Though the clouds block out sunlight, the falling rain caused a blanket of humidity that covered men forced to work in boots and long pants due to the nature of their jobs.
Ignoring the water droplets, the Jacksonville Recreation and Parks landscaping crew continued scooping up freshly-pulled chunks of grass as they readied the ground at Wooten Park for beautification.
Though the end result will certainly be more visually appealing than plain grass, the change in foliage has a double advantage, said Michael Liquori, the director of Jacksonville Parks Facilities.
Like many of the decisions they make, Liquori said the end result will look better and be more efficient in terms of time and money.
Working with Mother Nature
“Mother Nature is everything we do,” said Horticulturist Jason Smith.
A little drizzle won’t keep the crew from continuing, but a downpour will.
As one, the group of men ran through the dirt that was quickly turning into mud as a torrent of rain was unleashed. The machines were ditched as they went for cover under Wooten Park’s picnic shelter.
Smith pulled up his phone to see the weather prediction and called Landscaping Crew Leader David Sinclair over to show him the possible “red area” headed toward them.
When days are full of rain like the recent weather Jacksonville has seen, Smith said they try to lay straw, work earlier days before the rain is predicted to hit, or, like they did recently, changed the lightbulbs in Christmas decorations.
The crews have rain jackets and pants, but Sinclair said he thinks people who live in the area can understand the difficulty of working in muggy 95-degree heat wearing a jacket and a coat.
“We kind of have to be weather people,” Liquori said.
The creepy crawlies
While snakes haven’t been too big of an problem, Smith said there are some bug issues.
Spiders, wasps, bees, and other bugs are often found during their day-to-day jobs, Sinclair said.
While answering questions, a large black ant reared up on hind legs and crawled across Sinclair’s shoulder, eventually wriggling inside the collar of his shirt until Smith came to swipe it out.
As if the insects and slithery sightings aren’t enough compounded with the rain, the crews have to keep an eye out for rash-creating plants like poison oak, which Smith said the crews get rid of when they find it to prevent someone unaware from touching it.
“We’re the line of defense before the public,” Smith said.
Poison Oak isn’t the only thing the crews have to get rid of, though.
Trash, trash, trash
The parks division of Jacksonville has two people assigned to pick up trash, and the number one thing they pick up is cigarette butts, Smith said.
Most often there are piles of butts at city intersections where people are sitting still for long periods of time and simply toss the butts out the window.
“You wouldn’t do that in your own yard,” Smith said.
People think one or two butts doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things, Sinclair said, but when every smoker throws out one or two, it adds up.
We all live here, Sinclair said. While he and his crew are helping beautify the city, they hope others will think about the things they do that are trashing it.
The main area being renovated at Wooten Park is between the bathrooms and the picnic shelter, which has two large trees inside it.
The crew was making a defined angle to separate the grass they’d be leaving as-is from the grass being ripped from the earth to show the brown dirt underneath.
Before Tuesday, Liquori said the mowing crews had to maintain the grass in that area and it’s always made more difficult by the tree roots and hard-to-maneuver areas.
Anytime someone has to get off the lawn mower and weed eat an area is wasted time and money, Liquori said, and while the landscaping crew will also maintain the new bed, it won’t be nearly as often or time intensive as mowing grass is.
At Wooten Park, Smith said the crew planned to put red chips in the land close to the restroom building and pine straw in the area between the restroom building and the picnic shelter. Pine straw would also be added in rings around some of the other trees.
What Smith loves about this work is how quickly the benefits can be seen. After just a few hours or a couple of days, a project is finished, adding that they hoped to wrap up the Wooten Park updates by Thursday or Friday.
“It makes a dramatic impact automatically,” Smith said.
Being outdoors and impacting the city in a positive way is what makes Sinclair love his job.
“Once we plant something, it’s going to be here long after I’m gone,” Sinclair said.
Reporter Amanda Thames can be reached at 910-219-8467 or Amanda.Thames@JDNews.com.