Turf Care Manager Keeps Central Park Looking Pristine

Zack Holm helps keep New York City’s iconic Central Park looking its best for 42 million yearly visitors.

By Dave Lubach, Managing Editor  

Zack Holm grew up around grass as the son of a golf superintendent. Early in life, Holm decided a career in turf maintenance was likely going to be part of his future. 

“When I was in the 10th grade, I decided that this is the field that I was going to into,” Holm says. 

At the age of 33, Holm is still early in his turf career, but he already has found a job many would consider a dream opportunity – turf care manager for Central Park in New York City – one of the most well-known and popular city parks in the world. 

Holm started at his position in June 2021, but he has been there long enough to know the prestige of the venue where he works and the pressure of keeping the park looking its best. 

“I live in the suburbs, so I can go out in the backyard of my house, but Central Park is literally the backyard for millions of people,” he says. “It’s their opportunity to get outside and enjoy a different aspect of the city that may be different than where they’re living.” 

New York’s playground 

New York’s backyard welcomes 42 million visitors per year and is the most visited urban park in the United States.  

Central Park covers 843 acres between the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan. It measures 2.5 miles from north to south and one-half mile from east to west. The rich history of the park dates to 1858 when it opened to the public. It expanded to its current size in 1876. 

The park serves as the heartbeat of the city for many New Yorkers and tourists from around the world. As one of the most photographed sites in the world, Central Park has served as the backdrop for countless movie and television scenes and concerts of all kinds, and it has hosted segments of the New York City Marathon and many other special events. 

Among the recreational activities in the park are carriage-drawn horse and bicycle tours, bicycling, soccer, softball and baseball games, 21 playgrounds, five visitors' centers and a zoo. Amid all these activities, grounds crews also must maintain walking paths and 6.1 miles of roads that are part of public transportation in New York City. 

“One of the cool things about working in Central Park is that every day is different,” Holm says.  

Holm’s employer is the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization that took over management of the park in the 1980s to reverse the park’s deterioration. The conservancy handles the park’s daily maintenance on behalf of the city and employs more than 350 people who keep up and maintain the park daily. 

“It’s a constantly changing park, whether it’s natural changes or infrastructure building changes, there’s a lot going on in terms of updating and upgrading as you go along,” Holm says. 

Regular maintenance   

Central Park is a biologically diverse ecosystem, giving Holm a variety of turf areas to nurture. Of the park’s total of nearly 850 acres, about 250 acres of turf. 

“Our turf care team is part of a much larger team,” Holm says. “We spend a lot of our time on grass, but we have other roles. The park has a bridle trail and other soft surfaces, such as baseball fields, that we do some grading on. We’re involved in making sure the drives are clear of debris, blowing the drives when necessary.  

“My crew also has a hand in some mechanical aspects of the department. We have mechanics, but our crew puts a real emphasis on taking care of our own equipment, as well. It’s something we spend a significant amount of time on.” 

The park is split into three sections based on water reservoirs – the North End, Mid-Park, and South End – and work duties are split accordingly among the sections. 

“I have a staff of seven, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but there's a ton of collaboration with other landscape management in the park,” Holm says. “There are sections of groundskeepers, and as turf manager, I want to make sure that the duties my crew are performing on a daily basis are being done correctly.” 

Holm’s team is responsible for the park’s on-site mowing, and it collaborates with other section managers to schedule mowing around events in the park’s schedule.  

“We have 11-foot mowers that we can get into the wider open areas, but there’s a lot of spaces in the park where those don’t fit very well,” he says. “Scaling back from there, there’s some 72-inch mowers and walk-behinds where section staff is more likely to operate, but it takes collaboration between multiple groups to make sure it’s all getting done.” 

The conservancy also deploys electric utility vehicles and tractors as part of its maintenance fleet. Each machine must be able to operate year-round. 

“On the turf care end, for the equipment we manage, it needs to be four seasons,” Holm says. “We probably lack a little bit of space as far as storage goes, so that mower that mows the lawns the three other seasons gets the mower decks taken off and a snow broom put on to help clear snow in the winter. That’s a big emphasis. Versatility is big with our equipment.” 

Looking ahead 

While grounds crews might perform snow and ice removal during the winter, Holm now is thinking about the tasks required to prepare the park once April and May arrive. 

“My day-to-day this time of year is doing a lot of planning for those other three seasons,” said Holm in February. “I spend a good chunk of my day planning out how we’re going with our plant health. When it comes to turf, our time is spent wondering how are we going to develop a plan to make sure that our grass is going to be as healthy as possible for park patrons year-round and then as we get into that growing season.” 

The process for preparing the park for spring begins around Thanksgiving, Holm says.  

“I’ve got a calendar built out for the time, and of course, weather is going to throw a monkey wrench into all of that,” he says. “But since we have every kind of weather, we take the time to plan that all out.” 

Holm is ready to put all that planning work to action. Like millions of New Yorkers and park visitors, he is ready to get out of hibernation and give Central Park visitors, “a canvas to make memories,” he says. 

“We grind through nine months out of the year,” Holm says. “It’s going to be starting up again now, and I think it’s kind of welcomed. It’s nice to have a little bit of a break come the wintertime, but we’ve started to get that itch back that you want to be outside every day and watching the fruits of our labor and everything we do to making the grass grow and the lawns looking good. You start to miss that time of year. I’m looking forward to that.” 

Dave Lubach is managing editor for the facilities market. He has seven years of experience covering facilities management and maintenance.  

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  posted on 4/3/2023   Article Use Policy

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