City of Lawrence                             

Parks and Recreation Department



Dave Corliss

City Manger


Mark Hecker

Park Superintendent


Ernie Shaw, Interim Director

Debbie Van Saun, Asst. City Manager

Parks & Rec Advisory Board




Pesticide Free Parks Report



In June 2005, the City Commission directed the Parks & Recreation Department to implement a pesticide reduction plan in the City’s parks and to select one high profile park to manage using a pesticide free management plan.  Buford Watson Jr. Park was selected for this pilot program.  In addition to this high profile park, 33 other lower profile City parks were classified as pesticide free.  Since that time we have managed these 34 city parks as pesticide-free facilities.  An April 20, 2006 memo provides an update on the program after approximately one year of operation.


Recently a citizens group has requested the City further its efforts and make all of the remaining parks pesticide-free (see attached citizen request). This staff report identifies the recommended steps needed to reach that goal as well as the cost issues associated with this request, so they may be considered by the City Commission as an enhancement in the 2008 budget process.


The attached list of all parks and properties maintained by Parks & Recreation identifies the parks that are currently pesticide free and parks which could be added with additional funding. With this list in mind, the following items can be considered for the 2008 calendar year.


1)     Eliminate the use of pesticides in the wood chip areas under all playgrounds and in all picnic shelters in all parks.  While not providing any appreciable cost savings, this effort will allow for these high traffic areas to be pesticide free.


2)     The attached spreadsheet provides pesticide/herbicide application information for 2006 and will be an annual addition to the City’s website.  Setting up the spreadsheet and entering the data consumed significant staff time this year, but we anticipate a quicker turnaround in future years, now that the template is complete. 


3)     Maintain all mulched landscape areas in the parks and public landscape areas with least toxic practices of pest control. Professionally certified horticulture staff will use best management practices to address weed and pest problems in these areas using the least toxic manner possible. First considerations will be given to all possible pesticide free options (we are currently experimenting with an orange peal extract solution) before applying the least toxic chemical to control the problem.  Staff anticipates that this effort will be cost-neutral, with no additional or reduced costs for this level of maintenance.


Every year, the City invests thousands of dollars to beautify public spaces and parks around town.  With this ever-increasing workload and growing number of landscape areas in the City, staff recommends that our professionally trained staff be allowed to use the most cost-effective manner possible to control pests before they damage or degrade the landscapes in which the City has invested.  We have studied the citizen suggestion that we create weeding jobs, e.g. seasonal and full-time positions and/or contract to local lawn care companies.  While the use of local contractors on an as-needed basis to control weeds might address the need to identify invasive and noxious weeds early and control them quickly to prevent further spread, these contractors most likely will not be responsive if hand weeding is specified as the required method.  And if a contractor is responsive to this type of project, costs could prove to be as problematic as our estimates for providing this labor in-house.  Put plainly, it’s difficult to find seasonal labor willing to do this type of work at a reasonable wage.  Even paying more is no guarantee that turnover and inefficiency won’t be constant issues to supervise, thus increasing costs and decreasing positive outcomes.  This prediction is not based on guesswork, but on staff experience in trying to hire and keep employees on task for these types of jobs (e.g. trash pick-up, weed pulling, watering, etc.). 


4)     All athletic fields in the parks will be managed using least toxic practices of pest control. Historically, most of these areas are irrigated to maintain a higher quality playing surface. With this higher level of maintenance, there often is a higher risk for potential problems. It is very important that problems are addressed quickly ensuring turf quality is maintained for the safety of participants. In these locations, the public expects a nicely watered, green, smooth surface with a minimum amount of weed invasion. To date we have not found pesticide free solutions for problems that often arise in this type of turf. These problems range from grub control to selective weed control in the turf. The pesticide-free products we have used have been minimally effective and have not been cost effective or practical on a larger scale. We will continue to try new pesticide-free agents as they come on the market and strive to minimize the use of chemicals, using best management practices for turf care.  As in item #3, this will be a cost-neutral effort.


5)     Eliminate the use of pesticides in the 20 additional sites listed. This would bring the total number of pesticide-free parks to 52.  Assuming that eliminating the use of pesticides doesn’t necessarily equate to a reduction in level of maintenance for these sites, trimming of park turf areas will continue.  Based on that assumption, staff would need to find an alternative to the use of the chemical Round-Up, which is currently used to chemically trim park turf areas at these sites.  The City would need to hire additional part-time staff to string trim the parks, consisting of three crews of two people that would travel from park to park trimming behind the mowing crews April through October.


Estimated cost:

          Staff (6 people x 40 hours per week x 30 weeks x $8 hour)      = $57,600 /year

Estimated fuel cost per year                                              =  $1,000/year

Additional Equipment needed (one time expense)

At least one truck to transport crew           $16,000

Weed-eaters                                $1,800         


      Additional Notes:

-          Supervising three additional crews along with the other tasks assignments will not increase costs for the City but will have an effect on the overall productivity of the supervisors during the peak operational season.

-          Pesticide free parks will no longer be managed for spot control of perennial weeds like dandelions and Bermuda grass in established turf.

-          The control of noxious weeds on any City owned property will continue to be accomplished as prescribed by the State.


Staff concurs with additional citizen recommendations found in the attached document, as these are ongoing efforts by staff of the department.  For example:

·         Improved public notification and signage – staff is diligent in their efforts to follow established guidelines for notification and signage and receives very few complaints from the public for non-performance in this area.

·         Landscape with Native Plants – City staff’s efforts in this area is ongoing and visible, with completely native plants in landscape beds in DeVictor Park, Centennial Park, Burcham Park, Prairie Park and areas of the Arboretum.  Native tree species that are consistently planted include redbud, ash, cedar, sycamore, locust, oaks, and Osage orange.

·         Invest in staff education, tools, and technologies – professionally trained staff is a priority and as funding is available, we avail ourselves of numerous opportunities to keep our staff on the cutting edge of best practices.

·         Adopt citywide pesticide standards – areas like the levee and our treatment plants and water storage facilities have unique needs based on their primary mission, location, or other factors.  Parks and Rec staff will continue to be a resource for other City departments in their management of facility green spaces.


Staff was asked to provide a “program improvement” to the 2008 budget that would increase the number of parks maintained in a pesticide-free manner.  The various steps described in this memo, individually or collectively will make progress towards meeting that goal, as appropriate and financially prudent.