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Boise embracing growth of dandelions as part of Pesticide Use Reduction Program

Boise's first Dandelion Festival is June 24, 2023
City of Boise, 123rf
Boise's first Dandelion Festival is June 24, 2023

In 2020, the City of Boise implemented what it then called a Pesticide Use Reduction Pilot Program. To say the “pilot” has taken off is an understatement. The city has since reduced its use of pesticides by nearly 50%.

“That's something we can all be proud of as a community,” said Sara Arkle, Parks Resource Superintendent at Boise Parks and Recreation. “Obviously, it does change the look. Sometimes we have to evolve our expectations. You will see more dandelions … weeds in some of our parks. But again, all of that is built around making sure these places are healthy for pollinators, healthy for habitat and healthy for our people.”

And about those dandelions. The city is about to take that a step further, with a bit of fun.

“It will be the first of its kind in Boise,” said Arkle. “We are celebrating a beleaguered and little-known weed.”

Arkle joined Parks and Rec Director Doug Holloway to visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the upcoming dandelion festival, the concerted effort to mow a bit less, use less pesticide, and … well, grow a lot more.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition, I’m George Prentice. Good morning. Well, with every passing day, we're spending more time outside and certainly in the park. So, we think it's more than appropriate to spend some time this morning with the people who know the parks best. Doug Holloway is here, director of Boise Parks and Rec and Parks Resources Superintendent Sara Arkle is here. Good morning to you both.

SARA ARKLE: Good morning.

DOUG HOLLOWAY: Good morning, George. Thanks for having us.

PRENTICE: I particularly want to talk about upkeep of all that is green. But first, let's talk about pools which opened in Boise last week. Is that correct, Doug? Which pools are going to be open?

HOLLOWAY: They opened up this past Friday, so the pools are Borah Pool, Fairmont Pool, which is located adjacent to Fairmont Junior High. Ivywild Pool, which is over off of Boise Avenue. And then of course, we have the Natatorium and hydro tube, which is on Warm Springs Avenue, just behind Adams Elementary School.

PRENTICE: Doug… with programing at the pools and now in the parks, you become a major employer this time of year. So, talk to me about that and… how are you with staff?

HOLLOWAY: Any time we get an opportunity to plug openings that we have, we want to do it. And so, we hire a tremendous amount of seasonal and temporary staff. Without them, it's very difficult for us to do our business during the summertime. It's extremely important to us. It's really our lifeblood that we're hiring. A lot of, you know, high school students in the summer. We're hiring a lot of college students that are home for the summer, just like any other employer, not just in Boise or in Idaho, but across the country. There are struggles in getting, you know, a lot of people hired. There is a labor shortage. We continue to see that. However, having said that, we do have enough hire that we're able to get our programing off the ground. We obviously would not be opening these four pools if we could not do it safely with the number of lifeguards and support staff that we need to maintain those safe environments that our kids are swimming in. So we have that. But the problem, George, happens as the summer goes on. There's a certain amount of attrition that we experience where, you know, kids are on vacation, they have other activities that are going on in their lives that take up what would normally be the work time that we need them out on the job. And so we need to backfill a lot of those positions and fill those gaps. And so that's where we need to continue that hiring process to make sure that we have enough folks in our system that we can make sure that we never have to close a program….or close a pool, you know, cancel something that we have scheduled because we because of lack of staffing, we're probably somewhere about 55 to 60%. The last time I checked, George, on the total number of folks we need in our temp staffing, which is primarily in our recreation division and our seasonal staffing, which is in Sarah's group, primarily on our park side, we're about 55 to 60% of what we need. We have hired. So we have enough to get off the ground. We just need to get some more. So if your listeners have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors, whomever, send them to our website at CityofBoise.org/parks and you can find all the information that we have for job openings and apply and we'll put you to work.

PRENTICE: Sara, let's talk about parks and things that should be green. I have heard, but I would love to know some more detail on this about your efforts to curb herbicides. Is that correct?

ARKLE: So we've had a few years to learn about, you know, how we can implement that on a broader scale. And this pesticide reduction program is part of a larger effort to have parks be healthy habitat, not only for pollinators or birds, but also healthy places for people. And since 2020, we've reduced our pesticide use by almost 50% and think that that's something we can all be proud of as a community. Obviously, it does, you know, change the look. Sometimes we have to evolve our expectations. You will see more dandelions, maybe some more weeds in some of our parks. But again, all of that is built around making sure these places are healthy for pollinators, healthy for healthy habitat and healthy for our people.

PRENTICE: One of my all-time pet peeves is people who mow their grass a little too much, let alone the leaf blowers and the grass blowers that go with it. But am I correct in assuming… are you mowing lawns less?

ARKLE: Part of this pesticide reduction program was to allow grass to grow a little higher so that that that plant can be more competitive against the weeds? So, yes, we did reduce the frequency of mowing and some of these locations where we know we can as a community accept a little bit more change and it's been very successful, I would say, in the last three years, three quarters of the feedback that we're getting about this pesticide reduction program has been positive. And because of that, we're trying to look for ways to expand it and make it more of a permanent operating procedure.

PRENTICE:. I've heard about this Dandelion Festival, which sounds like a pretty good idea, but what can you tell us about that?

ARKLE: We are so excited about this festival. It will be the first of its kind in Boise where we are celebrating a beleaguered and little-known weed called the Dandelion. Yeah, um, it's. We have community partners. It's. I'll give you the details on the event. Um, it's on June 24th from 11 to 4 at Cassia Park, and we'll have music and food. And most importantly, Woodland Empire will craft a specific ale and a specific root beer that includes dandelions.

PRENTICE: Okay, but. But there's got to be some education in-between us drinking this lovely root beer, right?

ARKLE: Yes, absolutely. We're partnering with the Jim Hall Foothill Learning Center, the Boise Urban Garden School, our volunteer division here at Boise Parks and Rec and the Nature Conservancy. So, kids and families can come down and learn about how dandelions can be a beneficial plant and maybe expand their understanding of how this weed, as we consider it, can participate in a healthy ecosystem.

PRENTICE: Is there opportunity to water less?

ARKLE: You know, we live in a high desert environment and in a lot of places we have poor soil. So, we try and look at all of the options on the table when we're managing these spaces to ensure that we're being sustainable. In some cases, you know, some parks may not need as much water as others, and we have the technology available to us to make those tweaks really on a daily basis. George So if we get rain the night before or the day before like we've been experiencing, we can adjust our watering schedules.

PRENTICE: Uh, Sarah Arkle, my guess is you have one of the best jobs on the planet. But can I also assume that you…do you spend as much time in the parks as you do behind a desk?

ARKLE: Oh, 100%. I try and get out as much as absolutely possible, not only to see what we're doing in our parks, but how users are experiencing these spaces and to experience them kind of in conjunction with, you know, the residents of our town, make sure that we're still providing that exceptional level of service that we want to provide.

PRENTICE: Doug Holloway, I'm certain I'm not the first to tell you this, but on the very short list of things where we start comparing ourselves to almost any other place, parks is pretty high on that list.

HOLLOWAY: I don't think a certainly a week doesn't go by and I almost want to say multiple times a week, I talk to someone in our community that is either just moved here or has been here for three or 4 or 5 years or is a longtime resident that, um, compliments the work that our leadership, our mayors, current mayor, mayors in the past our city council….the commitment that they have made to that quality of life piece that your park system, your park and recreation system brings to a community. That sense of belonging, that sense of belonging to a community is so important and it's really centered around a quality first class, world class park and recreation system. And so they insist that it's maintained that way. And that's what we do. We want safe, affordable and accessible programing all throughout our system. And we want we it's a double-edged sword, George, because then I have people say, :’Stop doing such a great job with the park system, Sara,: Because people are moving here and they want to be here and they, and they're contributing to growth. And so and it's like, well, that growth is actually not bad necessarily because as Sara could point out to you, all of our capital development is really driven by impact fees, which are fees that are paid because of growth. And so having a world-class system comes with some great benefits as well.

PRENTICE: Doug Holloway is director of Boise Parks and Rec. Sara Arkle is a Parks resources superintendent. Happy summer to you both and thanks for giving us some time this morning.

ARKLE: So nice to be here with you today, George. Thanks so much. Yep.

HOLLOWAY: Thanks, George. Anytime. We'd love to come on and visit.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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