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Golf Course in the Rough, Reopens as Park
By Michelle Medaris, LC/DBM Photography by Lee County Parks & Recreation

The site required a modest excavation of three rain gardens, covering 10,737 square feet, that were dug out using a Vermeer RT450; this took two days. Plantings in this area were selected based on their water filtering qualities, and include red maple, pond apple, swamp hibiscus, pickerelweed, arrowhead, dahoon holly, bald cypress, buttonbush, duck potato and sand cordgrass.

As park maintenance is an important sector of the landscape industry, LC/DBM decided to explore what it takes to maintain a park. For instance, Lehigh Acre Trailhead Park in Lee County Fla., which is nearly 500,000 square feet, utilizes multiple entities to execute its maintenance plan.

The park opened in December of 2013, but it was a once thriving golf course. When the housing market crashed in 2007 the golf course was no longer financially viable and had to be shut down. A year later, Lee County Parks & Recreation purchased an 11-acre piece of the golf course and began developing a park for the 87,000-population community.

A modest excavation of the site was completed by Bateman Contracting, as it was important to Lee County Parks & Recreation to repurpose the site with a sustainable approach. Once the excavation was complete, Sandhill Native Growers, Inc. & Environmental Services began the landscaping, including the removal of ten percent of the trees, mostly the exotic species, such as Brazilian Pepper and Ficus. Next, 19,000 native plants were installed across the 11-acre park, including 297 trees and 381 palms. The park also has a three-acre wildflower prairie, five acres of turf and 10,737 square feet of rain gardens. Roughly 35 new species of plants were introduced to the site, 33 of which are Florida natives and only require watering after prolonged periods of low rainfall. The underlying goal for increasing plant diversity was to provide additional habitat for wildlife in the area. It is hoped that this site will encourage the repurposing of other similarly abandoned areas.

Rain Gardens
The site contains three rain gardens, which are manmade depressions planted with trees and other vegetation to help improve water quality by capturing and filtering runoff. Together, they total 10,737 square feet and utilize red maple, pond apple, swamp hibiscus, pickerelweed, arrowhead, dahoon holly, bald cypress, buttonbush, duck potato and sand cordgrass; all native plants.

Although P&T Landscaping maintains the rain gardens, they do not require a regular maintenance schedule and therefore the landscape company works this portion of the park on an as-needed basis. On average it takes a four-man crew four hours, once a month. The landscape crew also maintains the five acres of turf once a week with a Scag zero-turn Turf Tiger mower; this takes a four-man crew two hours. According to the job foreman, there are a couple of challenges to maintaining the site, such as weeding the rain gardens - at times it is difficult to determine the native plants from the weeds - and maneuvering through the uneven terrain with a ride-on lawn mower.

P&T Landscaping maintains about 60 parks within the Lee County Parks system and has been doing commercial maintenance for the past 20 years. They have won these contracts with low bids.

Although the golf course had some existing trees, Sandhill Native Growers, Inc. planted nearly 700 containerized trees, including 381 sabal and saw palmetto palm trees. The sabal palm trees shown here are braced with three two-by-fours that are staked into the ground and attached to the tree with wood blocks and burlap. Bracing comes off the tree about a year after planting, once the tree is established. Currently the trees are being irrigated twice a week by a Hunter automated system, however irrigation will be cut back after the trees are established and will only receive water after prolonged dry spells.

The three-acre prairie contains grasses and wildflowers, which replaced Bermuda grass that required mowing, fertilizing and pesticide/herbicide application. Thirteen types of wildflowers and grasses were used in this area, including purple lovegrass, lopsided Indiangrass, muhly grass, partridge pea, blanket flower, spotted beebalm and sunshine mimosa. This area is maintained by Sandhill Native Growers, Inc. & Environmental Services who visits the site once a month to hand pull weeds and to perform herbicide spot treatment. This takes six to eight hours with a crew of six. This in itself is a challenge for workers, as hand pulling weeds is a tedious job and spraying the herbicides can pose a threat to the wildflowers and grasses.

Trees & Palms
Although 90 percent of the trees were preserved from the golf course, an additional 297 trees and 381 palms were added, including red maple, dahoon holly, southern red cedar, jacaranda, south Florida slash pine, longleaf pine, live oak, bald cypress, as well as sabal and saw palmetto palm trees.

Lee County Parks & Recreation maintains the overall park and the trees, which are currently irrigated twice a week. This will eventually be reduced to an as-needed basis once the trees are fully established, which generally takes about a year. The trees have not been pruned since the park opened in December of 2013, but will be pruned in the future on an as-needed basis when requested by the facility supervisor. Although the parks department does not have a set crew to manage this park, it relies on a staff of ten, which are rotated between over 100 parks in the county.

The entrance sign, which stands eight feet tall by 12 feet wide, is made from aluminum, concrete blocks, Corten steel and stacked stone. US Sign and Mill Corporation, who was the contractor and manufacturer for the ten signs throughout the park, also installed these site amenities. Lee County Parks and Recreation maintain all signs, which are wiped down on an as-needed basis. Any signs with vinyl pieces will be replaced every two to three years.

The 11-acre park, which sits in the center of single-family homes of an 87,000-population community, was graded by Casey Construction with a Bobcat T300 loader, this took four days to complete.

An existing tree on the site, a slash pine, shades the three-acre wildflower prairie that replaced Bermuda grass. The wildflower prairie is hand weeded once a month and spot treated with the herbicide glyphosate.

Currently, the biggest challenge of maintaining the trees is making sure they receive enough water, as they are still in the establishment period. However, once the establishment year has passed, there should not be any major challenges, as a lot of thought went into the species selected as well as their locations.

Other elements added to the park include a 16-stall parking lot, two restroom units, an outdoor fitness area, three picnic pavilions, a half-mile asphalt paved multi-use trail, and site amenities: benches, picnic tables, trash bins, recycling bins, dog stations, drinking fountain, bike rack, sculptural panels and interpretative signage.

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July 22, 2019, 8:47 pm PDT

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