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Nick Johnson, a carpenter with the Grand Forks Park District, works on a picnic shelter at the Masonic Park on the south end of Grand Forks.   photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Nick Johnson, a carpenter with the Grand Forks Park District, works on a picnic shelter at the Masonic Park on the south end of Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Lots of rain and growing park system means more work Grand Forks Park District

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news Grand Forks, 58203

Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

With an increase in rainfall and the resulting plant growth, the Grand Forks Park District has been particularly busy this summer maintaining hundreds of acres of park land and golf courses.

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“We’ve been so busy trying to keep up on the mowing,” Parks Operation Manager Rick Ziegelmann said. “If you’re a homeowner, you’ve been mowing on a three-day to weekly schedule, but we don’t have that luxury.”

A staff of 29 — 13 full-time and 16 part-time — is responsible for mowing, maintaining and building infrastructure for the 525 park acres and 280 acres of golf courses around the from early April to early November. Their seasonal budget of about $1 million is funded primarily through property taxes.

The district’s two largest parks, Lincoln Drive and University, are manned with a foreman full-time.

To stay on schedule, the rest of the park crew is divided into groups and is sent out to various locations around the city to complete maintenance repairs and daily upkeep responsibilities at the facilities, as well as building infrastructure and preparing the land for coming winter.

Providing recreation

Park workers are completing a shelter at Masonic Park on 40th Avenue South in south Grand Forks, one the newest parks in the district.

“More people are going out to (parks) because they are more user-friendly and we’ve been focusing on more recreation at them,” Ziegelmann said.

Other shelters like the one at Masonic Park have been constructed this summer at various parks, said Brent Vigness, a full-time carpenter for the district for more than 11 years.

“We enhance lives,” he said. “There’s not too much pressure with this job but things are done very efficiently.”

Aside from construction projects, the district’s other big task is mowing grass.

Bill Palmiscno, Park District director, said the district’s fleet is fairly expansive with 12 mowers, among them 6-foot, 10-foot and 16-foot mowers, along with other minor equipment.

“A lot of it is mowing and general upkeep on the playgrounds,” he said.

Thicker patches of grass and dandelion control have been some of the more cumbersome issues the crew has been battling lately, Ziegelmann said.

“This year I could have used four more mowers, but we’ve been keeping up,” he said. “One of the beauties about what we do is every season is different. I’ve been here (at the district) for 25 years and have never experienced a wet season like this year.”

Don Lovcik has been part of the full-time staff for 10 years and has spent much of his time mowing parks around the city this summer.

“We go through the park system in about a week,” he said. “Being outside is one of the perks to this job.”

During the winter months, the full-time staff maintains parks and golf courses, primarily removing snow and maintaining ice rinks.

The Park District’s winter budget is about $500,000, Palmiscno said.

“We try to deal with everything the best that we can,” Ziegelmann said. “The growth of the district has been the biggest change.”

Greenway maintenance

While the Park District oversees most of the parks and golf courses in Grand Forks, a single person oversees maintenance of the Grand Forks side of the Greenway, the 900 acres of parkland along the Red River in between parks that are maintained by the district.

Kim Greendahl is a city official who has been directing maintenance of the Greenway since 2002.

While the Greenway is technically city-owned, she said the funds to maintain the land do not come from the city’s general fund. Formal parks, like Lincoln Drive, that intersect with the Greenway space are still maintained by the Park District.

“There is a fee on your utilities bill of $1.38, which goes for flood control and greenway upkeep,” she said. “The businesses (in Grand Forks) also pay a fee based on their frontage.”

In 2013, about $57,000 was spent to hire a contracting company to oversee the park’s mowing upkeep, Greendahl said. Additionally, about $150,000 was spent to maintain water lines, landscaping and bike paths. Overall, it takes about $166 an acre to keep the park maintained throughout the year.

That’s a lot less than the Park District, but it’s because the entire Greenway is not mowed regularly, keeping parts of the trail system in a natural state.

A seasonal worker is also hired to help Greendahl oversee the park, which is slightly larger than New York City’s Central Park. When staffing gaps need to be filled, she said city employees usually step in.

With the park being as large as it is, Greendahl said vandalism and trash buildup is fairly minimal.

“It takes a lot of power,” she said. “Since we’ve had so many wet years, the next couple of weeks we’re going to spend trimming trees and it’s a struggle with the weather because you can’t get to everything all at once.”

Call Opstedahl at (701) 780-1137; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1137; or send email to topstedahl@gfherald.com

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