Park District backs off pesticide use
Park District of Highland Park commissioners have scheduled an Oct. 11 public meeting to discuss how to treat deteriorating athletic fields at Fink, Cunniff and Sunset Ridge parks. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 10, 2011 5:15PM
Motivated by a backlash from residents, the Park District of Highland Park has temporarily called off its planned use of pesticides at three local parks.
On Aug. 18, the Park Board authorized a one-time spraying of chemical pesticides after park officials reported that the district’s fields have fallen into their worst shape in years, with dandelions, clovers and other invasive weeds over-running several district parks.
The district planned to spray the herbicide Confront on the West Ridge Park ball fields Sept. 16, followed by the Larry Fink baseball field and Danny Cunniff athletic fields on Sept. 20 or 21.
The plan, however, provoked a large community uproar as residents, who pressed the district four years ago to abandon chemicals for natural lawn care techniques, flooded district offices with more than 25 e-mails against the chemical deployment.
An Internet petition, at www.sl.change.org/chemfreehighlandpark, also had garnered more than 615 community signatures by Monday.
“The Park District of Highland Park continues to hear from residents regarding the proposed single weed-control application to three fields,” the district responded in a news release. “We sincerely understand and appreciate the concerns of the community, and we are listening.
“Given the significant interest in this matter, the Park District Board of Commissioners and staff would like an opportunity to develop a more-constructive and informed dialogue with the community to discuss, evaluate and address these concerns.”
Four years ago, all pesticides were banned and an Integrated Pest Management program was launched. The progressive, health conscience move was praised as a model among park organizations leading a natural lawn-care movement. Highland Park’s turf maintenance principles changed from pesticides to organic, traditional techniques, including irrigation, aeration, mowing, over-seeding and other cultural practices to keep the turf in good condition.
Corn gluten meal, which is billed as a natural substitute for synthetic herbicides, was tested but district officials reported odor problems and limited success. Restaurant-grade vinegar has also been sprayed and determined a better alternative to pesticides in some cases.
“Pesticides by definition are poisons,” said Highland Park resident Kim Stone, who has been among the residents leading the effort against chemical products. “They do have health impacts. All pesticides are harmful to your health and to the environment.”
Stone spent 10 years working with the Chicago nonprofit, Safer Pest Control Project. She has use her expertise to lobby against chemical applications by local schools and parks organizations.
She reported that Cunniff and Fink parks are located along streams that feed the Chicago watershed.
The Park District invited the head of the Pesticide Safety and Education Department at the University of Illinois and representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency to participate at the meeting.
“We respect that there are differing perspectives among our constituents as to the best solution here and we welcome the opportunity for additional input,” said Park Board President Scott Meyers. “Please know we are united in our desire to preserve and protect the health, safety and welfare of our community. Our children play with your children on these fields. We want everyone to be safe.”