Turfgrass outreach project takes root in new location

The U.S. National Arboretum turfgrass outreach program prepares to head to a new home in Maryland.


Turfgrass outreach project signs
Museum-quality signage for the Grass Roots exhibit is being installed at its new home at Needwood Golf Course in Montgomery County, Md. Photo courtesy of Jon Lobenstine

An outreach project at the U.S. National Arboretum that welcomed more than 150,000 people to the world of turfgrass will see another day, and a revamped version could lead to similar projects sprouting up across the country.

The idea for a national display of all things turfgrass took root in 2011, and by 2014, tens of thousands of visitors to the Washington, D.C., area were visiting the Grass Roots turfgrass exhibits each year.

Geoffrey Rinehart, lecturer in turfgrass management at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture, got involved in 2013, as did Kevin Morris, president of the National Turfgrass Federation (and executive director of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, the governing board of which gave him the go-ahead to get involved in the national initiative). Through NTF, about $450,000 was raised, which funded the costs of construction and paid a coordinator for the duration of the project. Rinehart, a 15-year GCSAA member, took on the project with enthusiasm. The exhibit covered 1.2 acres near the entrance of the arboretum and included 12 displays. The project was so successful, the initial schedule of 2014-2018 was extended to 2020.

In his role managing the displays, Rinehart saw the impact Grass Roots had on people’s understanding of the benefits of turfgrass.

“When you experienced this exhibit, perceptions were influenced,” Rinehart says. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

As the project concluded and the arboretum leadership decided to move in a new direction, the Grass Roots project was momentarily without a home. But the commitment and momentum from Morris, Rinehart and others would not be lost. As word spread about the need for a new location, help was soon to follow.

“I was very passionate about the original exhibit at the arboretum,” says Jon Lobenstine, director of agronomy for Montgomery County Revenue Authority since 2006, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 21-year association member.

Every time he visited the exhibit, Lobenstine was energized seeing people learn about turfgrass and get a deeper understanding of what goes into managing turf. Seeing how well Grass Roots worked led to the idea of relocating the exhibits and continuing the project.

“It’s our duty to look for ways to tell the good story of turfgrass,” Lobenstine says, and in his position, he was able to turn words into action. MCRA operates nine public golf courses across Montgomery County, Md. Among those are Needwood Golf Course, which offers golfers both an 18-hole course as well as a nine-hole executive course.

With the help of Rinehart, Morris and Harlyn Goldman, CGCS, a 29-year GCSAA member and superintendent at Needwood, the exhibit is being set up behind the ninth green of the executive course, by a parking lot, so the public can easily access the site. Eighteen museum-quality banners are being installed that will tell visitors about topics ranging from irrigation and responsible water use to the history of lawns and turfgrasses. Support from the turfgrass industry was provided, such as sprinkler heads donated by Ewing Irrigation, the local Rain Bird distributor.

“It was a natural fit at this site, which has been used over the years for in-house turfgrass research aimed at reducing turfgrass inputs,” Lobenstine says.

Morris, an eight-year GCSAA member, underlines the importance of projects like Grass Roots in creating more awareness and understanding.

“I think our industry is tremendously misunderstood and undervalued by the general public,” Morris says. “We all have a role to play in educating the public about the importance of the turfgrass industry, number of jobs created, the health benefits of turfgrass, the environmental benefits, how turfgrass filters water, reduces erosion, cools the air in urban areas, reduces the heat island effect, etc. Grass Roots helps to do that.”

Rinehart says he hopes that people passionate about turfgrass in other states will consider establishing similar exhibits. He envisions projects spearheaded by Extension agents or people retired from turfgrass management and says advice and support, such as templates for display materials, are available for such initiatives.

The exhibit at Needwood is expected to open this summer.

Morris says Grass Roots has created opportunities for people to ask questions on topics like organic production, use of pesticides and fertilizers on turf, genetically modified organisms and why golf courses cultivate greens, which can lead to good dialogue and teachable moments.

“Visitors to the original Grass Roots exhibit at the National Arboretum often walked by or through the exhibit while enjoying a day at Arboretum, taking the kids out for some walking and play time, or exercising themselves,” Morris says. “If they read one banner or looked at one display while passing by or through, it was an opportunity to educate them on the importance of turfgrass. Hopefully this new site at Needwood Golf Course will provide the same opportunities.”

Darrell J. Pehr is GCM’s science editor.