The SportsTurf Interview: Mike Trigg, CSFM

This month in “The SportsTurf Interview,” we feature Mike Trigg, CSFM, Superintendent for the Waukegan (IL) Park District, and a Past President of the Sports Turf Managers Association.

SportsTurf: What are your current responsibilities at the Park District?

Trigg: As Superintendent of Parks, I am responsible for administration of the Parks Department, including maintenance operations of grounds and properties of the District’s 48 park sites. This includes buildings, facilities and fleet with a full-time staff of 20 and an average of 30 seasonal staff throughout the summer. We are very busy year round with all aspects of park and facility maintenance. I have an outstanding staff who share my passion to make the Waukegan Parks the very best they can be. Properties are managed to the highest environmental and conservation standards. Park facilities operated by the district include the Field House Sports & Fitness Center, the Jack Benny Center for the Arts, the Waukegan SportsPark, the Waukegan Skate Park and BMX track, recreational centers, an outdoor swimming pool, disc golf course, dog exercise area and agility course, outdoor sports fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, and sports courts (basketball, tennis, and pickleball).

A full range of programs and services are offered year round for all ages, from infants to seniors as well as special needs groups. Healthy lifestyles, wellness initiatives, and a connection with the outdoors are integrated throughout programs, services, and special events. There is something for everyone!

Over the past year, I was also responsible for the development of the District’s 2015-2020 Parks & Open Space Master Plan. The Master Plan guides and shapes the future of the Waukegan Park District parks and facilities. It serves as a guide for the Board of Commissioners and staff to conceive and define the District’s future infrastructure. The focus of the plan is the Park District’s management, protection, use and development of parks. The Master Plan was formed by opinions and input gathered from the public, staff and board members. It establishes District-wide Park Improvements, as well as recommended improvements for each park site for the next five years and beyond, based on current needs and expected resources.

I was chairman of the development of an employee driven Green Team Committee. The Committee’s largest undertaking in its first year was a community Recycling Event. The event was a huge success. Materials collected during the event came from over 450 different vehicles, filled more than two semi-trucks and amounted to more than 40,000 pounds of recyclable household electronics. Our Green Team initiatives are ongoing with a commitment to conservation, sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.

SportsTurf: How did you first become involved in sports turf management and how did you first become involved with STMA?

Trigg: My exposure to sports turf management began when I started with the Waukegan Park District in 1986 as a Parks Supervisor. My responsibilities included field maintenance of more than 30 athletic fields located in our Parks and on Waukegan School Grounds.

Now, almost 30 years later, I am proud of our development of a community sports complex. The Waukegan Park District leads the community in providing facilities and programs that improve the quality of life of Waukegan residents. The Waukegan SportsPark responded to a community need for sports fields. The Park District closed an underutilized golf course and used the property to construct the community SportsPark. The consolidation of softball and soccer sites into one facility meant that neighborhood parks and school grounds were no longer needed for league play. The result is a state of the art sports facility, opened in 2011, demonstrating sustainable design and a focus on family convenience. The 138-acre Waukegan SportsPark includes 13 natural turf soccer fields, a championship synthetic turf soccer/football field, four softball fields, concession and restroom facilities, a maintenance building, picnic areas and a playground with water spray features. The SportsPark provides the physical platform for district recreation program expansion and community events. Its tournaments serve as an economic engine for the surrounding area and a revenue source to provide rent-free fields for youth sports programs. In 2016 our complex will be going on the sixth year field maintenance operations. Over the course of the past five years, we have developed a successful maintenance routine that includes a strong emphasis on turf cultural practices.

I became involved in the Midwest Chapter STMA (now known as the Illinois Chapter) in 1990. I was privileged to have STMA Founding Father Harry Gill come to Waukegan for the Chapter’s first sports turf workshop. Harry gave a short talk on “Being Professional in the 1990’s” and demonstrated pitching mound preparation and maintenance. Joining National STMA, I attended my first conference in January 1991 in San Diego. I served on the STMA Board of Directors from 2000-2009, and was President in 2005-2006.

While board service was a demanding and time consuming vocation, it was ultimately one the most rewarding experiences I have had. I was honored to work with CEO Kim Heck and her staff in their first years with the association. It was rewarding to learn and work with her, and the headquarter staff on association management and strategic planning. Also, I certainly know that I have been the recipient of true inspiration from the many STMA members I had the privilege of meeting and working with over the years, both during my board service and into the present day.

I continue to participate in committee work. It has been exciting to be a part of the Environmental Committee these past few years with the development of the STMA Environmental Facility Certification Program. This is yet another example of raising the professionalism of this association and improving the image of this industry.

SportsTurf: How has your career benefitted from being a member of STMA?

Trigg: First and foremost has to be the opportunity to have met and known great individuals in the sports turf industry, like Harry Gill, Dr. Bill Daniels, Dr. Henry Indyk, Dr. Ken Kurtz, Steve Wightman, and Dr. Dave Minner, to name a few. All of these individuals played an important role in my career thanks to their willingness to share their experiences and information on sports turf management. I have always been committed to continuing the sharing of information that promotes advancement of the sports turf management profession.

SportsTurf Editor Eric Schroder has written that, “This industry has many people with a willingness to be personable and share because they truly believe sharing is a responsibility to their profession.” In my opinion, the networking that takes place within this association is our greatest asset. One of the biggest benefits of STMA is the individuals you meet at conferences and local chapter events. To quote my good friend Mike Schiller, “Friendships and lasting memories is what makes STMA so special.”

SportsTurf: What specific challenges do turf managers at the Parks & Rec level face that differ from your peers in other STMA membership categories?

Trigg: Like a lot of sports turf managers, we face overuse and budget constraints in maintaining adequate turf grass on soccer and ball fields. Here at the Waukegan Park District, requests for field usage can vary from the standard ball field or soccer field, to flag football, lacrosse, 3 on 3 soccer, rugby, ultimate Frisbee, and even cricket.

An athletic field maintenance crew in a Park and Rec setting may be responsible for all aspects of a site, not just the turf or field itself. At our SportsPark this includes trash control, cleaning restrooms, playground and building maintenance, natural area management, program/event assistance, as well as turf and landscape maintenance.

Those of us in a municipal setting are faced with a number of required governmental procedures, particularly with purchasing and award of contracts for outside services. Many times this process may require a bid process or securing multiple quotes for materials and supplies. It can be a very time-consuming, exhausting process. Also, staff hiring and training requirements can add a great deal of time and paperwork to one’s job duties.

Unrestricted site use is another factor. Many park sites’ athletic facilities are open for public use when not scheduled for games. The challenge with no restricted access is that the general public may create increased field maintenance work. Play on a wet skinned infield, frost damage to turf, pick-up football games that create a mudbowl, as well as vandalism, are all issues that can occur on a site in a park site. Field use may also occur year round, with no off season. This creates limited opportunity to conduct needed turf cultural practices.

Finally, recruiting potential interns, full time, or seasonal staff to work at a Park & Rec facility can be seen as less glamorous to a major or minor league facility. But I can promise you that Parks & Rec facilities offer outstanding sports turf management experience opportunities and careers. Facilities like the Waukegan SportsPark demonstrate that parks and recreation facilities are the gateways for healthy, prosperous, and connected communities.

SportsTurf: What are your passions and interests outside of work?

Trigg: With my two boys now living and working in California, one in Los Angeles and the other in San Francisco, my wife Paula and I look forward to visiting them and California’s National Parks. One of our bucket list items is to visit all National Parks in the country. We visited the Grand Canyon last year and it was absolutely amazing!

My other interest is continued involvement as a mentor with high school students in the Center for Conservation Leadership (CCL) Program. CCL is a unique yearlong environmental education program, designed to develop practical understanding of conservation and the careful use of and protection of rivers, forests and other natural resources. As a mentor, I am paired with a student to assist with his or her stewardship project in their own communities.

This past fall, we conducted a Family and Friends Stewardship Work Day at Roosevelt Park. Over 50 people participated in the workday, including current and former CCL students, mentors, family friends and donors, helping the Waukegan Park District Staff improve the park. This motivated group cleared the park of litter, removed buckthorn and other invasive plants, mulched the rain garden and planted spring bulbs and two new oak trees. It was a rewarding experience to see the enthusiasm of these students and their interest in environmental stewardship.

This is the “Parkie” in me . . . local parks and rec agencies are leaders in protecting our open spaces, connecting children to nature, and providing education and programs that engage communities and conservation.