The cloverleaf at the intersection of I-75 and Ohio Route 41 in Troy, Ohio, is not your run-of-the-mill mish-mosh of highway ramps, thanks to a group of eight leading lawn care, landscape and tree companies. The intersection is now seen as a gateway to the city.
Ted Mercer's plan was that interested local companies could give back to the community and keep the gateway area looking good at no cost to taxpayers beyond the purchase of materials.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TED MERCER.
Operation Cloverleaf is a public/private partnership that joins the efforts of the Ohio Department of Transportation, the city of Troy and its citizens, and eight companies that work together and donate their time and professional know-how.
The effort started in June 2003, when Ted Mercer, of the Mercer Group and a former city councilman, sent a letter to a dozen local lawn and landscape company owners, asking them to donate their time and talents to maintain and enhance the lawn, trees, shrubs and landscape beds of the 18-acre interchange (the size of more than 13 football fields).
The Ohio Department of Transportation had widened it in 2002, but the state plan for maintenance was minimal. Mercer's plan was that the interested companies could give back to the community and keep the gateway area looking good, at no cost to taxpayers beyond the purchase of materials such as fertilizer and mulch.
Eight companies agreed, contributing their expertise, fuel and equipment: All-Pro Landscaping and Ponds (Jason Purdy), Anderson's Tree and Turf Tech (Tim Anderson), Evergreen Turf & Landscape (Joe Duncan), GreenTech Lawn and Irrigation (Larry Smith), the Mercer Group, Miami Valley Turf and Landscape Co., Quality Lawn, Landscape and Fence, Inc. (John Ryman), Shields Lawn Tamers (Jay Shields), and Tree Care, Inc. (Eric Davis).
"At first, ODOT was a little upset with the idea, but they have since then come on board," says Mercer.
GreenTech Lawn and Irrigation's Smith notes that, "At first I thought we might have a problem with ODOT, with a lot of red tape involved, but they have been very user-friendly, and very helpful. Especially when we can take some of the burden of maintenance off of them." There are ODOT rules to go by, he adds, mostly safety related, as in wearing vests, where equipment can be placed, and so on.
About 5,000 red Appledorn tulips announce spring's arrival at the 18-acre I-75 highway interchange in southwest Ohio.
Who does what
The work is apportioned among the companies, with four responsible for mowing and maintaining the lawns of the four quadrants, and the other four specializing in tasks such as tree and shrub pruning and weed control along the sound walls, guard rails and berms.
Mercer estimates that this requires 16 or so hours of work per week, with the companies coordinating the timing so that the space presents a uniform appearance.
Duncan's Evergreen Turf & Landscape is responsible for the northwest quadrant, and like the other companies sees the service as a way of giving back to his community. He loves hearing the comments, even in his hometown of Tipp City, from those who say, "Thank you for being a part of that. It looks so nice."
Adds Quality Lawn's Ryman, "It's a high-visibility area that everyone in town drives by several times a week. I get Christmas cards from customers that thank me for my part in it."
The volunteer landscape workers must wear the same safety gear as state highway workers and observe the same safety rules.
Duncan enjoys driving by the interchange himself, looking for problems and getting a sense of pride in the overall look, and even getting a little competitive spirit going with the other quadrant holders.
"Troy is a unique town," says Duncan. "This is where the lawn care industry started [Chemlawn], and that is the first thing I tell all my trainees. The history of lawn care starts here, so they can take pride in what they do."
Smith says, "Giving back like we all do is part of what makes Troy Troy. I believe in Troy. When I'm working on our quadrant, I hear such positive comments, and it's great public relations. We do get recognition for what we do from the larger community, and that perception helps us in getting business. But when we work together with our competitors, we create an association of like-minded professionals that helps the business environment here."
Ryman adds that when people see the work of a professional lawn service, they see how having access to that kind of expertise can add greatly to the beauty of a site.
Cloverleaf and strawberries
Once a year, the eight lawn care and landscape firms cooperate on Cloverleaf Day on such tasks as mulching (40 cubic yards are needed) and adding new features, be it 5,000 red Appledorn tulips or 45 red Knockout roses (the local team's colors are scarlet and gray).
The interchange property now features 215 trees, including those replacing ash trees damaged by the emerald ash borer.
Ryman, whose company specializes in the planning and maintenance of the landscape beds, says contributions also allowed the addition of Limelight hydrangeas last year, and the team is exploring the possibility of other long-blooming perennials this year.
ODOT provides traffic control and message boards, and the city touts Operation Cloverleaf on signage (only signs that recognize the overall team effort are allowed), and a local restaurant provides lunch. Adding to the color on the site are the strawberries stenciled there each June for the city's Strawberry Festival, now in its 32nd year. The paint, stencil, equipment and labor are all donated.
ODOT had planted trees onto the site, and with some new ones added the total is now 215. A problem with emerald ash borers was taken care of, and damaged trees replaced. Other tasks are filling in and reseeding tire ruts, hydroseeding and new plantings.
The turfgrass of the interchange is brightened with painted strawberries each June to announce Troy's Strawberry Festival.
Mercer has tabulated what the annual cost of services would total: some $51,833 each year, or a total of in-kind donations to the city of about $414,634 in the first eight years of the program. Broken down by category, a year's contribution includes some $28,367 in mowing, $6,600 in tree spraying, $5,617 in fertilizing, $3,150 in landscape weeding, $2,450 in mulching, $2,400 in shrubbery pruning, $1,800 in vegetation control, and $1,500 in tree fertilizing.
Citizens support the effort with contributions made through the Troy Foundation, which are used for enhancements like new flower beds. Operation Cloverleaf is now recognized as the longest standing volunteer effort to help with highway maintenance in the state. The lawn care and landscape team was awarded the Community Service Award from the Troy Chamber of Commerce, and it was also named the grand marshals of the Strawberry Festival Parade, making a float for the parade as well.
Mercer credits the success of the project to the cooperation of the eight company management teams and their labor forces, support from the city of Troy through the Parks Department and City Beautification Committee, the approval and support of ODOT, and donations from the businesses and citizens of the community.
And other communities are interested. Mercer has spoken to other groups, in and out of Ohio, on the project's success, most notably at the Tree City USA conference held in Troy last year.
It's estimated that the eight partnering land care companies donate more than $50,000 in services to the project annually.
Nearby Piqua, which has a friendly competition for bragging rights going with Troy that is typified by a high school football rivalry, is looking at a similar venture, with the city doing the work, and West Chester near Cincinnati is also exploring such a gateway effort. "I am tickled to death by this," says Mercer.
Cindy Grahl, a Cleveland, Ohio, native, is writer and editor with more than 30 years experience writing about contracting and contractors.