Self-educated N.Y. grounds pro and his experienced staff delight 5 million guests annually at Turning Stone Resort Casino

Turning Stone Resort Casino

Located: Vernona, N.Y. (central New York)
Founded: 1979
Grounds Manager: Adam Falkenmeyer
Grounds Staff: 17 full time, including 4 arborists
Resort Grounds: 75 acres of turfgrass and 5 acres of ornamentals
Annual Displays: Spring bulbs planted each October, 35,000-40,000 plants installed on the grounds annually
Additional Responsibilities: 175-site recreational vehicle park and an off-site 61-room hotel
Annual Visitors: 5 million

Adam Falkenmeyer, grounds manager for Turning Stone Resort Casino, Verona, N.Y., is up to the task. With a crew of 17 full-time employees, including four arborists, he’s responsible for the maintenance of 75 acres of turf and 5 acres of ornamental plantings.

“We have three 18-hole championship golf courses, two nine-hole golf courses, spas, restaurants, hotels, an RV park, convenience stores and gaming areas,” explains the veteran landscape pro. “I don’t have any formal training. I’ve picked up what I know by hard work and dedication to our field. Plus, I’ve been a member of the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) for several years now and having other members to bounce ideas off of has really helped me grow as a grounds manager.”

Off site there is even more to do.

“We also maintain a 175-site recreational vehicle park and an off-site 61-room hotel. Our guys cover a lot of ground throughout the day. We have mostly bluegrass turf at all areas,” he says. “We try to use low maintenance plant material in our beds because of the large area that we cover. This helps cut down on labor hours and ultimately cost.”

Grounds Manager Adam Falkenmeyer is responsible for maintaining 75 acres of turfgrass and 5 acres of colorful ornamentals.

For the summer, Falkenmeyer brings on an additional 10 seasonal employees, but there’s a lot going on at the resort year round.

Hort pros in action

“Our horticulturists maintain the ornamental beds. Together, they come up with what material we will use to be in our annual displays, or when reworking an older perennial bed,” says Falkenmeyer.

“I try to meet with them at least once a week, if not twice, to see what new ideas they have come up with. It’s pretty interesting to sit in on a meeting with them and watch and listen to all the brainstorming that goes on. A lot of times instead of spending money on new plants we will instead move plants from one area to another or split ornamental grasses to expand a bed. This again helps with keeping our costs down.”

Turning Stone Resort Casino is located in central New York between Syracuse and Utica, and enjoys nearly 5 million visitors each year. Rolling hills sit atop a clay soil that requires more than a little TLC.

“We till-in compost to all of our ornamental beds on a regular basis. This helps to soften the soil for planting and also add nutrients to the soil. I think having better soil gives the plant material the opportunity to grow a better root base thus giving them a better chance of growing fat, full and happy,” Falkenmeyer explains. And that is exactly what happened to the flowers this past season.

Adam oversees the “annual spring flower display,” the term given to the planting of spring annuals is an earmark of the property. This year petunias, verbena, geraniums and cannas showed especially well among the 35,000-40,000 plants installed on the grounds.

“As far as fall plantings we have gone away from this,” he adds. “The costs, versus the length of time plants are in, is just not cost effective. Our annual displays have been lasting longer, and I can’t see pulling out material that still looks great to put something in for a short time.

Winters are long and cold in central New York, so Falkenmeyer and his team make sure the grounds at Turning Stone Resort and Casino are ablaze with spring bloomers when the last snows have melted away.

He and his staff started picking out next season’s annual flower display early this past fall. Spring bulbs were in the ground by the end of October to make sure the resort was ablaze with color by the middle of spring 2013. Turning Stone buys its plantings and other materials locally, which also is a sustainable resource for the community .

“I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do for next year, but come and see – you will not be disappointed,” he says, adding that he and his crew work especially hard to make sure visitors are delighted at first glance with the resort’s grounds.

Unmatched service

“Turning Stone Resort brings an unmatched level of quality and service to central New York, and our landscaping and grounds are an extension of that,” says Falkenmeyer. “Whether it’s golfers enjoying our courses, guests walking along our hiking trails or just the public driving by, the landscaping is a reflection of the top quality they can expect throughout the Resort as a whole. It’s also gratifying to have people ask us about certain plants, trees, or displays so they can try the same materials at home because they’re so beautiful.”

By tilling compost into the beds at the resort each, the grounds crew can guarantee that its beds of annuals will be spectacular each season.

The grounds feature a sustainable water system, that, understandably, a source of pride for Adam.

“Turning Stone Resort uses reclaimed water from rooftop and parking lot runoff as well as treated wastewater to irrigate our grounds and golf courses. This strategy has helped Turning Stone reduce water consumption by 50 percent over the past six years while not cutting back on the quality and health of our grounds and landscaping. Our irrigation technician sets up programs to control our fully automated system in order to have the least impact on guests at our 24-hour-a-day operation,” says Falkenmeyer.

Stretching the budget

Another aspect of the Resort’s operations is getting the most out of the equipment that they’ve purchased. It’s all about the utility value.

Falkenmeyer says, “We have a lot of equipment. Everything from push mowers to large wheel loaders. We try to find equipment that will help us to save time and money. Currently we are using equipment that will not sit for six months due to snow on the ground. The equipment that we use can mow one month and throw snow the next. We can have some pretty harsh winters here in central New York. So having the ability to use the same equipment for the whole year really helps out. We use articulating tractors for both the growing and snowing seasons. A front-mounted PTO allows us to hook up several attachments including mowing decks, snow blowers, and power brooms.”

Turning Stone Resort Casino is an enterprise of the Oneida Indian Nation, one of six native tribes that make up the Iroquois. For hundreds of years the tribe was sustained in the area by the growing of, what they term, the “Three Sisters”-corn, squash and beans. Quite a contrast to the incredible beauty of the garden areas today.

But just as Adam and his crew search for more productive and sustainable ways to maintain their environment, so too did the Oneida people hundreds of years before. For instance, they planted the Three Sisters together; pole beans utilized the strength of the sturdy corn stalks to support the twining beans and the spreading squash vines to trap moisture for the growing crop. They are still teaching us. It is that same genius the Oneida have used to develop their successful business enterprises.

Falkenmeyer stretches his grounds budget by purchasing multipurpose, all-season equipment that reduces labor and saves time.

Starting as a simple bingo operation in 1979, their facilities has become the fifth largest tourist attraction in New York, and they are still growing, searching for ways to improve the area – you can bet on it.

Jackie Ingles is an experienced business writer living in Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at