UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Spartan sports fields: sustainably beautiful and bona fide green certified

photo of Turf management staffThere’s something appealing about a vast stretch of green, healthy grass on a ball field. You only have to go to the west side of UNCG’s campus to see 17 acres of it, all year round.

“The university community enjoys the green space,” said Pete Ashe, who is recently retired from the position of Sports Field Supervisor. “And the greenscapes are treasured on this campus.”

It’s common knowledge that nicely kept fields are a requirement for Division I athletic programs. What may go unseen is all the work that goes into keeping UNCG’s six fields in shape, with environmental responsibility as a priority.

UNCG Sports Turf Grounds Management Operations team work out of a building behind Weil Residence Hall and the UNCG tennis courts. During the 2017 spring season, their sports fields, facilities and the team’s stewardship underwent an extensive evaluation by the Sports Turf Management Association (STMA) to determine their consistent environmental effort.

In March, UNCG became the “Sweet 16th” institution to be recognized for environmentally responsible sports turf management, through the STMA’s newly created environmental certification program.

UNCG has been a member of the STMA, an international professional organization, for more than twenty years, and Ashe helped in the certification process for other universities. The practices evaluated to determine an environmentally sustainable sports facility have a broad range. Storm water management, fertilization and associated runoff consequences, integrated pest management, recycling, composting, mowing, energy conservation, turf shop building and storage management, irrigation, water quality and educational outreach are all taken into consideration. Techniques the UNCG sports turf team uses, such as calculated root system management, soil aeration and spot-treating for fertilization, pest management and irrigation, reduce unintended effects and create turf grass density, and level playing surfaces which means safe, playable fields, for the enjoyment of student athletes and campus recreation groups. They also look pretty nice.

Twice a year the UNCG Grounds team seasonally transitions acres of turf grass crop populations on campus sports fields.

“We fall overseed and grow ryegrass for green fields in winter-spring,” Ashe explained. “And then we work hard to transition back the dormant warm season Bermuda grass when weather heats up in late spring-summer.”

October and May, the transition months, are when they face the most strenuous work. They battle the weather and the natural wear and tear that happens on the field during practices and games. And they’re not only responsible for the soccer, baseball and softball fields, but also the golf greens, the student recreation field, the new wetlands, the pollinator garden, the Piedmont prairie and “no-mow” zones sanctioned for biology research.

Ashe credited the hard work of the grounds crew for UNCG’s success in keeping these areas in top condition, in an environmentally responsible manner. He also appreciated UNCG’s Office of Sustainability, the Biology Department and the involvement of student volunteers in campus grounds environmental improvement projects

“Earth day is every day for us,” he said. “We manage in a conscientious manner for everything we do to our fields.”

Ashe spent his career with a commitment to natural resource management, starting in the 1960s, during the peak popularity of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and when the words “conservation” and “ecology” were just coming into use.

He worked as a golf caddie and then a landscaper. Subsequently, he became a greenkeeper and a golf course superintendent for 18 seasons before switching to campus grounds and sports field management. He holds a degree in agronomy from Michigan State University and a degree in natural resources and ecology from Lake Superior State University. Ashe came to UNCG in 1999, when the baseball stadium had just been built. Before his retirement, he completed his 17th growing season with UNCG.

By Susan Kirby-Smith