Kevin Vaughn takes care of an active sports town

The sports fields within the parks of Dublin, Ohio, are a big part of the wide range of recreational options the parks and recreation department provides for the upscale community of 36,000. The majority of the athletic fields are clustered in three parks.

Avery Park is the oldest, built in the 1970s. It’s a 74-acre complex that includes nine baseball fields and multipurpose field space most often used for recreational soccer for young players. Avery is staffed with one full-time and two seasonal personnel. Construction has just been completed on three of the baseball fields at the newest site, a 35-acre soccer/baseball complex named Emerald Field. Staffing has not yet been set for that facility.

This view from the edge of the fence toward the soccer fields gives a good view of field quality and the mowing pattern.

Darree Field

The third site is the 153-acre Darree Field. It has 13 soccer fields, five baseball fields and two softball fields. Half of these fields were constructed about 10 years ago; the majority of the others five years ago. Two of the baseball fields were renovated in 2007. Kevin Vaughn, parks maintenance worker for the Dublin Parks and Recreation Department, is based at Darree Field.

He says, “This site offers multiple recreational options. It has 35 acres of woodland with paths and boardwalks running through it. It has a fenced, open-run dog park. Construction was recently completed on a playground that is accessible to the physically challenged. Another feature is a Miracle League Field, which is laid out in a baseball field configuration, but with a poured rubberized surface similar to a rubberized track. It’s firm and flat, with no obstructions, and is used by physically challenged individuals for baseball, softball and even for soccer.”

Hand-painted artwork on the fuel tank of the property adjacent to the soccer fields.

Vaughn is one of two full-time personnel at Darree Field. Jim Stidam is the other. A seasonal staff member, Bob Stout, also is assigned to the site and is basically full-time from April through November.

Vaughn owned a landscape company in the Cleveland area for about 12 years, providing design/build services as well as landscape maintenance. He expanded his services into the renovation and maintenance of athletic fields for area high schools and, with each project, his interest grew in meeting the challenges of that aspect of the green industry. In 1999, when an opportunity developed to focus more on athletic fields with the Dublin Parks and Recreation Department, he moved to his current position.

Field use

Dublin is an active sports town, with several organized leagues and competitive play groups for each sport. The organizations are not run by the city, but do arrange for field use through a permitting system coordinated by the city. “Since we are public park space, all of our fields are open to community use if not already in use for permitted play,” says Vaughn. “Our soccer fields are unfenced, so they’re very inviting for practices and pickup games. We also find that, with Ohio State University about 20 to 25 minutes from here, their soccer opponents from visiting schools will often hit our fields for practice before the games. Our baseball and softball fields are fenced, but the fences are not locked so we get quite a few unauthorized practices and games there, too.”

This shot shows a major renovation done in-house. They cut the skinned area and brought in a new rootzone and sodded the entire back area shown.

The first games of the Darree Field season are scheduled for the end of March, so practices start in mid-March. Play on most of the fields typically runs through October, though two soccer tournaments were scheduled in November for 2007. “And, we have late-season softball,” adds Vaughn. “Two of our baseball fields become adult softball fields in the fall. They play until the end of November. Though they do cancel games if it rains, they will play in the snow.”

Heavy use is the biggest challenge at Darree Field. The soccer fields host about 220 events per year. Baseball has around 100 games on each field and softball between 125 and 150. Vaughn says, “It helps that we have a great working relationship with all our user groups and an administration that understands how important the athletic fields are to the quality of life for the community.

“We try to close one to two fields each season for renovation and rejuvenation.  We core aerate them several times during that period and topdress. We’re aggressive with overseeding, applying a mix of 80 percent Kentucky bluegrass and 20 percent perennial ryegrass over the entire field surface and coming back to spot seed wherever necessary. We restrict play on them and just let them rest. We’ve found that sometimes doing nothing—just giving them a break from play—is the best thing you can do for them.”

Field management program

All of the athletic fields are native soil, a heavy clay. Vaughn says, “We do have some infield drainage on the baseball and softball fields with linear piping installed on 20-foot centers. These fields are all pitched away from the infield and our soccer fields are crowned for positive surface drainage.

Attention to detail, such as keeping the turf edged along the baseline, is an important part of the field management program.

“Our skinned infields run between 60 and 70 percent sand, with the remainder clay. We’re incorporating Turface (calcined clay) into the skinned materials of the new fields and during renovations of the established fields and topdressing with it each year. We use anti-dust control on all of our skinned areas. We’re also reducing the skinned area surface when we do major renovations, bring in new rootzone material and sodding that section of the field. The result is a very professional looking field that reduces our daily infield management by about 15 minutes a day per field. We also save on the annual costs of topdressing and Turface.”

All the sports fields start with a turfgrass mixture of 80 percent Kentucky bluegrass and 20 percent perennial ryegrass. The fields are mowed two to three times per week based on turf growth. Rotary mowers are used and a 2.5-inch height of cut maintained year-round.

Vaughn says, “We use granular fertilizers for all of our applications, with the formulations varied to meet turf needs. We apply a starter fertilizer in the spring and again in the fall. We make three applications with 24-0-11 spaced between the spring and fall fertilizations. We put down a high nitrogen application at the end of November or the beginning of December.”

The city-owned laser leveler is used on the fields in the spring. Each field is core aerated as soon as it becomes accessible in the spring. Aerway aerification is used following each tournament and as frequently as weather permits to relieve compaction during

the playing season. Because of the summer heat, no aeration takes place in June, July or August. Vaughn says, “We begin core aerating again the first of November, working through the fields as play on each ends, and moving back through the rotation again as long as the weather holds. We try to cover each field in six directions.

“We frequently allow the cores to dry in place, breaking them up with the regular mowing. We’ve been experimenting with using the scrapper box on the laser leveler, set at just above the thatch layer of the grass, to break up the cores and distribute the core material, leveling out the fields while lightly topdressing.”

Vaughn’s IPM program focuses heavily on cultural practices to minimize the need for control products, though he monitors closely and will treat if necessary. No wide-area broadleaf weed control has been needed on the sports fields the past two years. He says, “We keep small bottles for spot application on each of our mowers. If we do see a weed pop through, we treat it on the spot.” Some of the non-field turf areas may need targeted area broadleaf control in the fall and occasionally in the spring to combat dandelion infestations.

A broad view from behind the backstop of the rubberized-surfaced Miracle League Field.

Grubs are the major insect problem, with control applications required annually at the end of May or beginning of June. Disease issues are monitored closely and only treated if outbreaks are extreme because of the extensive acreage.

Tweaking the program

The Darree Field soccer fields are in a linear block of open turf, which allows for flexibility in the field layout. Vaughn shifts the fields about 20 feet to the east or west between the spring and fall soccer seasons to rotate the heavy-use areas, repainting to the new configuration. He says, “We also broadcast seed in the goal mouths once a week and allow the players to cleat it in. We pre-germinate the seed for this in the spring and fall.  These two practices give us pretty good season-long turf cover.”

One example of Vaughn’s forward-thinking approach to sports field management is the innovative seed pre-germination tub he developed. It can handle 200 pounds of seed at one time and uses circulated air from an air compressor to complete the pre-germination soak cycle in three days.

Wise water use is an increasingly important aspect of the environmentally sensitive management program. Two wells serve Darree Field and both Avery and Emerald have their own wells. Prior to December of 2006, everything was irrigated with Kifco water reels. Vaughn says, “We conducted an audit comparing the water reel irrigation to inground irrigation. We determined an inground system would save approximately 15,000 gallons of water with each baseball field irrigation and 33,000 gallons for each soccer field. That translates to nearly 1 million gallons of water annually.

“We’ve started installing the inground irrigation at Darree doing the work in-house as part of each field renovation. We’re using the new Hunter 2-wire system. The entire park will be run from a central controller. We’ve done the preliminary work, running the 2-wires throughout the park and setting up the valve box sites. We’ve completed the installations at three baseball fields and our premier soccer field and plan to finish one more baseball field here this year. Emerald field is entirely on the 2-wire system.”

Though the field management staff has little input on site selection for new fields, they have worked with the city’s in-house landscape architect to help standardize the field designs and specifications, incorporating improvements as on-the-field testing proves them effective.

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.