Turf Magazine - June, 2009
Down by the River
Waterfront location brings flood of maintenance challenges
|Photos Courtesy of Waterfront Development Corporation.
|Louisville Waterfront Park prides itself on being a safe, welcoming place for residents and visitors. Among its policies,
the park is lit until 11 p.m. each evening, and a security guard is on duty each night.
Louisville Waterfront Park
is setting the standard for what an urban park can be. Over the past two
decades, the property has been reclaimed from industrial use (gravel
operations, junkyards, etc.) and transformed into an acclaimed green space
along the picturesque Ohio River.
Realizing what a potential jewel the site was, efforts
began about 20 years ago to begin assembling parcels for construction of a
park. A master plan was created to guide various phases of the project,
which helped to spread the cost over time. “And it whet the appetite
of the public, as well,” says Gary Pepper, who has directed grounds
maintenance at Louisville Waterfront Park (www.louisvillewaterfront.com) for the past 13 years. “By opening small pieces at a
time every few years, people really got excited about seeing another phase
completed. It’s really kept the public involved in the process,
rather than just opening the entire park at one time.”
Directed by the Waterfront Development Corporation,
the first small portion of the park was unveiled in 1994. The second area
(a giant brick wharf that accommodates large river boats) was completed two
years later. The third section was opened in 1997 and included the
“Linear Park,” featuring a playground and roughly 26 acres of
heavily landscaped park area. In 1998, the 10-acre “Great Lawn”
was opened as a centerpiece for the park and immediately won acclaim; it
has since been named the nation’s “Best Lawn for Family
Fun” by Briggs & Stratton. Adjacent to the Great Lawn, a giant
harbor (with free docking, water, electricity, etc., for private
watercrafts) was built, actually jutting into the park itself and
surrounded by grass. Together, all of these areas totaled 54 acres and
comprised Phase I.
Phase II was introduced in 2004, with 35 acres located
about half a mile away at the far east end of the park. Another floating
dock system was added for pleasure craft, along with an amphitheatre,
another large playground and signature “landforms” added by the
landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates.
|A harbor was built into the park, bringing the land
and water together in a single space.
||Louisville Waterfront Park boasts a prime downtown
location on the Ohio River. The centerpiece of the park
is the 10-acre Great Lawn.
In June 2009, the first part of the 13-acre Phase III
will be opened, featuring another, smaller amphitheater and a giant bronze
sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. After that will come pedestrian bridges and
more lawn and picnic/park areas. Then, after two decades of hard work,
Louisville Waterfront Park will be complete and stretch over about 85
While the waterfront location is a large part of what
attracts visitors (some 1.5 million a year by the latest counts) to the
grand park, the river also presents significant landscape maintenance
challenges. “The park is set in a flood plain,” says Pepper.
“A good portion of the Great Lawn gets what is called ‘nuisance
flooding.’” For Pepper and his staff, the floods are more than
a nuisance, though. They’re a routine part of the workday. The
flooding events can be 4 to 10 feet, and occur as many as 12 times per
year. “Roughly 20 to 30 percent of the Great Lawn can be flooded in
the spring,” he says.
Therefore, The Great Lawn was built on a 12-inch sand
base. “The sand is blended with peat moss and a shredded geotextile
material called Net Lawn,” explains Pepper. “That material was
rolled and graded, and has grass growing on it.” The unusual
construction helps the large, open turfed area withstand compaction from
the large number of visitors (150,000 on the Fourth of July alone), but
more importantly, helps the Great Lawn rapidly drain and recover from
To help clean up after flooding, Pepper has devised a
system featuring two rather unusual pieces of turfgrass maintenance
equipment: snowplows and a pontoon boat. “Flood debris is our main
nemesis. We use John Deere Gators with plows on the front to push all the
mud and debris off. [He says keeping the plow facing straight ahead rather
than angled helps to minimize the tearing of turf.] The Gators have heated
cabs, so even on cold winter days we can use them. Then, we have fire hose
connections throughout the entire park so we can hose everything down with
fresh water,” says Pepper. “The Net Lawn is an engineered turf;
the root interweaves through the textile fabric and creates a very stable
base so the plant doesn’t get washed out.” On the hardscape
areas, a pickup truck and snowplow are used to clear debris more quickly.
|There's a fair amount of handwork that needs to be done, including trimming in the tight confines of the amphitheater.
||A crew of six maintains the grounds at the park, which includes about 45 acres of turf that need to be mowed.
To assist in cleanups, including the removal of large
logs and other debris that float into the harbor area and along the shore
of the park, Pepper bought an old pontoon boat. “We disassembled the
whole thing, put the steering column in the middle and mounted a giant boom
on the front of the boat with a winch,” Pepper explains. From the
boom hangs a “rake-type” device that was built to allow the
pontoon boat to push the floating debris back out into the river. By law,
any debris that has come completely out of the river and onto shore muse be
collected, placed into dumpsters and disposed of.
The park hosts 150 to 200 events per year, many of
them on the Great Lawn. “You can have a 1-inch rain in an hour and
then drive a fully loaded semi over the turf and only experience less than
a .5-inch depression in the soil,” says Pepper.
|Some areas of the park feature distinctive landforms that help to break up large spaces
into more intimate areas. The grounds crew uses walk-behind mowers and follows
exacting paths to ensure safety while not damaging the crisp edges of the shapes.
Of course, the sand base also means that the Great
Lawn has little to no nutrient-holding capacity. Pepper explains that years
of experimentation have led to a system that keeps the uniquely constructed
lawn healthy: “We aerate the lawn three to four times a year with a
big Toro aerator. Then we overseed with 2,000 pounds of seed two times per
year. We apply granular, slow-release fertilizer in spring, late summer and
winter. Then, we have an irrigation system that runs every day in the
spring, summer and fall; in that, we have a fertigation system. So, every
time it runs, the turf is getting a little dose of fertilizer.”
The landforms in Phase II of the park help to break up
the large open areas and create more intimate spaces. “They’re
incredible,” says Pepper, but they also present their own maintenance
challenges. “Some are circles, some are triangles, some are long
sweeping shapes. The edges have to be mowed in the same patterns, or
you’ll loose the crispness of the shapes.” Throughout the park,
the grounds crew uses Exmark hydro walk-behind and Scag zero-turn mowers.
The walk-behinds are especially important for the landforms to ensure
greater control, and even then the steep slopes can be intimidating for new
employees. They also come in handy in the tight spaces of the amphitheater.
The maintenance crew at Louisville Waterfront Park
includes six landscape employees and one plumber. “And we don’t
do any overtime, everyone is on salary,” says Pepper. With 45 acres
of mowing alone that keeps everyone moving quickly every day. To help
ensure that the staff doesn’t have any unnecessary repair work to do,
the park has several policies it follows strictly. For example, there are
no cleats allowed in the many informal sporting games played on the lawns;
a security guard is posted at night to prevent vandalism damage; and a
significant damage deposit is collected for any large organized events to
ensure the park is left in good condition—any turf/landscaping
repairs are charged at $175 per hour per man.
These policies minimize damage and let the maintenance
team focus on keeping the park in pristine condition. “Our goal is to
be sure the park looks great every day, whether flooding has just occurred,
or there was a big event the night before, it doesn’t matter,”
says Pepper. “The park is in a very visible location, and it has to
look great for every visitor who comes here.”
Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has
covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is
based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.