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Taking Ownership of Their Turf: Mt. Olive Township, NJ

By Kevin Burrows, assistant editor




The little league field shown here, along with the park’s other 8 sports fields, is made up of natural bluegrass sod, which is overseeded with a mix of blue grass, ryegrass, and turf type fescue.

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Mt. Olive Township in Morris County, N.J. is comprised of 32 square miles of diverse landscape ranging from a beachfront lake to turf and hardscapes. Roads are named after early settlers who were sympathetic to the British during the town’s incorporation and therefore gave it the name Mt. Olive to honor the Quaker Benjamin Olive.






Frank Nelson, one of seven full time crew members is shown here mowing an ornamental grass area with a 52” Toro walk behind mower. The township owns just over 1,000 acres of open space consisting of 400 acres of turf, trees and athletic fields that are manicured by the crew.





Turkey Brook Park has 267 total acres, but only approximately 80 of which are developed. Built in 2003, the football field shown here is one of nine sports fields in the park. There are also four soccer fields, three little league baseball fields, as well as a softball field.


Superintendent & Crew

James R. Lynch; Supervisor of Parks, Buildings & Grounds, has been working at Mt. Olive for seven years. Coming from a background in golf course management, he was brought in when the town began building its park system in 2001. Interestingly, Lynch has a degree in American History and was on the path to becoming a teacher before, as a means to support himself while at Rutgers, he worked at a local golf course. By the time he graduated he had fallen in love with working outdoors and rather than dawning the corduroy jacket of a history professor he headed back to Rutgers and completed a two-year program in turf management. “You never know what nature’s going to give you,” said Lynch. “I love the game.” Then following a few years at a golf courses, in New Jersey he jumped at the chance to come back to work in Mt. Olive, where he grew up.

“The town that I work in is I where grew up,” said Lynch. “It’s where I got married and built a house. I never left.” When you take into account he along with his crew of seven full time landscapers went to high school together–give or take a few grades–and all but two are volunteer firefighters and EMTs, the term “small town America” really seems to fit. “All the guys live in town and pay taxes,” said Lynch. “They take ownership of the product.” While they normally work 7 – 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, annual events during the year keep them overtime. “A carnival in July usually means a 100 hour workweek for the crew,” said Lynch. “But it’s worth it to see so many people enjoying the parks.”

While Lynch is the only Certified Pesticide applicator on staff, he is training one of the team members to take the exam. He also stresses flexibility in his men to handle all of the jobs that they may face day to day. “Every guy has to be able to do every job,” he said. “Each is a jack-of-all-trades.”

They are painters, plumbers and welders, often having to fix things on the fly.






The landscaping staff renovated one of the school baseball infields to proper dimensions in 2005. Prior to that these fields had been neglected for well over 20 years. Ed Lata, the Foreman under Lynch, is shown here checking out the remaining scope of work during renovations.


Facility

Each week the crew mows 400 acres of turf consisting of tension basins, open spaces, and grassy fields as well as all of the high school facilities. (Grass is cut to a height of 7/8 of an inch for the baseball infields). The lion’s share of the crew’s efforts goes into maintaining Turkey Brook Park, however. Its sports fields are mowed 2-3 times a week, and at its center is a 10-acre area of common grasses along with two tennis courts, two sand volleyball pits, two basketball courts and a gazebo. In addition, a historic mansion dating back to the 1850s is currently undergoing a major restoration at its main entrance. The adjoining maintenance barn, which pre-dates the mansion by a decade, houses a fully functional satellite office for Lynch’s team. This location is where they store the bulk of their equipment.

Flanders Park, which is home to the town’s only lighted 90-foot baseball diamond as well as a multipurpose field and playground, is mowed 1-2 times a week. Since the lights were installed however, it has been requiring more attention. With the addition of night games, the crew has had to do more work to combat the wear and tear on the facility.

The crew also must do maintenance in and around 22 buildings throughout the town. In addition, the old town hall was recently torn down to make way for a new veterans complex under construction. A cemetery was also inherited by the town when they recently purchased a historic church. With it came the 1.5 acre property where many of the town’s founding fathers are buried

“I couldn’t imagine doing this job without the staff I have.” —James R. Lynch






A Case DX 45 tractor was used to rake rock and then feather infield mix out to the new edge. The finished field renovation shown here was repeated on 13 other fields to eliminate the “lip” that develops between the infield and the outfield over time. Approximately 30 tons of material were removed and much more infield mix was hauled back in to make fields safe for league and recreational play.


Equipment

Saying the crew at Mt. Olive has a massive stockpile of equipment to play with is an understatement. When the Turkey Brook facility opened in 2003, “we spent $300,000 on landscaping equipment alone,” said Lynch. His experience with golf courses was a major help in purchasing the different types of mowers needed. As far as caring for the machines, all landscaping equipment maintenance is performed in-house, while all pickup truck maintenance is contracted out through Penski. Here is a breakdown of the different types of equipment they utilize:

  • 1 Toro 4700, 11.5ft rotary deck mower
  • 1 Toro 4000 10ft rotary deck mower
  • 1 Toro 455 10ft rotary deck mower
  • 2 Toro Sidewinders, 6ft, 3 rotary decks
  • 2 Toro Z Masters, 6ft deck
  • 1 Toro Z Master, 44inch deck
  • 3 assorted 21inch walk behind mowers (generic brands)
  • 1 Toro 1000 reel blade mower.
  • 1 Toro 300 gallon sparer
  • 2 Toro Workman utility carts
  • 1 Toro Workman heavy duty cart with hydraulic bed
  • 1 Toro Sand Pro for grooming infields
  • 1 solid tine aerifier with seeder box
  • 1 Toro Pro Core hollow tine aerifier (The crew alternates throughout the year between the solid and hollow tine).
  • 1 Dakota top dresser, which can be towed behind tractors or Workman vehicles that is used for fertilization, seeding and top dressing.
  • 3 Toro 52 inch walk-behind mowers
  • 1 Case DX 45 tractor with flotation tires,
  • 1 Case DX 45 tractor with workmen tires, enclosed cab with heat that is used for snow removal. “That’s the workhorse,” said Lynch.
  • 6 assorted Ford and GMC 4WD pickups that are also responsible for all snow plow removal. Fisher snow removal equipment is used on all trucks.
  • Additional equipment includes a sod cutter, edgers, and blowers.
  • Nearly all of the small equipment used on site is from Stihl. While they do have some from Husqvarna, they are phasing them out in favor of commercial grade Stihl products in an effort to standardize parts and maintenance.

Budget

Lynch and his team oversee a very large and diverse cross section of duties that requires more than a typical municipal landscaping budget. Thus, due to factors such as postage, fuel and alarm systems, the department’s annual budget is $384,000. However, of that total, only $28,000 goes toward landscaping.











The crew was called upon to remove 8.5 inches of snow from the Mt. Olive High School football field a few years back. Faced with the prospect of game cancellation, the mayor called Lynch at 2 a.m. and told to him have the field ready for that night. The landscaping team along with the Board of Education staff worked as “shared services,” plowing through the night. Their work paid off though, as Mt. Olive won 14-13 to take home its first ever State Championship. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Lynch’s crew had been up for over 48 hours but were content with the fact that theirs was the only scheduled game in the region played that night.


Irrigation

All the sports fields in Mt. Olive are fully irrigated. The irrigation system in Turkey Brook Park however, is in a state of flux this spring. Last year, a lightning strike took out one of the main controllers. The old system was becoming outdated anyway, so the at the time of publication bidding had just begun for a new system, which should be installed by mid summer.

Also throughout the town, Lynch’s team has been replacing and standardizing the sprinkler heads, converting them from Hunter to Toro.

All water used in irrigation is reclaimed from a retention basin. The 1-acre 4-foot ft deep basin has been able to provide enough water for the town’s irrigation needs, but by July and August, levels have been known to get low.

“Last year was the closest year I’ve had (to having a water shortage),” said Lynch. A literal perfect storm of lightning and lack of rain caused the team to quickly adapt in order to make the water last. Right at the end of July they had the lightning hit, which knocked out irrigation in the park. So in order to continue watering, they borrowed a pumper that the fire department was getting rid of (again, it doesn’t hurt being in a small close knit town). Ironically, the truck was able to pump 800 gallons a minute, compared to the old system that was able to do 100 gallons a minute. They began pumping at night, which is more efficient because it limits evaporation due to the sun. Though they were not using any more water than normal (they are mandated to use only a million and a half gallons of usage a month), the retention basin could barely keep up. The increased pump capacity was taking water faster than the reservoir could refill, forcing Lynch to change strategy on the fly, to avoid running out of water.

Fertilization

To help the soil retain moisture, “a lot of wetting agents are used,” said Lynch. “A lot of primer, and a lot of monitoring of the soil.” Because Mt. Olive is a lake community, ordinances have been passed regulating the use of fertilizer containing phosphorus. Therefore, lake friendly fertilizers have to be used when treating the turf to avoid runoff. “We do things differently with fertilizer,” said Lynch. “We perform a lot of aerification and want to have as much data in hand possible before fertilizing.”






The team takes care of a few other parks in the township including: Dan Jordan Facility, which has three Little League fields; Lou Nelson Park, featuring a small playground, three basketball courts and a hand-ball court; and a municipal beach on the lake.


Spraying

“In the seven years since I’ve been here, I’ve never had to spray for disease on the athletic fields,” said Lynch. I’ve only had to spray twice for clover and dandelion on common areas.” Due to the town’s elevation and the high winds that come along with it, spraying isn’t necessary. At 1,086 feet above sea level and by adapting their cultural practices when it comes to the height of cut, they have a situation where wind alleviates issues with disease. This directly affects the bottom line because they do not use any type of fungicides, and therefore those funds can be used elsewhere.

Trees

Trees are very important to the crew at Mt. Olive. Since Lynch has been there, they have planted many trees, creating an environment comparable to an arboretum. The maintenance performed includes watering as well as light tree pruning. “A couple guys used to work for tree companies,” said Lynch, “so the staff is very adept with tree pruning.”

Like the turf, there are very few issues with disease in the trees. Other problems and critters have crept in however. In the last few years, they have begun to watch for invasive pests, most notably the emerald ash borer on ash trees. Other varieties of trees found in the township are London plane tree, conifers, maples oaks and red buds. “We try to give good cultural diversity,” said Lynch. Of the trees he’s planted, he has only ever lost one– a Norway spruce the he said he planted in a bad spot.






The maintenance barn shown here in 2001, has since been renovated to be a satalite office for Lynch and his landscaping team. The barn dates from about 1840, now with phone lines, internet connections and electrical outlets, and houses most of the team’s mowers and equipment.


The Last Word

As the town continues to grow, it can rest assured that it will have a top-notch landscaping crew. “There are a lot of hours, a lot of jobs people don’t want to do, but the team does them with minimal complaints,” said Lynch. “On top of my crew, I have a very good administration and town council that have been very good to me in my 7 years.”


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June 27, 2019, 2:01 am PDT

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