As many parks and recreation and K-12 school district turf managers know, the agendas of field users and administrators are often contrary to what is best for their fields. Rebecca Auchter, manager of grounds maintenance for Cranberry Township, PA told her audience at the STMA Conference in January that to combat this, they needed to create and manage others' expectations.

Creating & managing expectations—the key to field use and maintenance planning

As many parks and recreation and K-12 school district turf managers know, the agendas of field users and administrators are often contrary to what is best for their fields. Rebecca Auchter, manager of grounds maintenance for Cranberry Township, PA told her audience at the Sports Turf Managers Association Conference in January that to combat this, they needed to create and manage others’ expectations.

Auchter said the path to creating and managing expectations was to establish good relationships with key “influencers” such as administrators and spend time communicating with and training them, with a goal that eventually you will spend less time doing that and more time on agronomic practices. She reminded the audience that establishing relationships means “being nice” and “making friends.”

“You have to get the ‘owners’ of the fields to buy in to what you want to do to protect your fields,” she said. “The better your documentation and the more thorough your policies are, the faster you can get back to work.”

Auchter said turf managers need to teach, train, communicate, document and explain, not only to supervisors and other administrators but also to field users. She has put together three tools she uses to accomplish this: a Parks Maintenance Plan; an Athletic Field Use Policy; and an Athletic Field Maintenance Manual. “You can use these tools to answer a lot of questions so again, you can get back to work.”

Parks Maintenance Plan

“The Parks Maintenance Plan is general and comprehensive—what we have, where it is, what we do with it, and how to assess it.” said Auchter. The plan is broken out into categories of maintenance (turfgrass, skins, trees/landscape, trails, etc.) and then detailed levels of maintenance for each category (though not to the level of products/rates). For example, a 75-acre park is divided into priority zones; zone 1 areas are “mow and go”; zone 2 areas are surrounds and common areas; zone 3 areas are non-irrigated fields that do get chemical treatments; and zone 4 areas are irrigated fields that have full programs of fertility and preventive fungicide.

This maintenance plan includes Maintenance Inspection Checklists labeled Athletic Fields: Game and Practice Field Playing Surfaces; Athletic Field Envelope; Playgrounds; Hard Surface Courts and Sand Volleyball; Shelters; Restroom and Concession Buildings; and Park Common Areas. Auchter said these checklists are used as assessment tools but also are valuable documentation in mitigating risk, as well as help her provide answers in meetings.

Auchter said she also uses Daily Task Sheets that include 17 categories to document how many hours are spent doing work in those categories every day. “This shows supervisors what we do and how much we do it,” she said.

“I have used these daily task sheets to show that consistently 35-40 percent of my time is spent NOT working on green-related tasks,” she said. “It is good to be able to show this since I am being judged on those green tasks.”

Athletic Field Maintenance Manual

Auchter describes the Athletic Field Maintenance Manual as a “training manual for our partner associations”—aka VOLUNTEERS. “Again, this manual creates and manages expectations,” she said. “This manual spells out how the Township expects users to treat and maintain our fields.” [See “Athletic Field Maintenance Manual” sidebar for details.]

Athletic Field Use Policy

This document was adopted by the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors; Auchter described its content as “middle of the road-specific but not overly penal.” The township holds bi-annual meetings where users and township personnel get together to assess capital needs and introduce new policies, and perhaps most importantly, discuss field reservations and scheduling. “Get involved in scheduling up front,” she said, “because it will be to your great benefit. Spell out to users the most easily avoidable wear that any field gets; for example, no team needs to practice in soccer goal mouths.”

Another important aspect of the meetings is sharing information on how and when fields will be closed. Auchter manages this website for the township and said she posts field closings by 11 am weekdays, and by 9 pm the night before on weekends.

She said there are provisions in the policy manual for associations to overrule the closing if the weather improves, but that the onus on closing fields which deteriorate after an “open” posting falls on the associations as well. Moisture meters are available for the users to use when necessary to remain objective, Auchter said. As part of a Progressive Action Plan, the township will stop maintaining fields used by association groups that won’t work with township officials on these policies.

Auchter said to keep in mind that policies established should include rest and renovation periods, how it is determined whether fields are open or closed, and all scheduled closures, as well as time built in for general agronomic practices. [See “Athletic Field Use Policy” sidebar for details.]

Cranberry Township’s Athletic Field Maintenance Manual

Here is a sample of some of the guidelines and Do’s and Don’ts that are included in this manual, which details maintenance practices for volunteers from user groups:

Baseball and Softball

A. Determining Field Playability

The decision to play on fields that are too wet is the number one cause of damage to ball fields and the top reason for player injury. And often, techniques used to make a wet field “playable” cause additional damage. Making the tough call to postpone a game due to wet conditions is the best decision for player safety and to preserve season-long playability of the ball fields.

B. Water Removal Techniques for Skinned Infields

The most important mistake to avoid is the removal or movement of infield mix. A level field will drain better and have fewer puddles. Low spots or depressions catch and hold water EVERY TIME!

Use a pump to remove puddles.

1. Dig a hole and place the field mix out of your way.

2. Let the water drain into the low spot you’ve created.

3. Use the pump to move the water into a bucket.

4. Empty the bucket outside of the playing field into a drain.

5. Replace the field mix into the hole and level with a rake.

DO NOT Use These Methods on Wet Fields!

DO NOT use brooms to disperse puddles.

DO NOT sweep a puddle into the grass.

DO NOT remove muddy infield mix from the field.

All of these unfortunate techniques move infield material and leave a depression or low spot that will hold water every time it rains.

For small or shallow puddles, use a water absorbent pillow. 1. Allow the absorbent material to soak up the water. 2. Have a bucket nearby to wring out the pillow or sponge. 3. Empty the bucket of water off the field of play into a drain.

After the standing water has been removed, use a rake or nail drag to loosen the infield mix so it will dry more quickly. Allow time to air dry.

C. Addition of Field Drying Agents

Calcined and vitrified clay marketed under the brand names Turface, Pro’s Choice, Diamond Pro, Rapid Dry, and Profile are the most common products used to assist with wet infield conditions. These products should be used judiciously for two reasons: they are an expense to the program and they change the properties of the infield mix when used abundantly.

Never use more than three bags of drying agent to make a field playable!

D. Infield Grooming Techniques

1. Remove the bases and plug the base anchor sleeve before beginning any operations.

2. Vary the dragging pattern every time the field is groomed.

3. Scarify the field with a nail drag or needle tines.

4. Finish groom the field with a drag mat or broom. Go slowly!

5. When finished dragging, stop 5 to 6 feet before the edge of the skin and lift the drag. Shake any excess field mix off before exiting the field.

6. Exit the field in a different location each time to prevent build-up of infield mix in one location.

7. Hand rake out the pile left from the field drag.

8. Hand rake: base paths end-to-end, home plate, and the back radius of the infield.

DO NOT pull the nail drag or mat into the grass for any reason.

DO NOT take a nail drag or mat within 24” of the grass edge. Only hand rake edges to prevent lips from forming.

DO NOT take a nail drag over home plate.

DO NOT drive the nail drag or mat down base paths or around home plate on baseball diamonds with a grass infield.

E. Skinned Infield Leveling

Baseball and softball fields are designed with a specific slope to drain water from their surface. Underground drain pipes are virtually useless and rarely installed on ball fields. Keeping the infield slope correct will prevent puddling and therefore field closures. Players sliding, mechanical field groomers, and other factors contribute to un-level skinned infields. A diligent approach to correcting high or low spots is the most important task of a field manager.

For small areas, use a leveling rake. 1. Pull the material from a high spot and deposit it in a low area. 2. If the infield mix is dry, wet the leveled area and compact it with a tamper or the grooming machine tires. Otherwise, it will not stay in place.

For medium sized areas, use the leveling attachment of the grooming tool. 1. Remove the bases and plug the base anchor sleeve. 2. Loosen the field material with a nail drag or needle tines. 3. Make sure the leveler is NOT in the float position. 4. Make wide sweeping turns in several directions over the area that needs to be leveled. 5. If the infield mix is dry, water the area and compact it with the tires of the grooming machine. Otherwise, it will not stay in place.

For large areas or storm wash-outs, a box blade attachment works best. This should be coordinated with the Parks Department or outside contractor.

F. Clay Repairs

Clay surfaces provide very solid, firm footing and better wear characteristics than regular infield mix for high wear areas like the pitching mound and batter’s box. Making a clay repair is similar to making a repair with regular infield mix. The biggest difference with clay is that it must NOT be contaminated with any regular infield mix. Pitching mounds and batter’s boxes should be repaired every time they are used.

Techniques for Clay Repairs

1. Dig out and discard all loose material including infield mix, clay chunks, and field conditioners in and around the area to be repaired.

2. Sweep the area free of all minor bits of loose debris and place to the side.

3. Wet the existing clay with a flower watering can, hand held sprayer, or hose nozzle with a fine spray pattern.

4. Add new clay and compact in 2” layers. Working with clay can be tricky so follow these pointers:

a. The new clay must have enough moisture content to stick to the underlying clay base that has been moistened. Otherwise, the new clay will pop out of place and create a hazard.

b. If the clay is too sticky, wrap the tamper plate in a garbage bag to alleviate the problem.

c. Shredded, bagged clay is very easy to work with and store. It is excellent for small daily repairs.

d. Unfired clay bricks are great for large scale renovations and can be purchased by the pallet. Long term storage is not practical for bricks.

5. Add approximately ½” of new field conditioner over the repaired clay area.

G. Grass Edge Maintenance

Regular maintenance where the skinned infield meets the grass edge will prevent the formation of a lip. After wet playing conditions, the most common player injury occurs from bad ball bounces. Lips are a major contributor to this type of player injury. Lips at the grass edge are also the primary barrier to water exiting the skinned part of the field. Water trapped on the skin will force cancellations and field closures.

Techniques for Maintaining the Grass-to-Skin Edge

A manual or motorized edger can be used as frequently as preferred to keep edges looking crisp.

Monthly edging is recommended.

Neatly rake all grass clippings out of the infield mix when edging is complete.

Sod should be purchased and installed if edges are significantly deteriorated.

Sod installation should only be under taken in the early spring or fall. Sod will usually require hand watering for the first year.

The Parks Department or an outside contractor should be contacted if sod installation is desired.

H. Field Lining Techniques

Only use “Athletic Field Marker” for foul lines and batter’s boxes on skinned infields. DO NOT substitute lime or other white materials because they may be less expensive.

Only use marking paint that is specifically manufactured for turf.

Always use a string as a guide line.

Only use athletic field marker on skinned infields for important events. Overuse without removal will contaminate the infield mix and cause undesirable results.

Remember, the entire infield foul line should be UNDER first and third base.

Soccer, Football, Lacrosse

B. Water Removal Techniques for Grass Fields

The most important mistake to avoid is the removal or movement of soil from the field. Fields are designed with a specific slope to drain water from their surface and low spots or depressions catch and hold water EVERY TIME!

Use a pump to remove big puddles.

1. Carefully remove the top layer of sod and set it aside.

2. Dig a shallow hole and let the water drain into the low spot you’ve created.

3. Use the pump to move the water into a bucket.

4. Empty the bucket outside of the playing field.

5. Replace all of the soil and compact with your shoe. Replace the sod.

DO NOT Use These Methods on Wet Fields!

DO NOT use brooms to disperse puddles.

DO NOT remove muddy soil or turf from the field.

All of these unfortunate techniques leave a depression or low spot that will hold water every time it rains. Leveling a low spot is the best method to prevent puddling. The Parks Department is responsible for field leveling.

For shallow puddles, use a roller squeegee.

Only use roller squeegees made for turf.

Apply downward pressure on the handle as you walk.

Push standing water toward the outside of the field, never toward the middle.

A Water Hog is a giant sponge!

The absorptive outer layer soaks up water like a sponge.

The equipment is designed to “squeeze out” the outer sponge and hold the water in the internal cylinder.

The cylinder is opened and emptied away from the playing surface.

D. Portable Goals

Soccer and Lacrosse fields would be incomplete without the portable goals that provide the target for scoring! The primary concern with moveable goals is their ability to tip over and cause an injury. Hardware or weight bags can be used to secure the bottom crossbars to prevent tip-overs but must be done safely and correctly. Cranberry Township’s Partner Associations provide guidelines for moveable goal safety to their participating members.

Stakes, bag weights, and plate weights are 3 approved methods to prevent tip-overs!

Move the goals for all non-game events! This significantly reduces wear at the goal mouth.

E. Field Lining Techniques

Always use a string as a guideline.

Only use marking paint that is specifically manufactured for turf.

DO NOT rinse paint into any drain! It violates local, state, and federal law. Move to an isolated lawn or wooded area and spray out the rinsate.

For the full manual, see


Athletic Field Use Policy

Here are some highlights of Cranberry Township’s policy manual for field users:

The purpose of this document is to establish policies and procedures that govern the use of Cranberry Township athletic fields with the overall goal of safe and playable conditions for all eligible users. The policy will outline the responsibilities of users from the initiation of an athletic field reservation with the Parks & Recreation Department through post event activities. Under all circumstances, Cranberry Township’s Partner Associations (Seneca Valley Soccer Association-SVSA, Cranberry Township Athletic Association-CTAA, and Seneca Valley Junior Football Association-SVJFAC) assume full responsibility for the actions of any groups subletting fields in accordance with their lease contract. This document supersedes all previous athletic field use policies.

Bi-annual meetings will be held to discuss field specific issues such as maintenance schedules, facility issues, camps, tournaments, clinics, and overall timelines for use. The Athletic Field Use Policy will be reviewed at the bi-annual meetings and suggestions for changes or additions will be considered. The policy will be updated once annually each January. The meetings will be seasonal in nature with spring/summer sports slated for February/March and fall sports planned for June/July. Meetings will be initiated by Cranberry Township and will include representatives from Parks & Recreation, Public Works, and administrative personnel as deemed necessary. Each Partner Association requesting athletic field reservations is required to assign a representative to attend the meetings.

Park Rules & Regulations

All park visitors are required to abide by the rules of this policy as well as all Township ordinances. Park rules include, but are not limited to, the following:

·         Athletic fields and shelters require reservations for use and can be scheduled through the Parks & Recreation Department.

·         Pets are only allowed in the Rotary Dog Park located in Community Park.

·         Alcoholic beverages, gambling, and fireworks are strictly prohibited.

·         No glass containers are permitted in the park.

·         Permitted field users are responsible for the sportsmanship of their players, coaches, officials, and spectators.

·         Parking is in designated lots only. No parking is permitted on grass or landscaped areas for any reason. User groups must inform their participants and spectators to park in designated lots. It is the permitted user’s responsibility to alleviate traffic and parking issues.

·         At the conclusion of a practice or game, users must collect all litter and garbage from the field and adjacent areas and deposit in provided trash receptacles.

·         The last field user of each day is responsible for moving nets, goals, benches, tackling sleds, bases, etc., completely OFF the playing surface for maintenance and mowing purposes.

·         Fencing and buildings are strictly off limits for use as warm-up targets, batting soft toss, or throwing against in any fashion.

Field Reservations & Scheduling

Athletic field use permits are issued through the Parks & Recreation Department. Requests must be submitted and approved prior to play. As well, cancellations and changes must be communicated with the Parks & Recreation Department so that scheduling software can be maintained completely and accurately. Correct contact information is required with each reservation so unexpected problems or closures can be communicated quickly.

Prevention & Maintenance

Cranberry Township requests that Partner Associations refrain from or limit their use of heavy traffic wear areas during practices, regardless of weather, to assist in providing the best field conditions possible for scheduled games. This includes: goal areas, pitching mounds, foul lines, and any other portion of the field showing wear due to traffic. Preventing additional wear during non-game activities will greatly lengthen the playability of fields as the season progresses.


Partner Associations are responsible for maintaining an accurate schedule with the Parks & Recreation Department. The Public Works Grounds Maintenance Division will arrange operations around the daily schedule provided by the Parks & Recreation Department to minimize interference whenever possible. Therefore, unscheduled activities interfering with planned grounds maintenance operations are obliged to move at the request of Cranberry Township personnel.

Maintenance Closures

Fields may be closed at the discretion of the Grounds Maintenance Manager or designated Cranberry Township representative during times when the fields remain playable for certain operations such as aerification, emergency irrigation repairs, or pesticide applications. Partner Associations will be notified in advance whenever possible.

Field Status Recommendations

Cranberry Township will maintain a web page ( that provides daily field status recommendations of “open” or “closed” for Graham Park based on the playability, safety, and saturation of the athletic fields. The page will be updated Monday through Friday at 11am and at 9pm Friday and Saturday evening for the following day’s play. If fields are listed as “closed” on the Township’s website, Partner Association leaders have the opportunity to overwrite the decision since field playability may improve between the time of the web posting and scheduled play. Similarly, if a field is listed as “open” and precipitation deteriorates conditions so that field damage or unsafe conditions ensue, Partner Associations are responsible for cancelling or suspending play. Field damage will be addressed by the steps outlined in the following “Progressive Action Plan.

Determining Field Saturation

In order to make the determination of field saturation an objective measure, the grounds staff will use a Lincoln Soil Moisture Meter to read the level of water present in the soil. The meter reads 0-10 with 10 being complete saturation of the soil. When the meter reads 10, the field will be deemed too wet for use and designated as “closed.” The grounds staff will use the meter on a minimum of 3 locations on each field: center field, goal mouths, and in the case of baseball/softball fields, the location of position players in the outfield. Readings will be taken as close to the webpage posting time as possible.

Progressive Action Plan for Athletic Fields

1) The Grounds Maintenance Manager or designated Cranberry Township representative will inspect fields daily to determine if damage has been sustained that reduces the safety and playability of the surface.

2) Dated photos will document field conditions when damage occurs. Photos are stored on the Township’s (W:) drive and are available upon request.

3) Fields will be closed as necessary for rest and renovation following events which cause damage and reduce safety. Users will be notified of rest periods on the Township’s website and signs will be posted signifying the field as “closed.” Cranberry Township may employ measures such as temporary fencing to isolate playing surfaces while renovation and grow-in is undertaken to restore safe playing conditions.

4) Continued or un-repairable damage by Partner Associations or other permitted users will result in the discontinuation of the agronomic maintenance program except for mowing. Primary field users will be notified in advance of Cranberry Township’s intentions to change, discontinue, or temporarily suspend field maintenance programs.

5) Cranberry Township reserves the right to choose a third party regarded as an “athletic field expert” to settle disputes regarding the playability, safety, or un-repairable status of a field and its resultant rest and renovation period. An expert will be chosen through affiliation with a university and work in the field of agronomy or hold the minimum title of Director in a company specializing in athletic field maintenance.

For the full policy manual, see

This article is based on a presentation at January’s STMA Conference by Rebecca Auchter, manager of grounds maintenance, Cranberry Township, PA entitled “Athletic Field Use and Maintenance Planning.” Thanks to Ms. Auchter for allowing us to use this material; more information can be found at the links listed below from