Photo by DC DPR on Flickr.

Photo by DC DPR on Flickr.

After my article yesterday on the DC Department of Parks and Recreation’s maintenance problems with parks, both grounds manager Derek Schultz and director Jesús Aguirre reached out to talk further. This stands in stark contrast to the National Park Service, which hasn’t engaged with parks advocates despite frequent efforts.

Schultz wrote in an email yesterday,

I believe you make some valid points.  I would love additional funding for grounds maintenance, but at the same time I feel that recent systematic improvements in our grounds management program deserve attention.  Some recent improvements include: installation of computerized central irrigation system for various field sites (makes automatic adjustments to ensure we irrigate at the proper levels) routine planting bed maintenance at 99 high profile DPR locations, implementation of permit limitations at our premier natural turf fields (ensures the long term-sustainability of these fields).


Government agencies seem to take one of two responses to criticism: sullen silence or active engagement.

Before this year, WMATA generally ignored its critics, didn’t participate much on social media, and couldn’t decide whether their media relations department should or shouldn’t answer questions from bloggers. Then, with new management, they flipped entirely and started engaging.

It doesn’t mean every problem is getting fixed, but it’s a huge start toward a dialogue. Sometimes an agency has reasons for a decision which aren’t apparent to others. If we at least know the reason, we might not all agree, but we can gain a better understanding of the constraints that hamper our officials.

DPR, to its credit, seems to be firmly in the engagement camp. DDOT has been generally good on this front as well. Not every DC agency is the same; MPD has largely refused to discuss issues with enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws or errors in investigating crashes that involve vulnerable road users.

I invited Peter May, NPS’s Associate Regional Director for Lands, Resources, and Planning, to come on for a live chat and explain the Park Service’s reasons for decisions that seem nonsensical and contrary to their mission. He was interested at first but ended up declining the offer entirely.

Bill Line, the NPS spokesperson, has never responded to a single email despite my sending one asking for his comment or insight before almost every story about NPS in the last month or more. He hasn’t just said he has no comment; he has not sent a single email of any kind in reply.

It’s not just me. Numerous parks advocates say that NPS makes no effort to have a dialogue with neighbors about parks. The few meetings that do take place are usually required by Environmental Impact Statement processes, and are then very structured in a way that minimizes discussion or input.

As one of many examples, NPS recently made a “determination” that its parkways are not compatible with bicyclist usage. Most people would agree that the parkways are not friendly to cyclists, but that’s a consequence of NPS decisions to design these roads, originally designed for scenic pleasure drives through a park, more and more as high-speed commuter freeways.

WABA’s Shane Farthing objects that this determination was made “without the input of the public or the burdened community,” and also argues that it’s a wrong decision. NPS should be striving for an ongoing dialogue with cyclists about these spaces, regardless of what policies ultimately result.

John Hendel also makes some excellent points about how NPS “doesn’t get the new language of transit.” Perhaps if they felt a need to converse with affected citizens about their parks instead of ignoring them, they would at least understand concerns and be able to speak to them when making proclamations about parks.

The grass might have caught on fire in Upshur Park, but it’s clear DPR at least is in tune with its constituents, even if for whatever reasons, financial or otherwise, they aren’t adequately watering the trees and grass.

Here’s Schultz’s full statement:

My name is Derek Schultz and I coordinate grounds management for DC Parks and Recreation.  I am a normal reader of GGW and was pleased to see you taking an interest in the grounds maintenance of DC run parks.  In case your readers are interested, I would like to provide a little more background on DC Parks.  We maintain roughly 900 acres (including natural growth areas) comprised of 333 individual properties.  Included in our inventory are 115 athletic fields (98 natural turf, 15 artificial turf), 70 recreation centers, and 22 outdoor pools.

I believe you make some valid points.  I would love additional funding for grounds maintenance, but at the same time I feel that recent systematic improvements in our grounds management program deserve attention.  Some recent improvements include: installation of computerized central irrigation system for various field sites (makes automatic adjustments to ensure we irrigate at the proper levels) routine planting bed maintenance at 99 high profile DPR locations, implementation of permit limitations at our premier natural turf fields (ensures the long term-sustainability of these fields).  A full list of recent improvements is listed below.

Related to Walter Pierce, yes the site was just completed and the true test will be how it looks in a few years, but we have other examples of premier fields that have stood the test of time.  These sites include: Banneker Maury Wills Field (installed in 2009) HQ field (installed 2010), Fort Stanton field (installed 2009).  Our new premier field permit regulations assist us in ensuring that our premier fields stay in premier shape.

Yes, we have a way to go, but we are on the right path and have a real focus on improving our park grounds.  Our hope is that through DGS we can continue this upward momentum.

I would love to give you a tour of some of our sites and would be happy to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges we face.  Please feel free to call or email me at any time. [Editor’s note: If I arrange a tour, I will try to arrange it so other GGW readers can attend as well.]

Grounds Management System-wide Improvements

  • Installation of new centrally controlled irrigation system at 13 athletic fields sites
    • This new system allows us to make automatic adjustments to our irrigation schedule based on weather conditions (wind, humidity, solar radiation, rainfall).
    • Improves monitoring of contractors who maintain system ensuring that they are testing the sites properly (they have unique log-in at controller site).
    • Facilitates the fine tuning of watering schedules to allow for the optimum irrigation program for each site (reduces overwatering).
  • Routine planting bed maintenance schedule (pruning, weeding, mulching).  First time ever where 99 high profile DPR sites are being serviced on a routine basis. (photo of Palisades bed maintenance)

  • DPR led development of citywide computer based mowing tracking system (DPR has 333 individual properties).

  • Routine EWF installation at all 78 DPR playgrounds.

  • Creation and implementation of comprehensive routine maintenance schedule for natural turf and synthetic fields (113 DPR fields).

  • Installation of new in-field ball diamond mix at 50 playing fields (the most sites completed at one time) 2011 spring baseball season.

  • Implementation of new permit limits for DPR premier natural turf fields with the goal of creating sustainable fields that require less tax payer expenditures for yearly refurbishments.

  • Natural turf premier field maintenance improvements

  • Computer Controlled Musco Sports Lighting Systems (12 sites)

    • Allows DPR to remotely adjust the lighting schedule at each site which leads to fine tuned schedules based on permits.  This fine tuning leads to lower electricity use.
    • Requires fewer staff to go around turning on and off lighting systems manually.  This saves the district money.


DPR Natural Turf Field Renovations

  • Walter Pierce Field
    • Installation of new Patriot Bermuda grass field
    • Replacement of irrigation system (now on central control)
  • Headquarters Park

    • Installation of new Patriot Bermuda grass field
    • Replacement of irrigation system (now on central control)
  • Barry Farm

    • Installation of new Patriot Bermuda grass field
  • Numerous Baseball Infields brought back online and added to routine dragging schedule after being offline for multiple years

    • Douglass Rec Center
    • Marvin Gaye Rec Center
    • Congress Heights
    • New York Avenue Playground


DPR Field Refurbishments (with partners)

  • Fort Stevens Field
    • Sprigging to restore worn areas
    • Routine fertilization and aeration throughout the summer.
  • Fort Reno Field

    • Sprigging to restore worn areas
    • Routine fertilization and aeration throughout the summer.
  • Hardy

    • Fall overseeding
    • Aeration and fertilization
  • Rudolph

    • Fall overseeding
    • Aeration and fertilization



Thank you,
Derek Schultz

We've just launched our brand new website and are working out some kinks. Find something that looks like a bug? Please help out by sending us an email with the details!

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle.