A New Definition of Perfection for Local Lawns

A new group wants to redefine the perfect lawn.

Instead of large, mowed expanses of Kentucky Bluegrass, Door County Property Owners Safe Lawns Campaign members hope local lawns will take on a more natural look.

The Door Property Owners’ Safe Lawn Campaign members want to educate people about the dangers of pesticide and fertilizer use. Photo by Katie Sikora.

“It’s ok to have clover,” said Pat Fitzgerald, member of the Safe Lawns Campaign. “Our mission is going to be to promote natural, organic lawns in Door County.”

The Safe Lawns Campaign wants to teach Door County landowners about the dangers of using fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals to ensure a perfect green lawn.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website says pesticides can cause health problems like birth defects and cancer. People pick up the chemicals by accidently inhaling them, absorbing them through their skin or eating them.

“Pesticides are poisons,” Fitzgerald said.

Those health threats are even worse for children, whose organs are still developing and sensitive to toxin exposure. Because children are smaller it takes less exposure to impact their health or development. The EPA says children may also come in contact with more chemicals than adults do because they play on grass and put things in their mouths.

Fitzgerald said – for the purpose of having a perfect, manicured lawn – the risks are not worth it.

“We’re using something that’s not really necessary,” he said.

Picking up pesticides by the air or through the skin isn’t the only way the chemicals can pose a human health problem. When those chemicals aren’t absorbed by grass, they trickle through the soil and are eventually leached into groundwater.

With Door County’s limestone bedrock and thin layer of soil, there’s not much natural filtration. Nick Peltier, conservationist with the Door County Soil and Water Department, said when water trickles through layers of sand and gravel it moves at a rate of a few inches per day. When it moves through limestone rock, it moves at a rate measured in feet per hour.

“We really get quick moving water through here,” Peltier said.

The petition at Bluefront Cafe in Sturgeon Bay, asking the City of Sturgeon Bay to stop spraying chemicals on public land. Photo by Katie Sikora.

Quick moving water doesn’t get filtered as well as slow moving water.

Limestone breaks down easily when water trickles over it, leaving big cracks and sinkholes in the rock that aren’t covered by soil. Rainwater carrying fertilizers and pesticides can run into that hole and directly into groundwater reserves – without filtration.

“When you don’t have any kind of filter over your drinking water container, it makes it especially susceptible to contamination,” Peltier said.

But the choice doesn’t come down to a crunchy, brown lawn or a poisoned well. Fitzgerald said there are ways to keep a healthy lawn without using chemicals, like landscaping with native plants, overseeding so grass can regenerate and leaving lawn clippings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer.

Homeowners aren’t the only ones the Safe Lawn Campaign is targeting. Municipalities use chemical fertilizers and pesticides too, often on public parks. Campaign members plan to list local parks that don’t use fertilizers, so people can know more about what chemicals are used on the places they visit.

That way, they can choose to visit parks that aren’t sprayed, and maybe municipalities will decide not to use chemicals to keep up their parks.

“We want people in decision-making positions to exercise a choice,” Fitzgerald said.

Others in the community are fighting for a similar purpose. Patrick Barbercheck and Susan Guthrie, owners of Bluefront Café in Sturgeon Bay, have started a petition to get the city of Sturgeon Bay to stop spraying pesticides.

“We were just frustrated that we’d go walk…and the city was spraying,” Guthrie said. “It’s kind of like our back yard they’re spraying.”

The petition’s only been posted since April, but already 85 people have signed. Barbercheck plans to post it in more places once business slows down for the season and present it to the city when he gets enough community support.

“I just don’t see a need to be spraying around kids and pets and all the wildlife and everything else,” Barbercheck said. “I think there’s probably some alternative out there.”