Project EverGreen steps up for kids and athletic fields
By Cindy Code
With more than a million and half acres of parkland in the United States one would assume that children would be able to easily find a safe outdoor place to play and compete. Unfortunately, assumptions can be misleading.
Changing lifestyle choices, economic constraints, shifts in population bases, crime and the lack of interest have made the athletic and recreational fields that were enjoyed by the parents of today when they were growing up outdated, unsafe and in dire need of renovation.
Take for example the playing surface at Steve Patterson Field in Hazlet, NJ. The field, home to the Hazlet Youth Athletic League, had been closed for nearly a decade, and an exceptionally hot summer and fall, punctuated by recurring extreme rainfall, immediately left dead turfgrass and erosion damage that made playing surface unsafe and threatened to extend the field’s closure.
That’s when non-profit Project EverGreen and its “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.”™ Initiative stepped in.
With the help of professional landscaping contractors and suppliers, Project EverGreen secured more than $20,000 in donations of expertise, materials and services to improve the playability and safety of 100,000 sq. ft. of playing surface. The project includes aeration, reseeding, and topsoil applications to build up the unsafe runoff low spots to spec, and applications of organic soil amendments and fertilizers. The field provides upward of nearly 1,000 Hazlet Youth Athletic League football players, cheer squads, their parents, and coaches with a greener, safer, sustainable place to play. The field renovation will also provide significant environmental, economic and healthy lifestyle benefits to Hazlet’s children and their community. “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.” is a nationwide initiative to renovate and revitalize athletic and recreational green spaces in urban areas to ensure children have access to safe and healthy green spaces on which to play and exercise.
Since the program’s inception in 2015, renovation projects covering more than 700,000 sq. ft. of athletic and recreational green spaces have been completed across the country including Atlanta; Houston, San Antonio, Round Rock and Ft. Worth, TX; North Chicago, IL; Cleveland; Durham and Greensboro, NC; Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, East Harlem, NY, and the previously mentioned Hazlet, NJ.
Numerous studies have shown that managed parks, sports fields and recreational playing areas provide the following environmental, health and lifestyle benefits:
Lawns and sports fields are 30 degrees cooler than asphalt; and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil.
Parks and sports fields are gathering places that create close-knit communities, improve well being and increase safety.
Managed grass playing surfaces help minimize concussions and sports related injuries as well as reduce quantities or populations of mosquitoes, ticks and stinging insects.
Physically active young people are more confident and demonstrate higher academic performance at school.
Beyond Project EverGreen’s mission and its programs, as well as the many other industry initiatives and educational resources, the focus of this movement is to help raise the social consciousness about creating a healthier, greener, cooler earth for future generations.
“There’s only one earth; we get only one chance at this,” says Dan Carrothers, president of the board of directors for Project EverGreen. “We’re confident that as an industry, partnering with consumers, we can create an earth that is greener and cooler; and assure that we’re leaving an earth to the generations to come that will contribute to the healthiness and happiness for all.”
A significant impact
When a storm drain under the driveway to Red Maple Park in Durham, NC collapsed in early 2014, access to the athletic and recreational green spaces was cut off and the city was forced to shut the park down.
During that time, vandals stripped the park of virtually everything of value from grills and picnic tables to the copper piping from the restrooms that eventually had to be torn down. This left community residents frustrated and without a place for their kids to play.
“This is a very engaged community and when we didn’t hear much after the initial park closing. I thought it was odd,’ says Rhonda Parker, director of Durham Parks & Recreation.
Parker shared this with the city’s Recreation Advisory Commission and it decided to meet with the community. The commission took its August meeting outdoors to the park to get a read on the situation.
What Parker and the commission arrived at the park, they were met by more than 50 neighborhood residents and 30 plus children on bikes that came to say they were ready to take their park back.
Parker and the commission learned community residents were fearful of going into the park because of the gang-related crime and vandalism, and felt powerless to do much about it until this meeting was called.
“We didn’t know what to expect but when more than 80 people came out to tell us how important the park was to them and their children,” says Parker. “It was important for the commission to hear how inspired the community was to take their park back.”
Once the driveway was repaired the community sprang into action helping with the cleanup work and starting a petition to receive a grant for a new playground. The city replaced the picnic tables and grills, and repaired and painted to park’s shelter.
They also organized community events in the park to get local residents to come back to the park with their families.
In November, the grant for the new playground came through and on a cold, rainy day neighborhood residents and volunteers helped install the new playground.
What was missing was the renovation of the grass baseball and softball outfields and the clay infields at Red Maple Park. That’s where Project EverGreen’s “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.” initiative came in. In April of this year, green industry volunteers excavated, graded and replaced the infield surface with a new clay mixture, installed new sod and also applied weed control and fertilization treatments to the outfield turf.
The newly renovated field plays host to the city’s Long Ball baseball program and girls’ softball program, both of which involve hundreds of budding athletes who play on the field daily throughout the spring and summer.
“We have developed a gem of a field for the kids and the park has become a nucleus for the community,” says Parker. “Having access to safe, well-maintained athletic green spaces to play on gives kids the chance to be active and involved and that means a lot for their health and well-being.”
Parker credits the neighborhood residents, especially the senior citizen community who enjoyed the park with their own children in years past, for stepping up and getting the ball rolling.
“The community has sweat equity in the park’s rebirth and that has made all the difference in the park’s transformation,” adds Parker.
Teaching life lessons
The tag line in Austin Homan’s email signature reads “Better Lives, Better Community – Come Join Us.” Those words also nicely sum up the driving force behind the “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.” initiative.
Homan is the athletics superintendent for the City of Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department and was the point man for the recently completed renovation project of the playing surface at Penn-Wright Stadium in Greensboro, NC.
The stadium is home to the city’s youth baseball program and weekend tournaments from April to October, and has a long history within Greensboro’s baseball program. With hundreds of players legging out doubles, chasing down fly balls and fielding grounders nearly every day, the stadium’s diamond gets a workout and it needed a call to the bullpen.
“Every city has to manage its financial resources closely and the funds are not always available for ongoing maintenance and improvements to keep up with the wear and tear Penn-Wright’s field receives,” says Homan, who was a college baseball player at East Carolina University.
Project EverGreen volunteers excavated, graded and replaced the infield surface with a new clay mixture and installed new sod that eliminated the infield lip that caused bad hops and put players at risk of injury.
Volunteers also applied weed control and fertilization treatments to the outfield turf and installed new plant material and trees around the stadium to add aesthetic value.
What was the project’s impact? Homan says the renovated field allows the department to continue with its mission to provide Greensboro’s youth with an outlet to not only learn a sport and be active, but also gain valuable lessons in sportsmanship, responsibility and teamwork.
“Organized sports create opportunities for kids to be part of something, be active and lead a healthier lifestyle and having safe, well-maintained facilities that help us do that are vital,” says Homan. “The work Project EverGreen’s volunteers did will allow us to continue to expand our youth baseball programs and welcome even more kids to the program.”