Pedaling Park Maintenance
By Chris Bundy and Heather Smith
Photos Courtesy of the City of Mt. Pleasant
Staff members of the Mt. Pleasant Parks Department in Michigan knew they needed a more efficient and earth-friendly way to complete daily park-maintenance tasks. After exploring several options, and noting at least one staff member who had a passion for bicycles, the department decided to incorporate this mode of transportation into its routine.
This project—named the Green Maintenance Bike Initiative—provides new and recycled bikes for daily maintenance in the city’s parks. With connected access to five of the city’s most utilized parks through the Mt. Pleasant GKB Riverwalk Trail, bikes are a natural option for tackling daily maintenance tasks.
Starting Off On The Right Wheels
Prior to 2011, the department relied solely on gas-powered, motorized utility vehicles for moving material, equipment, and personnel. It was determined that nearly 10 gallons of gasoline were being used daily. This created pollution in the form of exhaust, as well as excess noise in otherwise peaceful park areas.
The decision was made to put one bike and trailer into service and encourage a staff member to try it out. Then the department invested in two new bicycles and two specialized trailers. Key staff members with an interest in cycling were challenged to see what tasks they could accomplish with the new additions. Just getting staff members to think about new approaches to maintenance put them in a different mindset. Also, having a couple of staff members excited about the program helped promote a new sense of creativity and a new way of performing the work.
Trial And Error
Without a model to work from, the department has built its program from the bottom up. Much has been learned through some old-fashioned trial and error.
The program began with new bicycles, but once it gained momentum, additional bikes were needed. The parks department approached the city’s police department about its used bicycles. This partnership provided the parks department with used Cannondale bikes. They were refurbished and retrofitted with new fenders, saddle bags, and first-aid kits. Bike-trailer hitches also were added, allowing specialized trailers to be connected in order to transport push mowers, weed whips, yard and hand tools, and trash receptacles.
Since all of the bikes and trailers required maintenance—some of it costly—park staff members were prompted to become creative. A third trailer is currently being built. Using plans found online, they built a bike that is slimmer, which fits well over the department’s many bridges. The new trailer will be wider to hold more materials, such as trash barrels. Different hitches have been tried, and weight balance is something the staff is still trying to master.
Bikes abandoned in the parks also are utilized for parts. One bike might have a seat that works great on a maintenance bike, while another might have usable rims. Others may be able to be repaired and recycled, which park employees are learning to do in their shop.
The Cost Of “Going Green”
The parks department not only wanted this project to be green, but also to be low cost.
In addition to using recycled police bikes and abandoned bikes, building trailers, and doing much of the maintenance in-house, the department received a grant from the Mt. Pleasant Community Foundation to provide further specialized equipment for staff members and the bikes.
Additional costs have accrued in the purchase of tools, repair stands, and parts for maintenance.
Mt.Pleasant’s parks department has spent less than $2,000 on the program in 2013. Without the need to purchase more bikes or trailers in 2014, the budget to maintain this program in the future is minimal.
Some Bumps In The Road
Although the Green Maintenance Bike Initiative is successful, it has encountered some difficulties along the way.
For instance, weather is a challenge in Michigan; therefore, the bike initiative can only be used for half of the year. The bicycles are stored for the winter, which poses potential problems in ensuring there is adequate space for the bikes and trailers.
Staff members present challenges as well. Safety is a priority, so helmets are required for those riding the maintenance bikes. Some members are not comfortable wearing helmets, so they are still trying to overcome that hurdle. Also, daily checks are made on the condition of the bikes, and staff members are asked to report any issues immediately so they can be addressed effectively.
The Green Maintenance Bike Initiative continues to grow. The department now has 15 bikes and nine trailers. Although some jobs still require the use of motorized vehicles, a growing number of daily maintenance tasks are accomplished by using bicycles. Other than requiring mowers, certain parks no longer even require the use of motorized vehicles to accomplish daily tasks.
The initiative helps reduce noise and air pollution, preserves financial resources, and makes staff members more approachable to visitors. Promoting healthy lifestyles among both staff and the community is yet another benefit. The bicycles also provide an avenue for youth volunteers to move from one park to another, reducing the need to provide motorized transportation to various work sites.
The program also has encouraged park staff to change its way of thinking, becoming more innovative while reducing the carbon footprint.
Overall, ingenuity is the basis for sustaining and growing the bike initiative.
Watch a video about the bike initiative at http://bit.ly/19kuY6R .
Chris Bundy is the Director of Parks and Public Spaces for the city of Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Reach him at email@example.com .
Heather Smith is the Communications Director for the city of Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .