Taking Care of North Park


The jewel of Lincolnshire

Just 30 minutes from downtown Chicago, the village of Lincolnshire, Ill., packs a parcel of amenities within its 4.4 square miles. Lincolnshire has no parks department, instead incorporating that segment of the village services under public works. Scott Pippen is superintendent of streets and parks, overseeing all the park maintenance and construction, including in-house forestry, and all street surfaces and related aspects such as storm sewers and streetlights. Vehicle maintenance was recently added to his responsibilities.

Lincolnshire’s newest park, and its premier athletic facility, is North Park. Troy Taylor, who reports directly to Pippen, is supervisor of North Park and based at that site. Pippen says, “Troy has one full-time, year-round employee and three seasonal personnel. He oversees everything within the park, including the sports fields, and assists with the maintenance of the sports fields at other sites.”

This aerial view of the North Park complex shows the layout of the multiple sports fields, the other recreational facilities and the parking area.

North Park has two baseball diamonds, three softball fields and rectangular soccer field space that can be laid out in multiple configurations. The baseball outfields double as soccer fields. The complex also includes two tennis courts, a basketball court, playground, volleyball area, picnic shelter, pedestrian path and concession building and restrooms.

Pippen says, “This village is very environmentally conscious. We have two nature preserves and have an environmental person on staff. North Park is the site of an extensive natural area with interpretive signs and a trail system that is a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve.”

North Park construction

The land for North Park was purchased in 1998 with groundbreaking scheduled for 2000. Pippen and the Village’s environmental supervisor were involved in all aspects of the project. Pippen says, “Our consultant, Ken Mrock, head groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears, was a key player in developing the construction methods for a top-notch facility without breaking the bank. We also were able to persuade Steve Roser, turf manager for the Rockford, Ill., park district’s Sportscore Complexes, two-time STMA Soccer field of the Year award recipient, to join our staff for a couple years. Troy had been Steve’s assistant there, and came with him to our complex. When Steve returned to Rockford as planned, Troy stepped up to the supervisor position here.”

One component of the athletic field design that came from this was research was the incorporation of calcined clay into the growing medium. Pippen says, “We were able to offset some of the costs for the calcined clay by eliminating some of the drainage originally spec’d. We cut out the herringbone drains going through the centers of all the fields. We were able to sell the concept on that cost savings, along with emphasizing what it would do for anticipated reduction of water needs and increased turf root development and strength.”

Despite all efforts to preserve a swamp white oak near the detention pond in the northeast corner of North Park, the tree died in 2005. In 2006, the existing small soccer field adjacent to that area was expanded to full-size. This shot, taken in the fall of 2006, shows the installation of big roll 100 percent bluegrass sod.

The approved design spec’d a 6-inch profile of native soil with calcined clay mixed in at 2 tons per 1,000 square feet for all of the athletic fields and the surrounding turf areas. That required 6,500 tons of calcined clay. The skinned infields were spec’d at 70 percent clay and 30 percent sand, with a 1-inch topdressing of calcined clay.

The native soil was striped and stockpiled outside the construction area while the subgrade was prepared. The subgrade was then scarified to a depth of 8 inches. The topsoil that had been stripped was respread, topped with calcined clay and tilled to a depth of 6 inches. Hydroseeding of a mix of 80 percent bluegrasses/20 percent ryegrasses was completed in mid-October of 2000. Pippen says, “Weather was warm, giving us some fall growing time. We allowed the entire next year for grow-in, with the first play taking place in April 2002.”

Sloping provides surface drainage, with the calcined clay within the soil profile boosting the infiltration and percolation rates. Perforated drainage tile embedded in landscape fabric was installed within subsurface gravel beds around the perimeters of all the fields. This leads into the main storm system.

Instead of a storm sewer, a central swale was installed the length of the parking area, and specific plants were installed within it to clean the salts and oil out of the water. This is channeled into the detention pond, which then drains into the head waters of the north section of the east branch of the Chicago River.

This action shot shows one of the two North Park baseball fields in play.

Pippen says, “Environmentally sensitive planning was a vital component of the entire design. The outflow of the detention pond was engineered to clean the water before it enters the river. We test the pond annually for contaminants, including phosphates, and have had no problems to date. We did have drainage issues in one wet area close to the detention pond. We slit trenches and filled them with calcined clay, which solved the problem.”

Inground irrigation was installed on approximately two-thirds of fields during the initial construction. Pippen says, “We had planned to use Kifco water reels on the area designated for practice fields, but once we opened, they became game fields. In 2004, we installed inground irrigation in the rest of the fields. We’d anticipated that might happen so had designed a 3-inch main line running along the perimeter of the nonirrigated areas, making it a relatively easy process to tie into the main system.

“Our water source is a 1,400-foot deep well. The pump, installed at 900 feet, has a variable frequency drive that can adjust the speed of the water pickup. We have one controller for the baseball fields and two controllers that serve the softball and soccer fields.”

Field use

The playing season begins as soon as weather allows in early March. Taylor says, “We shut down as much of the field space as possible in early November. A few of our sports leagues end their seasons at Thanksgiving. We convert two areas to ice rinks for the winter. The hockey ice rink is located on what is a micro soccer field the rest of the year. A turf volleyball area becomes the figure skating ice rink.”

Because Lincolnshire has no park district, it relies on citizen volunteers. They currently program 90 percent of the athletic activities, with the recreation department programming youth sports camps when the fields are not being used otherwise. Lacrosse camps are operated through a private contractor.

Taylor says, “A Euro Soccer competition league operates an advanced soccer program. The minor league soccer team that served as a developmental program for the Chicago Fire has used our fields, and anyone from around the village can rent out the ball diamonds for their practices and games. Between practices and games we have 400 events a month on the soccer fields and, overall, nearly 2,400 events on our fields annually.”

Obviously, such heavy field use is a challenge, but the strategies incorporated during construction, the field management program and user cooperation combine to minimize the impact. In October and November, when many soccer fields in northeast Illinois are worn to bare ground at center field and in the goalmouths, North Park will show wear.

Maintenance program

The field management program is a year-round process. Taylor says, “We aerate each field as it goes out of play in late October and November. We topdress the soccer fields with an 80/20 organic mix. Mowing and irrigation continue until weather shuts us down. During the winter, we service equipment, refurbish facilities and prepare for the next season.”

The program steps up in April and May. Taylor says, “We apply 18-18-18 slow-release fertilizer to all the fields. We slit-seed the middle of the soccer fields and any bare spots. We start up the irrigation system and irrigate as needed throughout the season. Mowing starts with turf growth. We maintain a height of cut of 2.5 inches, following the one-third rule, with mowing frequency moving to twice a week as the weather warms. We lay­out and paint the soccer fields and paint the baseball/softball foul lines just prior to the start of practices. The ball diamonds are groomed daily.”

Once field use begins, all cultural practices are adjusted to work around it. During June and July, an application of 25-5-15 slow-release fertilizer is made on all the fields. The soccer fields are aerified and slit-seeded. In August, the soccer fields are reconfigured and repainted for the fall season. The baseball and softball fields are aerified. An application of 18-18-18 slow-release fertilizer is made on all fields. They are fertilized again in September using a slow-release 25-5-15.

Consistent with Lincolnshire’s emphasis on environmentally conscientious practices, Taylor follows a stringent IPM program. He says, “We only use control products when absolutely necessary. Typically, our only herbicide use is one postemergent application of broadleaf weed control. We’ve needed no insecticides or fungicides to date. We’re also very frugal with our water use. We keep the irrigation system in top shape to prevent leaks. Our controllers are programmed for optimum timing and run cycles, and automatically shut off if we receive measurable rain.”

Taylor is exploring the options in organic fertilizers to augment or replace the currently used encapsulated and slow-release products. All of the village’s mowers and tractors are diesel and are run on a bio-diesel blend. Grass clippings are not bagged.

Some of the equipment gathered at the North Park site during the construction of the multiple-field complex.

Field users

Taylor and Pippen believe that maintaining a top-notch facility and giving field users the best possible field conditions leads to their cooperation in field use to help keep them that way. Pippen says, “If you let down on field maintenance, even just a notch or two, that ‘buy in’ becomes more difficult to attain.”

Taylor and his staff work to keep the communication flowing, connecting with the coaches whenever possible and being open to their concerns. They’ve used the North Park flagpole as a quick signal on field conditions. They fly a green flag below the U.S. flag when field conditions are playable and Northpark is open, and a red flag when field use must be cancelled. There’s a hotline number users can call, too.

Pippen says, “The village board is in the early stages of planning improvement for our main corridors. They’re going for the ‘wow’ factor and are working with a design firm on the gardens and pathways and other amenities that will achieve that. Though we will likely contract out the maintenance of that program, our department will need to augment that both administratively and operationally. Meeting—and striving to exceed—the community’s high expectations is the challenge that keeps us going strong and prompts us to do a little bit better each day.”  

Through the efforts of Pippen, Taylor and their staff, the village of Lincolnshire’s North Park earned the STMA Complex of the Year award for 2006.

The author is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.