Keyword Site Search

Hillsboro, OR: A Community Taking Charge of it’s Parks

By Kevin Burrows, regional editor

Flowering cherry trees, green grass, and a Frisbee golf course can all be enjoyed at Orchard Park, one of the city's newest parks. The trees receive light pruning each winter as the ongoing program to keep them in good, healthy shape.

The City of Hillsboro, located in near Portland Oregon has a Parks Maintenance Department that currently maintains 800 acres of diverse recreational property including 30 developed parks and specialty areas as well as many open spaces, wetlands, and trails. Of that area, 110 acres are made up of turf, including sports fields. The Parks Maintenance Department was the recipient of the Oregon Parks & Recreation Association's 2006 Outstanding Management Award.


Steve Heldt has been Hillsboro's Landscape Superintendent for just over a year and a half, and has been on staff for almost five years. He began working on golf courses in high school and as he put it, "kept gathering information as he went along." Today he has a business degree and 25 years of hands on experience. He gets to work every morning between 7:30 and 8 and leaves at 5:30pm. Because of a strict budget, his staff has a rigid weekly work schedule.

The crew gets in at 8am daily and leaves at 4:30 like clockwork. Because he manages a large staff, Heldt uses the quiet time at the end of the day to get most of his paperwork done.

This is a view of the central plaza area of the main ball fields at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex which also houses the 7,000 seat Hillsboro Stadium. The complex is used for adult softball leagues, girls fast pitch softball, and many other tournaments each year. The perennial ryegrass surrounding the fields is generally mowed two times per week at 2 inches and the fields are mowed three times per week at an inch and a half to an inch and three quarters.


The Parks Maintenance staff consists of 29 full time employees including an administrative assistant, vehicle mechanics, supervisory employees (known as "Utility 3") and the workers in the field ("Utility 1" or "Utility 2," depending on skill set). As evidenced by their accolades, they all take great pride in maintaining the parks and facilities at an exceptionally high level and with a commitment to environmentally friendly maintenance practices.

During the summer months they employ up to 35 seasonal workers peaking in June and July. In March and April they begin ramping up their staff, but the number drops once most of the workers go back to school in the fall. They keep 4-6 seasonal workers however, in the winter.

The department also has a strong volunteer program that engages people from area schools, businesses, and organizations to lend a hand with park enhancements from plantings to spreading wood chips and mulch to picking up litter.

Kenny Samayoa is shown aerating Rosebay Park as part of an ongoing aggressive aeration program to deal with the heavy clay soil that is common not only in Hillsboro, but much of the Portland Metropolitan area. Parks are aerified every 4-6 weeks to keep the soil open, which allows for more efficient usage of water and fertilizer, and helps to avoid heavy compaction.


The department has an annual budget of around 1.2 million dollars, which encompasses materials, supplies, utilities, and seasonal labor, etc. This does not cover the full time employees however.

A major challenge for Heldt is dealing with an ever-tighter budget with less people and less money. "There's a lot of things we do to stretch our dollars," he said.

As an example of his crew going above and beyond to make sure their budget is airtight, Heldt requires them to get bids on all projects they do, even if it is not necessary. "That way we can show the paperwork if there is ever a question," said Heldt.

Towering Douglas Firs and a few of the beautiful rhododendrons in the Lloyd Baron Rhododendron Garden are visible in Rood Bridge Park, one of our largest and most diverse park spaces. Some of Oregon's famous perennial ryegrass surrounds the trees.


A landscape as large as Hillsboro's requires an extensive stable to equipment ranging from mowers, to hand tools, to chain saws, to utility vehicles. To keep on budget, equipment maintenance is mainly done in house by their full time mechanics.

A section of the 800 foot long boardwalk is shown at Orchard Park. Sunwood was used on the walkway to prevent possible contamination from treated wood. It was constructed in 2002 and the park opened in 2003. The boardwalk is on the east side of the park as part of a loop path around the scenic wetland area. A variety of native trees can be seen in the distance.


The park staff utilizes 45-50 mowers varying from 21-inch decks up to larger 18-ft cutting areas. Some of the main workhorses in their facility are:

  • Eight Ferris commercial walk-behind mowers
  • Five Gravely Zero-Turn mowers
  • Four John Deere 1445 mowers
  • Three John Deere wide-area mowers
  • A Toro 580 D mower
  • A John Deere 3245 5 deck striking rotary mower

" In the days of the budget cuts where our department usually is affected first, we are able to provide a good product for the community."

Utility Vehicles

Due to the many diverse and sometimes hard-to-reach wooded areas, utility vehicles are essential to the crew at Hillsboro. They employ a number of John Deere Pro gators, which have been configured to meet specific needs. These include a boom sprayer, ball-field groomer, spreader, and a flatbed, just to name a few. "They eliminate a lot of the potential for back injuries among the crew," said Heldt.


Just as with mowers and utility vehicles, they employ over 40 pickup trucks, from small Chevy S-10s, all the way up to Ford Super Dutys with one-ton dump beds.

Hillsboro's Irrigation Supervisor Jesus Gonzalez is shown making adjustments to irrigation settings on the Maxicom irrigation system. Run times can be adjusted from his office, which allows the system to be turned off if cool or wet weather move in unexpectedly. This system has not only reduced time spent driving to 30 different sites to manually adjustments controls, but it has also allowed the parks department to reduce water usage over the past two years even though overall acreage has increased.

Turf and Trees

The turf they maintain largely consists perennial rye grass, but they have been experimenting with tall fescues and trying Kentucky blue grass in certain areas. With so many acres to cover, grass cutting is a daily job.

The heavily wooded 800-acre landscape is covered with large Douglas furs, oak trees, maples, as well as ground furs. These are trimmed as needed and checked for diseases and insects.

This manmade creek, lined with Douglas Fir trees, winds through the Lloyd Baron Rhododendron Gardens. The parks maintenance crew, consisting of 29 full time employees and up to 35 seasonal workers in the summer, performs regular maintenance to keep the creek clear of debris from surrounding trees and from children building dams.


In March, they finished up their spring fertilizer application, which is one of three times throughout the year that it is administered. They next spray in June and then again in September.

Currently, they are using a 20-0-10 formula, a mixture that is based on soil samples taken each January (this year the samples showed high phosphorus levels). Additionally, they will use lime to bring PH levels up when needed.


Since the crew deals mainly with clay soils they have developed an intense aerification program during the growing season. The soil tends to seal up, limiting how much water and fertilizer gets down to the root zone. Therefore, all of large turf areas and sports fields are aerified every 4 to 6 weeks from March 1st until October 15th. This program has helped to keep turf in Hillsboro green and healthy.

James Proffitt (left) and Matt Placher are shown installing and leveling cinder blocks prior to attaching benches toward the end of a renovation project at Central Park, located in Hillsboro's award winning Orenco Station neighborhood.

European Crane Fly

One of the biggest challenges the crew faces is The European Crane Fly, which can wipe out perennial rye grass. "We are always trying to get the grubs before they eat all the roots," said Heldt. The staff employs the chemical Sevin to treat it, but do not however employ a blanket application method. Instead they only target certain areas. "Understanding environmental concerns associated with runoff, we try to use as little as possible," said Heldt. "Rotary granular spreaders are used to hit the targeted areas."

Luckily, they do not have to deal a lot with major insect issues. While the gypsy moth was an issue a few years back, other than the Crane Fly, today they do not face many insect predators.


The municipality set up a safety committee a few years back with representatives from different areas of government each taking part. They have regular safety meetings where the agenda is set by the employees thus forcing everyone to have a hands
on approach.

"Last year the city hired a risk manager analyst, which has been very helpful," said Heldt. "Now we can call for recommendations and assistance before we perform certain jobs. If we can prevent an injury, it's worth it."

Three images of the Shute Park Aquatic and Recreation Center (SHARC) show the various stages of landscaping prior to the renovation reopening in March 2006. Crews had a short seven weeks to transform the area, and worked tirelessly to install irrigation, add and grade the soil, replant shrubs, trees, and flowers, mulch, and clean up around the building in time for the grand opening. Adrian Gonzalez (in blue) and other crew members are pictured planting Pansies in preparation for opening day.


A major aspect of Heldt's job as Landscape Superintendent is dealing with between 30 and 65 employees. "Getting them to mesh towards a common goal is a challenge." However, under his direction they have proven to be successful when situations called for teamwork. "This past December we had a fairly big wind storm, and we spent a few weeks cleaning up," said Heldt. "People really stepped up and we took care of it much quicker than anyone expected. We were fortunate because we have a lot of very good people." "Ultimately it's those people out in the field that make things happen."

Part of the Community

"Were very fortunate. The city is very supportive of the parks department," said Heldt. "In the days of the budget cuts where the our department usually is affected first, we are able to provide a good product for the community. It is nice to bring that back to the people."

Search Site by Story Keywords

Related Stories

May 26, 2019, 3:12 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.