A Hot Topic
While you provide secure playground equipment, safe ground-covering for spraygrounds and backstops at ball fields, are you protecting patrons from harmful UV radiation? The areas noted above are usually in full sun with little chance of shade. And, since most outdoor activities fall during the mid-point of the day when UV rays are at their strongest and do the most damage, shade is crucial to protecting skin.
Martin Weinstock, Director of Dermatoepidemiology at Brown University and Chair of the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Skin Cancer Advisory Board, states in Shade Planning for America's Schools, “The vast bulk of skin cancers in the U.S. are due to excessive skin exposure to UV radiation from the sun, so sun protection is the key to preventing the disease.”
Need proof? The incidence rates for melanoma have been increasing for at least 30 years. According to the American Skin Cancer Society’s (ASCS) Web site, most of the 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States are considered to be sun-related. A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer were at an increased risk of later developing other cancers.
Melanomas are the most serious skin cancers, and result in the majority of skin-cancer deaths. The ASCS estimated that in 2009 roughly 68,720 cases of melanoma skin cancer resulted in about 8,650 of the 11,590 deaths due to the disease.
In planning shade for facilities, a wealth of detailed information is available in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guide book, Shade Planning for America's Schools. Even though the guide is designed for schools, it contains information on solar geometry and illustrations of the effects of daily and seasonal solar angles on the length and direction of shadows, as well as how to perform a shade audit.
Since shade is found in a variety of shapes and sizes, it is important to examine the options to determine what’s best for an area. For instance, standing structures, such as traditional pavilions, provide shade during the mid-portion of the day, but these square- or rectangular-shaped structures don’t offer shade later in the day as the angle of the sun changes.
Fabric shade structures are made from strong but stretchy high-density polyethylene cloth that is treated for UV resistance. The cloth comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These structures are adaptable to random spaces, and unlike pavilion-style features, the sail-like structures produce an inviting combination of shade and sun rather than total coverage.
“We approach it by trying to put the shade where you want it rather than trying to cover the whole area,” says Don Crenshaw, president of Shade Sails LLC. “We design each shade structure to meet the aesthetic and shade needs for the area.”
Shade-sail structures can be do-it-yourself projects or professionally installed. If you are looking at covering a large area, seek the expertise of an experienced designer. Keep in mind that greater height variation in sails creates an open, soaring look, but expenses increase with the number of corners and the size of individual sails.
For a more natural and low-cost approach, there is always the option of planting trees, vines and shrubs to provide shade. The tree of choice is deciduous, which allows for shade during the spring, summer and fall, but loses its leaves later in the fall and allows for the sun’s warmth in the winter.
Conifers provide shade protection and, as any farmer knows, planting conifers on the north-northwest side of a building helps reduce wind speed and, therefore, heat loss during the winter.
Planting trees can be done by local volunteers, master gardeners, scout groups or school groups. Only native trees should be used, as non-native trees need much more care. Hardy native species can typically be purchased as small “whips” through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cooperative Extension Service agency or the state forestry agency.
For assistance in selecting the right trees for a specific location, contact your area’s Cooperative Extension as well as the Soil and Water Conservation District for a land-management specialist, who also can help select trees that will avoid watering problems or leaf and fruit litter hassles.
For maximum effectiveness, dense-foliage deciduous trees must be planted to the west and south of the area that needs midday and afternoon shade. Some trees to consider are sugar and Norway maples. Although these trees may not set any land-speed records for rapid growth, they are sturdy and produce plenty of shade-generating leaves. Silver maples, on the other hand, grow at a rapid rate, and produce shade; however, when the trees are older, splitting becomes a problem and in a good spring storm, the trees can be lost.
Bradford pears, cherry variants and other fruit-producing trees may have a bouquet of beautiful spring flowers, but the results--the fruit--will make more work for maintenance staff and a slimy mess for anyone walking through the drop zone. Bradford pears also are well known for splitting.
Nut-producing trees, such as shingle, pin, red, black, swamp white, and white oaks, grow slowly; although they do produce nuts, the strength and longevity of the trees may outweigh any seasonal maintenance hassles. Oak trees also are good for a variety of wildlife, including songbirds, deer, squirrels and wild turkeys.
Whichever trees you decide on, be careful to not plant trees over utilities, such as electric, sewer or water. The roots from the tree eventually will cause damage. This applies to sidewalks as well as pathways. Tree roots prefer loose, non-compacted soil, but if compaction is a problem, the roots will grow shallow and push up even the heaviest walkways. If the trees are planted in an area with constant foot traffic, use specially designed pavers to keep the soil from compacting.
If you are looking for supplemental funding for a shade project, the American Academy of Dermatology's Shade Structure Program awards $8,000 grants for each permanent shade structure purchased for outdoor areas. If your property is awarded a grant, a permanent sign about the importance of sun safety is provided for display near the structure.
Whatever option works best for an area, patrons will appreciate the effort to keep them comfortable as well as knowing you care about their health.