Routing Runoff

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences. 

Photos Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

Photos Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

Imagine that you’ve just prepared a ball field for the big weekend playoff game, and it looks great—the infield dirt is smoothed to perfection, and home plate and the pitcher’s mound are manicured to regulation.

Then 2 hours before the game, the rain comes, a gully-washer that starts at the top end of the tournament complex and is propelled downhill, right for your perfect field. Destruction is imminent.

But, just as the water makes its final push, it is stopped by drainage deflection and guided into a trench-drain water trough that carries it harmlessly to either side of the field to be emptied into the woods.

Although this is not unusual, this scenario doesn’t always have the same carefree conclusion. More often, poor drainage allows fields or valuable topsoil to be washed away, games to be canceled, and phones to start ringing with complaints.

Dog Park Drainage

When rainfall in some places has been historically high, drainage issues manifest themselves seemingly from out of nowhere.

Take for example the case of the Ellisville, Mo., dog park.  According to Parks and Rec Director Lisa Blumer, the dog park’s drainage issues began with water leaking from a drinking fountain and the attached dog bowl.  The problem was exacerbated by heavy spring rains, which delayed a solution.

“Originally, we determined that crushed granite would be the best solution,” she says, adding that the 1-acre dog park was under construction when it opened a year before, so the grass was not particularly healthy to begin with. With about 400 members, the park gets heavy use.

When the spring rains delayed the installation of the granite, the affected area was sodded as a temporary measure.

“But the sod has actually been doing very well there, so our plan now is that as long as the grass is doing fine and we have nice turf, we won’t add the granite unless it becomes necessary,” notes Blumer.

Ball Field Perk-Me-Up

The solution to Ellisville’s small drainage issue was relatively simple: add sod and keep it healthy.

However, drainage issues can become much more complicated, especially for sports fields, which are not always situated on the best property.  Many times, recreation land is in a low area where structures can’t be built; as a result, when the rains come, the fields take the brunt of the water runoff.

For instance, Wethersfield, Conn. (population 26,000), has clay-based soils that don’t “perk” well; that’s engineer-speak meaning the soil doesn’t allow water to drain.  As a result, a heavy rain will take some soil with it.

The town has been dealing with drainage issues for a long time.  In 1998, during a year of particularly heavy spring and summer rains similar to those this year, the town had problems with park and school sports fields.  Officials hired a noted agronomist and soil scientist to study the drainage of the fields and make recommendations to the town council.

The problems in Wethersfield were significant.  One of the councilmen noted, “At the last high school Thanksgiving game, the players were playing with mud up to their ankles.”  This may make for good video, but it’s unsafe for players and disastrous for the fields.

Things have improved remarkably since then, according to Sal Cucia, assistant director of the parks and rec department. He recalls that back then the department was actively trying to develop support and seek funding to make improvements to the fields.

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