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Park chosen for sustainable land practice grant

Date: 5/9/2012

May 9, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — Sections of School Street Park are going a little greener this year, thanks to a project funded by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) — an organization focusing on the reduction of toxins in the environment that is based at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

According to Tracy DeMaio, environmental project coordinator for the Department of Public Works (DPW), Agawam is one of five local communities working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) and Safeground Organic Landcare of Northampton to adopt more environmentally friendly land care practices in their municipal parks.

"We saw an opportunity to participate in a project in Agawam and thought it would be a great opportunity to educate our staff on organic lawn practices," DeMaio said.

Anne Capra, a principal planner at the PVPC who oversees the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee, of which Agawam is a member, said she approached the 11 communities that comprise the Committee about participating in the $25,000 TURI grant-funded project. The five other communities that elected to participate this year include Holyoke, at the grounds at the Wistariahurst Museum, Ludlow, for land at Memorial and Creative parks, Longmeadow, for Greenwood Park and Northampton, for land at Look Park.

The grant money will be utilized to help the DPW crews that maintain the participating parks transition from the use of synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides to using organic practices and materials.

DeMaio said the Agawam DPW considered adopting the new land care practices on a number of different athletic fields or at the playground area at School Street Park. With the help of Bernadette Giblin from Safeground, she said the DPW narrowed the project area down to the lacrosse and baseball fields, both of which have high water tables and close proximity to the Connecticut River, making them potential areas for toxic runoff in storm situations.

"That's a highly visible spot," DeMaio added. "A lot of people from town and from out of town go over to [the fields at] School Street Park."

Giblin said the five DPWs participating in the organic lawn care training have jumped into the project enthusiastically. In Agawam's case, DeMaio said, transitioning to organic practices began last fall, just before the October, 2011 blizzard.

"Agawam actually expanded the size of [their] project," Giblin said. "They were going to do half of the lacrosse field and now they're doing the whole thing."

Giblin, an accredited organic land care professional who wrote the TURI grant application for the PVPC, said municipal work such as this five-community project allows the public to see firsthand that more environmentally safe lawn care can be both effective and beautiful.

"School Street Park] still looks great," she said. '[Agawam] is getting to demonstrate to the public that organic [landcare] doesn't mean it's going to look bad."

Capra commended Agawam and the four other communities for making the switch to more sustainable land management practices.

"We feel the parks that are joining us now are really on the forefront [of land management]," Capra said, adding that Connecticut recently banned the use of synthetic pesticides on school grounds and playing fields. "Municipalities will have to go to [being] pesticide free in the potential future, and getting the training and beginning that transition process now is very wise."

Giblin said making the transition to organic land care practices now is also giving Agawam and its sister communities national status.

"They will be listed on the Beyond Pesticides website, a national organization that lists parks nationwide who are reducing the use of pesticides," Giblin said.

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