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Desert Oasis–Mission Hills Park

By Kevin Burrows, Assistant Editor

A 72’’ Toro Trim mower and a larger gang mower in the background help keep the 10 acres of turf at Mission Hills Park looking pristine.


The City of Henderson, Nevada, located seven miles outside of Las Vegas, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2003. “Born in America’s defense” during World War II, the city supplied the US War Department with magnesium for munitions and airplane parts. With an original population of just over 7,000 and covering about 13 square miles, the city has grown to 94 square miles and has an ever-expanding population of well over 250,000.

A 2007 PGMS Greenstar Grand Award winner, Mission Hills Park is one of its newest parks in Henderson. This 25-acre community park is a hit in the summer with its water play feature, adjacent shade pavilion and picnic areas.

The playground at Mission Hills consists of structures made by Miracle Play Systems, with two separate age-appropriate areas–one for 3-5 year-olds and one for 5-13 year-olds. The play area for the older children features a bank of tube slides on a slope with stairs that go up to the top. “It sits right next to water play feature and is very popular,” said Phelps. The park’s shade pavilion–which covers a open concrete area–and Black Mountain can be seen in the background.

Now the second largest city in Nevada, Henderson was ranked 20th by Money magazine in the 2006 list of the top 100 places to live in the U.S. In addition, with more than 37 miles of trails, it was also named as the sixth best walking city in America by Prevention magazine. One of the major factors to achieving these rankings has Henderson’s Parks and Recreation Department. By constructing and maintaining parks, trails and a number of play areas throughout the growing city, they have created a family friendly atmosphere rivaling any community in the country.

Mission Hills Park is a testament to the town’s commitment to excellence. A 2007 PGMS Greenstar Grand Award winner, it is one of its newest parks in Henderson. This 25-acre community park is a hit in the summer with its water play feature and picnic areas. In fact, it is quite common for large corporations to rent out the shaded pavilion for parties that can number over 2,000 in attendance. Considering the large crowds and extremely high temperatures that are common during the summer, the grounds maintenance crew does an outstanding job keeping the park safe, clean and green.

This groundskeeper trims out the baselines on the little league field. As far as utility vehicles, the crew at Mission Hills employ a number of EZ-Go golf carts with flat beds, as well as a number of Toro Workman (shown here) to haul plant material and tools. To keep the parks clean of debris they use 30 handheld blowers, ten backpack blowers, and between 20 and 30 weed eaters.

This worker manicures the Bermudagrass infield of on of the park’s two baseball fields using a Toro true-cut hand mower.


Parks Supervisor, Lynn Phelps is responsible for 500 acres of large open native grasses and another 200 acres of manicured turf in Henderson. He and his team of 35-40 full time workers oversee 1/3 of the city’s park maintenance. Of that crew, three groundskeepers are directly in charge of Mission Hills Park.

Lead man Preston Goodman heads this small team, which boasts qualifications ranging from certified arborist, landscape irrigation auditor, pesticide applicator and playground safety inspector. The three of them put in around 132 man-hours a week on park maintenance and improvements.


Mission Hills Park has a total budget (including salaries) of $350,000. In 2007, $5,000 was allotted for equipment expenses, $10,000 was tagged for chemicals and fertilizers, and $2,000 was used to purchase seed and plant material.

An electrician replaces a weak breaker in the tennis court lighting switch gear. The park has 3 tennis courts, a basketball court, and 2 open grassy play areas, which are used for soccer practice at certain times of the year.

This Toro 582D knocks out an open turf area at Mission Hills Park. Henderson deals exclusively with Toro for all of its mowers. Phelps’ crew uses a Toro 580 gang mower for big areas and a 328 trim mower at most of the parks. The also use Reel mowers, depending on the facility for the infield Bermuda grass as well as a Tri-plex mower.


With large opens spaces of turf as well as two youth baseball fields comprised mostly of tall fescue, Mission Hills has 13 acres of turfgrass. The infields, however are made up of hybrid Bermuda. Temperatures range as low as the teens in winter and as high as 120s in the summer. “It’s extremely harsh for both plant material and people,” said Phelps. “In the winter, turf is a low priority. It pretty much goes to sleep and allows us to focus on other things.”

Water Feature

The main attraction in the park is its water feature. Tremendously popular in the summer, people come to the free park from all over the Las Vegas Valley to see and use it during the sweltering heat. Fresh potable water is used, and “it is recycled like a swimming pool and must pass health department regulations,” said Phelps.

Recently Henderson spent $200,000 to upgrade the water feature’s circulation system. Prior to renovation, the majority of the equipment was in an underground vault. “We pulled it above ground–all the parts, electronics–and increased the amount of water that could be stored in the system,” said Phelps.

The project took six months to complete, and now that that is finished, updated health department regulations are requiring a fence to be built around it for safety reasons.

The water play feature at Mission Hills Park is the first of three built in the city of Henderson and has a rubberized, pour in place, non-slip surface. Unlike the other two, the water is captured and recycled, and treated as if it were a swimming pool. Phelps and his staff are constantly challenged to keep this area in working order to withstand constant use. The shade pavilion and large concrete patio in the background–one of six picnic areas that can be reserved for large parties with caterers, DJ’s and other activities–produces large amounts of trash that must be cleared by the groundskeepers.


Henderson uses a Rainbird irrigation system, with three weather stations that cooperate with other neighboring stations. Nearly all of its irrigation sites in the city are controlled from one office. With a $1 million budget for water, they have been extremely successful in managing the town’s irrigation by combining smart control techniques and other water saving ideas. For example, the city removed turf in a number of non-recreation areas in favor of xeriscaping. In addition, while the Parks and Recreation Department has added several parks over the past 2 to 3 years–reaching one million square feet maintained in the fall of 2007–they have not increased water usage over that time.

Fertilizer/ Spraying

The landscaping crew starts applying fertilizer in late February/early March, and uses pre-emergents on the xeriscaped areas. In the past they relied heavily on Round-Up based weed control, but over the years have switched to pre-emergents.

No Insect Problems

Insects along with tree and turf diseases are very rare because of the dry Nevada weather. “We may have some aphids and certain species of trees with borer issues,” said Phelps, “but they are do not happen very often.” Any sightings are attributed to occasional elevated humidity levels in the summer.

The borer issues are limited to certain trees, such as cottonwoods or any type of fruit tree. Because of this fruit trees like the mimosa tree (considered borer bait by Phelps) are avoided altogether.

“We have seen some borers in mesquites,” said Phelps, “which is pretty unusual.” However, when a problem is found, his crew simply cuts out the diseased part of the tree. “We haven’t had to use a preventative winter spray yet.”

The area on top of the tube slide hill gives a good view of the park, especially the main play structure. Phelps and his team recently performed upgrades to this hill including new fencing and terraces. The park contains a variety of plant material including many drought tolerant species of trees and shrubs. The trees in the background are some of many memorial trees in the park donated by local residents.


Vandalism in a major challenge for the crew at Mission Hills Park. Graffiti is a weekly in not daily occurrence and incidents of damage are on the rise in the growing community. For example, a Christmas tree recycling area was set fire by vandals last year. Repairs can be costly and can close the park assets to the public until completed.

While vandalism can create a lot of unnecessary work, the biggest challenge that Phelps and his team deal with is the popularity of the park and corresponding foot traffic that they have to deal with. Large corporate parties are common at the park, and clean up and repair afterwards is a significant time consumer for the maintenance crew. “Trash a big deal,” said Phelps. “We are planning to initiate a recycling program in the park, and hoping to get it going this summer.”

“As weather improves, larger groups will come,” said Phelps. “With the volume of people that come out to use the area, it is difficult to keep the turf alive and maintain the overall usability of the park.” With a dedicated staff, however there is no doubt that the crew at Mission Hills Park will continue to keep things looking green in this desert oasis.

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December 14, 2019, 8:01 am PDT

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