Keeping Up With The Seasons
By Mary Helen Sprecher
Depending upon where you are in the United States, seasonal maintenance of your park's sports and recreational facilities may be a no-brainer--or at least a non-issue.
If you're in the South or Southwest, for example, the action on your basketball and tennis courts, soccer and softball fields, playgrounds and jogging trails doesn't slow down--it keeps right on going.
Up north, though, and toward the center of the country, many facilities go into hibernation by this time.
Even if you don't live in a heavy snow area, the school year is in full swing everywhere, meaning outdoor facilities get a little downtime during the day from Monday through Friday.
For those people heading into colder temperatures, this is a good time to do some preventive-maintenance work. It can pay off in better conditions when the warm weather returns.
Carefully inspect the surface of asphalt basketball and tennis courts, keeping a lookout for cracks and other damage. Remember that cracking is a symptom of a problem, not a problem by itself, so ask a court builder to evaluate and give a recommendation for what should be done.
Look for low areas in the court where water collects after a rain storm, or high areas due to heaving. Some areas of courts will show wear more quickly than others; on tennis courts, this area is around the baselines, and on basketball courts it's in the key.
Depending upon your location, sports-construction professionals may advise work before a freeze hits, or in the spring.
Keep the court surface free of leaves, sticks, and twigs that can cause stains if left for prolonged periods, and make sure there's no way for algae or moss to grow, which can cause slippery areas.
Look at court furnishings: fences, posts, tennis and basketball nets, basketball poles, backstops and hoops, tennis net posts, and more. Sand any areas of rust and prime with a rust-retardant paint, if possible. Look for sharp edges and sand these down as well.
If it's unlikely the tennis courts will receive much use until spring, remove the nets and store them. Basketball nets should be replaced on a regular basis as well, so remove these too.
If, however, your courts will see action throughout the year, be sure all hardware stays in good working order by inspecting and lubricating any winding mechanisms on tennis-court nets.
Leave some slack on the net cable if your area does go through freeze-thaw cycles, as steel tends to expand and contract, and several months of temperature extremes can stress the cable and posts unnecessarily.
Heavy snow loads and deep mud will render fields unplayable; however, many parts of the country have only occasional snow and, therefore, the fields see at least limited action throughout the winter.
Remember, parents and kids get cabin fever; you're playgrounds will get use over the winter! (© Can Stock Photo Inc. / csp7220073
Ideally, fields should be rested through cold months, or after a season of heavy use. Realistically, though, many park fields are used even in the winter. For these facilities, the following steps are recommended.
In some areas, dethatching through use of a vertical mower or power rake is recommended in the spring and either late summer/early fall.
Fall fertilization can help fields deal with winter and grow better in the spring.
In addition, some turf managers recommend core aeration as the temperature cools in order to maintain soil quality and promote the health of the grass.
If an installed irrigation system is used during the year, be sure it is drained of water before temperatures drop.
For cold-season grasses, fall is a good time to seed fields, and to overseed areas that see the heaviest use, such as directly in front of soccer goals--provided the fields have some downtime to recover from play.
For warm-season grasses, resodding heavy-use areas can help bring a field back to an acceptable playing condition. If resodding in the fall, remember that sod will probably be dormant and will not grow until the soil temperatures stay above 50 degrees.
Overseeding dormant Bermuda with rye grass will provide a green playing surface during the winter and early spring months. However, transitioning from an overseeded field to a pure Bermuda playing field presents its own challenges to make sure the transition is smooth without damaging the grass.
No matter the type of grass, seeding, overseeding, or resodding will not help a field recover it is still in continuous use.
Again, unless winter in your area is characterized by non-stop heavy snow or ice, it's likely your playgrounds will be used at least periodically in the winter (both kids and parents are prone to cabin fever, after all).
Check all equipment regularly, and repair or replace where needed since fewer users mean problems are less likely to be reported.
Inspect the surface around and under all equipment; most injuries on playgrounds are caused by falls. There are two types of surfacing--unitary and loose-fill.
Unitary surfacing has mats, tiles, or poured-in-place rubber surfacing, and is typically accessible to children in wheelchairs or with other mobility challenges.
Loose-fill surfacing uses wood chips, bark mulch, sand, pea stone, shredded rubber, or engineered wood fiber (engineered wood fiber and some shredded rubber are the only loose-fill materials that are considered accessible).
Unitary surfacing should be checked for integrity and repaired or replaced where necessary. Loose fill will need to be refreshed periodically, as it can be lost and packed down over time.
Walking paths made of asphalt or concrete can be kept clear of snow and ice to allow for use throughout winter. Leaves and other debris can be removed with a leaf blower periodically.
As with other facility surfaces, check for cracks, depressions, and heaved areas, and have them addressed before they turn into a tripping hazard.
Seasonal maintenance isn't the most glamorous or exciting of jobs, and it's easy to push it aside in favor of other tasks. Just remember, though--the time you invest in regular maintenance will pay you back: in spring, you'll have facilities that are ready for action as soon as your athletes are.
Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction, and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.