Turf care at Camp Orchard Hill

Camp Orchard Hill, located in Dallas, Pa., is a Christian camp that offers overnight and day camp experiences. The camp emphasizes fun, safety, faith and hands-on educational experiences in wide-open spaces.

Since fields and grassy areas are main features of the camp, the goal of the maintenance staff is to provide campers with healthy turf to play on. Camp Orchard Hill consists of 140 acres and hosts two family camps, year-round retreats and a full summer schedule of campers ranging in age from 8 to 17 years old.

Organized field games are some of the outside activities at Camp Orchard Hill.

Turf specifics

The two-man maintenance staff at Camp Orchard Hill consists of Dave Rogers, facilities director, and Dan Dutton, maintenance. Generally, the green areas are mowed once a week, according to Executive Director Jim Payne. “Mowing is done on a weekly or as-needed basis. Generally, the property is mowed on Friday so it looks good for parent pickup on Saturday and arrival on Sunday.”

For the summer months, the camp hires two to three seasonal staff to assist with the extra duties required during the busy camp season. The staff is responsible for about 70 acres of turf care; the rest of the property is wooded.

At Camp Orchard Hill, there is limited turf by the play area, which is surrounded by woods.

Snow removal is also a consideration since the camp hosts a youth winterfest every January, as well as many other retreats and activities over the winter months. “Our maintenance staff takes care of the plowing and snow maintenance. We have a snowplow truck, but we do hire out for the occasional salt and cinder [anti-skid road material] service,” Payne adds.

The camp uses a John Deere F935 front-mount commercial mower, a John Deere 4300 compact utility tractor with a Woods three-point hitch mower and a rear blade, a John Deere lawn tractor, and several walk-behind mowers, as well as Echo weed trimmers. For snow removal, they use a Dodge pickup with a Meyer snowplow, and there is a snowblower attachment for the F935 mower.

The soccer field, since it is the only sports turf on the property, gets the most attention. “We do use a granular fertilizer for the soccer field. All other grasses are natural and are not treated. Generally, we use a contractor’s mix to seed project areas,” Payne says. “The soccer field was originally seeded with a sports turf mix.”

Of course, the summer of 2010 in northeast Pennsylvania was dry and very hot. As lawns turned brown from the heat, how did the camp care for their turf during the summer drought? “The extreme temperatures for us meant less mowing,” Payne states. “We do get more rain than other areas, and our temperatures are generally 10 degrees cooler than the Philadelphia area. We irrigate with a 1-inch water line connected to our well, or we pump water from our lake. We only irrigate the soccer field.”

Kids gather near the dining hall at mealtime, and they tend to cluster on the turf.

Money is always a consideration when it comes to turf maintenance. The maintenance team at Camp Orchard Hill finds that the financial challenges of a nonprofit entity get in the way of exceptional turf care. Yet, the pros of the camp outweigh the negatives. For example, Rogers takes pride in the camp’s look: maintaining a natural, mostly wooded setting without using a lot of pesticides.

They use volunteers to help keep the maintenance overhead low. Volunteers are used for landscaping the pool area and around the dining hall, gymnasium, bathhouse, welcome center and entrance. Plants are donated to the camp from a local nursery, and mulch is purchased from a local garden center, usually the local Agway.

“We are working on a landscape plan to accompany our new master site plan. The landscape plan will include apple trees and fruit trees. The original property included apple orchards, hence the name, Camp Orchard Hill,” explains Payne.

Future plans and new equipment

Camp Orchard Hill hosts family camps and father/son retreats where football is a popular game.

Payne talks about future landscape plans for Camp Orchard Hill. “The tentative landscape plan will use a variety of bushes and perennial plants around walkways and new structures. We will also incorporate fruit trees, as well, to maintain the identity of Orchard Hill,” explains Payne. “We will work with a landscape architect that attended camp [during his childhood].”

Camp Orchard Hill budgets about 5 percent for the maintenance arm of the organization. Meanwhile, the grounds maintenance takes about 10 percent of the camp’s overall maintenance budget. “This does not include any new or renovation projects like the new office or the pavilion renovation project,” explains Payne.

Dan Dutton is part of the maintenance crew at Camp Orchard Hill, and snow removal is part of the job in the winter months.

Rogers says that his biggest equipment need is a full-size, rubber-tired backhoe. He is willing to settle for a used backhoe, and since a used backhoe runs about $10,000, the camp is relying on donations to purchase it. They also maintain a “Top 10 Needs List” in their newsletter, where the backhoe is listed. The newsletter is sent to camper-families and is published on their website. Along with cash donations, Payne says, “We would welcome a donation of a used backhoe as well.”

Even though Camp Orchard Hill is a nonprofit organization, and they need to carefully allocate where their funds go, Payne realizes the importance of a good grounds maintenance program. “Guests regularly comment about how well the grounds are maintained,” says Payne. “I think it shows people we care about all the details of camp, especially their children. We encourage children to spend time outdoors at camp, and I think a well-maintained landscape adds to that attraction.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ephrata, Pa. She writes for various trade magazines focusing on landscape companies, agriculture and business.