Instead of spraying chemical pesticides on three Highland Park (IL)athletic fields, Park District officials decided to take residents up on their offer of organizing a community weeding effort.

Wealthy Chicago suburban parents pick weeds

Instead of spraying chemical pesticides on three Highland Park (IL)athletic fields, Park District officials decided last week to take residents up on their offer of organizing a community weeding effort.

The Park Board, and several of the residents who led an aggressive community campaign against pesticides, have committed to the day of manual labor later this fall, but many more volunteers will be needed to eradicate the reported 60 percent weed coverage at West Ridge, Larry Fink and Danny Cunniff parks.

In August, commissioners authorized its park operations staff to apply one chemical treatment to rescue those three playing fields. The Park Board, however, officially backed off from the chemical approach Oct. 27 after a community backlash was expressed in more than 70 e-mails to district leaders, 575 signatures on an online petition and two-dozen impassioned comments during an Oct. 11 public hearing.

In addition to the weed-picking effort, commissioners also announced last week the creation a Parks Advisory Committee, which will assemble between seven and 11 residents interested in turf management. The recommending body will ultimately advise the Park Board on a long-term solution for the deteriorating athletic fields.

The weed-picking day will be held later this month, and the district will hold another in April to ensure the fields are ready for its spring and summer athletic programming.

Community groups, local sports teams and school clubs will be tapped to help pull the weeds. Grass seed will be spread in the weeds’ place to help fill-in the holes.

“If the Parks Advisory Committee is unable to obtain a sufficient number of volunteers to effectuate the hand removal of weeds, it shall promptly advise the Park District of Highland Park Board of Commissioners and its staff of this fact so that alternative solutions to the weed overgrowth can be promptly evaluated and implemented in advance of the 2012 spring season, and thereafter as needed,” the Park Board’s unanimously approved turf management resolution states.

“There was a consensus among all of our experts as well as the community that a manual weed eradication strategy would be effective and safe,” added Park Board president Scott Meyers. “Apparently elbow grease is not on the list of EPA-banned substances.”

Highland Park residents Michelle Kramer, Kim Stone and Dean Mouscher, who led the move against pesticides, publicly thanked the Park Board for keeping with its three-year commitment of treating local fields with natural techniques.

“I and many other people appreciate you listening to what the community said and listening to our concerns and holding the meeting, and seeking consultants to advise you on the issue,” Kramer told the Park Board last week. “I definitely will be there to help weed and will do my part to bring others to help also.”

In addressing long-term turf issues, the new Parks Advisory Committee will be asked to conduct a complete analysis of the district’s current Integrated Pest Management program and policies.

“(This Board is) one of transparency, we are open-minded, we are here to serve our residents, and (I hope) there will be a trust built that when the time comes when we do have to make a (long-term) decision that you will know that we do have your best interest in mind,” commissioner Lori Flores Weisskopf said.

The district adopted a progressive, model lawn care program in 2007 that includes aggressive irrigation, aeration, mowing, over-seeding and other cultural practices to keep the turf in good condition. The district also has tried applying corn gluten meal and restaurant-grade vinegar, which are billed as natural substitutes for synthetic herbicides.