know what kudzu is. There is a picture of it on REM's second album. Is it dangerous? Where did this invading plant come from? I was unaware of this serious problem.

camper 10 years, 7 months ago

erod0723. I should have maybe looked into this before I posted my sarcastic reply. You indeed do make a good point. A google searched showed me that kudzu now covers approximately 7 million acres in the South East USA. It was imported to America from Japan in the 1800' it can be characterized as an invading species. This plant posesses both positive and negative qualities. Positive are its soil erosion properties. The negatives are 1) it can cause harm to forests and 2) creates many problems to utilities and other infrastructures (ie utilty poles etc). Unfortunately herbicides are larely ineffective, and it can take years and many applications to eliminate its presence.

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