A park system diversifies

Over the last five years, synthetic field systems have become a key component of the Douglas County, Colo., parks, according to Charles Klafka, parks supervisor.

With offices based in Littleton, Colo., the county’s parks system has evolved to meet the needs of this rapidly growing population center in a water-challenged environment. The department has developed regional parks, which they define as “large areas of 50 acres or more that support both active and passive recreational activities. The primary goal of these regional park facilities is to provide athletic fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football in addition to playgrounds, group picnic areas, internal trail systems, restrooms, parking and multiuse hard surface courts.”

Four regional parks with sports complexes are located in three major towns: Highland Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock. Each town also has smaller, neighborhood parks, with the maintenance primarily a local responsibility. “Within the four regional parks, we have 67.5 acres of natural turfgrass playing surfaces; another 20 acres of natural turfgrass in the warm-up areas, around the playgrounds and on the hillsides; and 13.05 acres of synthetic field systems,” Klafka says.

The Fairgrounds Regional Park, located in Castle Rock, is a multiuse facility supporting a wide range of activities, including the fair. Highland Heritage Regional Park is located in Highlands Ranch. Bayou Gulch Regional Park and Challenger Regional Park are both in Parker.

 

Big Green is the largest synthetic turf field within the Douglas County (Colorado) Regional Parks, measuring 410 feet by 330 feet. This shot looks over the aggregate and ornamental grass slope that runs along one side of the field toward the crew members who are painting.

Synthetic installations

Water is a huge issue in Colorado. Klafka says, “Water costs have played a big part in the installation of synthetic turf fields in the last five years. We went with a no-irrigation field design. That was the main selling point that led to the county’s approval of the expenditure. As anticipated, the synthetic fields also serve as a resource to reduce some of the pressures caused by the growing level of use of the natural turf fields.”

Big Green at the Fairgrounds and the baseball/softball outfield at Bayou Gulch were the first synthetic fields installed. “These were SRI [Southwest Recreational Industries, Inc.] fields with straight crumb rubber infill. That company went bankrupt in 2004, shortly after the installation, and our warranty went out the window. Though they weren’t bound by contract to do so, the installer, American Civil Constructors [ACC], took care of us for repairs and shared their expertise with us throughout our learning process on these first synthetic fields.”

Different colored lines overlay each other, allowing multiple sports to play on the same surface. Note the grass berms that were designed for spectator seating and ball containment.

Due to the positive reaction from the user groups and the public, within two years the decision was made to add three more synthetic fields for soccer/football. All three were FieldTurf synthetic systems, with the same basic design, poly fibers and a 25 percent sand, 75 percent rubber infill.

The department’s last synthetic installation, a renovation of an existing natural turf outfield at Challenger, was directly related to water costs. Klafka says, “We reduced the existing skinned area and expanded the outfield area so it can double as a football field. The synthetic is the OmniGrass mono-fiber from Sportexe. We spec’d it with the maximum amount of infill, so that only about 25 percent of the blade is exposed. Academy Sports Turf was awarded the bid on this installation.”

The regional park fields have a compacted dirt subgrade, topped with .75-inch aggregate. A herringbone drainage system is embedded in this aggregate layer leading to 10-inch diameter carry pipes buried in trenches along the sidelines. These pipes tie together and lead into the wastewater detention systems within the park. The aggregate is topped with crusher fines and then the sub-carpet material and the field surface material. These fields have a surface pitch of .5 to 1 percent, as compared to the 2 percent pitch on the natural turfgrass fields.

Repair

ACC’s staff training on field repair helped Klafka and his staff move beyond the perception that the synthetics were something “super and scientific.” He says, “They told us to treat it like carpet—cut it, fold it back, make the repair, put it back together. When that’s done well, repairs don’t show. We keep replacement material in-house and can easily manage repair of areas 10 feet by 10 feet and smaller. If a larger area was damaged, it would be difficult to match the surface material. That’s when I’d contact our installers to determine our options.”

Protect the investment

While keeping the synthetic fields safe and playable is the primary concern, protecting the investment is a close second. Douglas County wants its fields to last at least 10 years. Klafka says, “After a couple years, we observed the synthetic turf blades pushing over and starting to fray. To alleviate that wear and prolong field life, we’ve topdressed with matching infill material, leaving no more than a quarter of the blade height exposed. At that level, the field doesn’t look black, yet the rubber protects the blades. We manipulate the infill, working with the broom from the center outward to fill areas where it migrates away with heavy use. We only need to topdress once a year at the most, and may go two or three years before it’s necessary.”

Maintenance

With the training and travel involved, Klafka has organized his crews by task categories rather than by designated site. A full-time individual or an experienced seasonal returnee serves as the lead person for each crew. “With the new position, we’ll designate one individual to the synthetics, which should make it even easier to spot any changes that develop,” he says. “A crew member walks each synthetic field daily, except when there’s snow cover, to check conditions and pick up the larger trash items. They carry gum freeze to remove any they find. If the amount of debris warrants it, they’ll pull a sweeper behind the Cushman for pick up. Once that’s completed, they use a backpack blower along the field edges, moving debris toward a corner for pick up.”

This view of Big Green shows the multiple field setup. Note the aggregate and ornamental grass slope when the grass is past its prime.

A lip can build up on the synthetic turf baseball/softball fields just like on natural grass. Klafka says, “We generally use a hand-held Shindaiwa power rotary broom to remove it. We do lose some of the infill with this procedure, but can go two or three sweepings before we have to top it off. When the outfield is used for football, we lay down a .75-inch plywood path across the infield that they’re required to use to prevent tracking. We also use that path for ADA accessibility.”

When Big Green was installed, natural turfgrass berms were designed around three-quarters of it for seating and ball containment, with an aggregate slope filled with ornamental grasses along the other edge. “We thought that slope was beautiful until aggregate and chunks of dried grass got on the synthetic surface,” says Klafka. “Our specs now designate only turfgrass around the fields. Our small mow crews are instructed to mow three passes around the edges, with the mower blowing away from the field. Then they can go into a regular mowing pattern. That keeps the clippings off the field and away from the inground drainage areas along the sidelines.”

Because Big Green was the park system’s first synthetic field and the potential uses had not yet been determined, they opted for a totally green surface. Lines and markings are painted on at the start of each season and repainted four to six months later.

Take a common sense approach to help prolong the life of the synthetics, cautions Klafka. They’ve used heavy equipment, towing a Tycrop MH 400 topdresser with a big tractor. The key is knowing the weight limits your field can handle and, with all equipment, traveling at a slow, steady pace and avoiding sharp turns.

Klafka says, “Because we didn’t know how we’d be using Big Green, our first installation, we opted for a straight green surface. Now we paint it laying out two regulation-size soccer fields and an 80-yard football field with two 10-yard end zones on each side. We apply the same field paint we use on our natural turfgrass fields, putting it down with a Graco LineLazer. The lines last between four and six months, so we only paint twice a year. That’s compared to every week on our natural turfgrass fields.”

The author is a contributing editor for Sportsfield Management.