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Converting Mowed Turf to Grassy Meadow at Anacostia Park

Park Cultural Landscapes Program

Updated Cultural Landscapes

Over several decades, NPS staff at National Capital Parks East (NACE) has been converting areas from mowed turf into grassy meadow. The effort supports the goals for the “Natural Resource Recreation Zone” within the 2017 Anacostia Park Management Plan. The vision is to actively manage the park to improve and protect the quality and resiliency of the Anacostia Park ecosystem, and to contribute to the greater Anacostia Watershed Restoration Plan. Former Resource Manager Steven Syphax and current Manager Mikaila Milton are among the champions of the effort.

On a rainy day last spring, NACE Chief of Facility Management Diana Bramble led a field trip of turf workshop participants to one converted grassy meadow, located on a low-lying flood plain of the Anacostia River. Diana, who has a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Landscape Design from George Washington University, began with the multiple benefits of meadows.

“Meadows have ecological benefits for insects and herbivores. They provide habitat shelter, storm water management, and also erosion protection, as the meadow root system can be three feet deep. Meadows also provide a sense of place, as they have a more unique character than mowed turf. They suggest the idea of a protected place for natural resources or for different uses than mowed turf. Meadows can also help mitigate Carbon emissions through Carbon sequestration.”

The Chief of Facility Management at National Capital Parks East, Diana Bramble, stands within a meadow at Anacostia Park in Washington, DC, and explains the process for converting mowed turf to a grassy meadow

NACE Chief of Facility Management Diana Bramble explains the process for converting mowed turf to a grassy meadow at Anacostia Park in Washington, DC (NPS).

Diana is clearly a meadow enthusiast and a leader in sustainability. As we stood beside the meadow in the pouring rain, the Anacostia River was rising to flood stage and water pooled on the roads and mowed turf. Puddles and run-off were absent from the meadow, however, as rainwater was soaked up by the spongy mass of tall grasses and forbs. What a perfect day to witness storm water management in process!

How Does NACE Staff Create and Manage Meadows?

  1. Staff began with a NEPA and Section 106 public planning process that analyzed potential affects and determined there would be no significant impact.
  2. One fall, staff low-mowed the Fine fescue and Tall fescue turf area with a rotary mower for the last time.
  3. Immediately, staff used a tractor-pulled slit seeder to over-seed with two native perennial grasses: Panic grass and Little bluestem. The turf fescues and native grasses were allowed to grow tall for a year.
  4. The next fall, staff mowed the meadow with a tractor-pulled flail mower, and then over-seeded again with more native grasses and forbs. Over time, Joe Pye weed and other forbs started to flourish alongside the grasses.
  5. Now, the established meadow is mowed just once a year in spring, providing shelter for wildlife through the winter and allowing seeds to chill before disturbance. Mowing serves as weed control, by preventing woody plants from establishing.
  6. Staff maintains a three-foot wide perimeter buffer of mowed turf to keep invasive exotic plants from migrating into the meadow.
  7. Staff maintains a six-foot wide buffer of mowed turf between the meadow and an adjacent forest to prevent pioneering trees from encroaching.
  8. Every three years, staff spot-treat or hand-pull invasive exotic plants such as Porcelain berry and Ailanthus. The pigment “Bullseye” is used to mark herbicide-treated vegetation.

Overview image of meadow with Joe Pye weed and mixed meadow grasses that provide numerous ecosystem benefits.

Joe Pye weed and mixed meadow grasses provide numerous ecosystem benefits and a sense of place at Anacostia Park in Washington, DC (NPS).

NACE staff and park visitors have seen the ecological benefits and beauty of their work. With a small staff spread thinly over 14 park units, NACE has demonstrated what’s possible with clear communication and commitment to a landscape treatment process. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more about how to reduce the area of mowed turf in your park.

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Can’t find what you need?  Contact the Park Cultural Landscapes Program via email or the program lead in your region.

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