Grounds maintenance is challenging at youth facility


Eric Leaper, director of facilities at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CAPITAL CAMPS.

Working in maintenance at a kids’ camp takes a special kind of person, one with creativity and flexibility, as well as a love for turf. Eric Leaper, director of facilities at Capital Camps (www.capitalcamps.org), possesses those traits as he oversees the turf care at the camp tucked in the mountains of Waynesboro, Pa.

The land where Capital Camps now sits started as a girls’ camp in the 1920s and 1930s, called Camp Wohelo. A boys’ camp was added in the 1960s, and Capital Camps bought the property in 1987. Fundraising began soon after to renovate the entire property into a state-of-the-art camping facility for Jewish children from the greater Washington, D.C., area. The property has evolved over the past 24 years with the addition of an aquatics center, demolition of the old camp and construction of new camp facilities. Within the last 10 years, Capital Camps renovated their campgrounds into villages. “This new construction project consisted of 20 new camper cabins, four new directors’ cabins, a new theater arts building and a new staff lodge,” Leaper explains. “This gave us four separate and distinct ‘villages’ of different age groups.”

In addition, Capital Camps is open year-round, so Leaper and his crew need to maintain the 5 miles of road within the camp. The camp owns 270 acres, with over half of that in forestland. “Of the developed areas, as many trees as possible were left. We have approximately 10 acres of open fields. Of course, areas around cabins and buildings are grass also,” says Leaper.

“Our aquatics center is a beach entry, 5,500-square-foot pool, with two slides, a dive and tumble buckets. There are also six starting lanes for competition swim. With the exception of lifeguards, this pool is completely operated and maintained by myself and the facilities staff,” explains Leaper.

Building an irrigated soccer field

Capital Camps has about seven fields used for various sports and outdoor activities. The largest field, which is utilized for soccer and other sports, is 5.25 acres. After a fire destroyed the camp’s kitchen seven years ago, they used this sports field as a makeshift kitchen. Leaper says, “That pretty much trashed most of the field.”

After camp ended for the year, they started reconstructing the sports field. The facilities crew resodded the field and installed a new irrigation system, which utilizes city water. In order to cut back on the rising cost of city water, Leaper says, “In the spring of 2010, we contracted with John Deere Landscapes to design and help install a 29,000-gallon reservoir tank that is filled from an on-site well and a system of mountain springs that feed cisterns that used to be the water supply for the camp when it was originally founded back in the 1930s.” Leaper, his crew and a John Deere Landscapes’ representative handled most of the irrigation tank installation. A local engineer developed the tank pad, and a local contractor built the pad on the camp grounds. “The irrigation system uses a Rain Bird controller that manages 10 separate zones with four sprinkler heads per zone,” says Leaper. “The system comes on automatically at a set time each day, and irrigates the field for a specific time period.”

Leaper also adds that his biggest challenge has been getting the irrigated sports field into the superior condition that it is today. The camp’s president wanted a “pristine” field to attract higher-end clientele to the camp, and he assigned Leaper to complete the job. “I knew there was a lot more to it than just mowing and watering, but I was blissfully ignorant of such things as topdressing, deep-tine aeration as opposed to regular aeration, and different types of fertilizer and weed control programs,” says Leaper. “I was directed to learn what I could [to] put together a plan and implement it. With good backing like that, we put together what we have today, and, fortunately, we can do most of the turf management ourselves.”

Leaper is proud of his work. Capital Camps hosts a high-profile college soccer team every other August, and the coach always comments on the field’s condition. “Knowing that my staff and I play such a large role in having them come back is pretty cool,” says Leaper.

Turf nitty-gritty

Capital Camps uses six other playing fields for various sports. The lacrosse field is a little over .5 acre. The archery, golf and volleyball combination field is .5 acre, and the Lake Field is about 3 acres. The Lake Field can seat 300 people and overlooks the camp’s lake. There’s also a softball diamond and volleyball net on Lake Field. The other three fields are .25 acre or smaller, and are used for outdoor programs, overnight campouts and informal meeting spaces.


The irrigated soccer field, one of Leaper’s biggest turf projects at Capital Camps.

Leaper and his staff are responsible for most of the turf-related jobs. Mowing, weed trimming, leaf removal, core aeration, topdressing, some tree trimming, landscape planting and tree removal, depending on the tree’s location and proximity to a building, are examples of weekly tasks. The challenge comes in getting these jobs done during a normal workweek. “Turf care is done around the needs and activities of the camp. All irrigation is done during the early morning hours. Mowing is done when we can access the areas in need of attention. It can be a challenge at times, but it always works out,” explains Leaper.

How do Leaper and his team maintain the turf’s health around cabins, the pool and other facilities with kids running around all day? “They’re kids, they’re at camp, and they’re here to have fun,” Leaper responds. “The grass will grow back, so they are allowed to use any grassy areas they would like for games, informal meetings and gatherings or just hanging out together.”


The irrigation tank that was installed after the soccer field was reconstructed.

Leaper’s staff includes two full-time employees and another full-time employee that is shared between his crew and guest services. Leaper also hires a seasonal person for mowing and a high school student who helps where needed during the summer camp season.

Equipment

To get all the work done, Leaper’s staff has five trucks, including one that is used to plow and spread salt in the winter. The plow is a 7-foot Meyer blade, and the spreader is a Western Pro-Flo. They also use a John Deere 110 TLB, a Kubota B7610 four-wheel drive tractor, an Earth and Turf Model 320 MultiSpread topdresser, a Pro Mow five-gang reel mower, a DR Power Pro XL leaf vacuum, a Homesteader dump trailer and a Frontier core aerator, as well as various other pieces of equipment for their turf and landscaping needs.

Seasonal duties

Turf care is determined by seasons at Capital Camps. In the early spring, a landscape contractor is hired to apply preemergent weed control and take care of the annual fertilizing program. “Our fertilizer and weed control program is dictated by our landscape contractor. He is a very capable individual and has been very helpful in helping us achieve our turf management goals,” says Leaper. “As for seed, we generally use a contractors’ blend turf. It has been working quite well for us.”

Leaper and his crew also inspect the fields during the early spring months for sinkholes and low spots, which are filled with topsoil and seeded. The irrigation system in the big field is brought back online, but is not usually utilized until May, since the camp gets plenty of rainfall during the early spring months. Leaper starts the mowing program in mid to late April.

During the summer months, the mowing continues on nonirrigated areas on an as-needed basis. The irrigated field needs weekly mowing. The landscape contractor continues the fertilizing program.

After the campers have left, the facilities’ team aerates and puts lime on all the playing fields. The large soccer and the lacrosse fields, as well as some of the other fields, are topdressed with sand. “We have our own topdresser, and this is done by the facilities’ staff. Fall fertilizer is applied by the landscape contractor,” explains Leaper.

“I would like to add irrigation to two more of the smaller fields that we have,” Leaper concludes. “It has been discussed and priced, but for right now, it’s just not financially feasible. I’m pretty confident that it will be in the next three to five years.”

Leaper emphasizes that a solid turf program is key to beautiful campgrounds. While he recognizes that this isn’t always viable for a lot of nonprofit camps, he does maintain that good turf management requires more than mowing and watering the sports fields.

A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about agriculture and the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa.