sunrise over forestPhoto courtesy of Holden Forest & Gardens

Utility Vehicles Provide Versatility for Public Gardens

Holden Forests & Gardens in Cleveland switched from pick-up trucks to UTVs

By Dave Lubach, Executive Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Developing a Replacement Plan for Utility Vehicles

With three properties spread across the Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan area, Holden Forests & Gardens presents Nico Viola, the director of facilities, with plenty of challenges during day-to-day operations. 

One challenge involves moving maintenance and grounds management teams and other Holden Gardens employees around the properties to do their jobs. Over the years, the facilities staff realized that the most efficient and economical way to accomplish this was to rely on utility vehicles (UTVs). 

“We’ve made the decision in the last decade to get away from trucks,” Viola says. “We used to have more than 40 licensed vehicles on the road, but we got away from the pickups and started moving to the models of UTVs because a lot of these things never left the campuses anyway.” 

By saving money on insurance and registration fees, not to mention the sticker price of pickup trucks, Holden Forests & Gardens realized moving forward with a more robust UTV program makes financial and environmental sense. 

Different properties, different needs 

Holden Forests & Gardens is one of the largest public gardens in the country. It consists of the 4,000-acre Holden Arboretum, the 12-acre Cleveland Botanical Gardens and a 35-acre nursery. More than 20,000 members and 350,000 yearly visitors use the various properties, each of which presents unique situations for Viola’s staff. 

Holden Forests & Gardens deploys a fleet of three dozen utility vehicles of various brands and types, including two dozen golf carts used primarily for transporting people. Having a large and diverse fleet of vehicles at his disposal allows Viola to deploy them in many ways. 

“At the botanical gardens, it’s more compact and in the heart of the city, so we have a larger (UTV) that has a plow on it and a spreader that we use for the winter,” he says. “When it doesn’t snow, it’s used to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the property when they’re doing maintenance and groundwork.  

“We had another UTV that recently bit the bullet after 20 years and we’re replacing that with an electric golf cart. It makes sense to buy an electric unit here because the property is more compact and I’m not too worried about charging and things like that on a smaller campus.” 

Viola is a proponent of electric-powered UTVs, but given the nature of the properties, it does not make logistical sense to go all-in on electric vehicles yet. 

“At the arboretum, it’s a much different story because that campus is 4,000 acres,” Viola says. “Of it, there’s probably about a good 300 acres or so that on a regular basis is getting touched. We’ve been toying with some electric vehicles out there, but we just haven’t found any that are robust enough yet. We’re concerned about leaving people stranded out there.” 

Providing versatility 

In addition to the cost savings that Holden Forests & Gardens experiences moving from pickup trucks to UTVs, Viola has found UTVs to be more versatile machines that better meet the facility’s needs. 

“UTVs get into more tighter spaces, and they’re just purpose-built for work, especially some machines where you throw a bed on it and it’s going to take you out to the middle of the campus and do what you’ve got to do,” Viola says. “You don’t have to worry about getting stuck or anything else. On our third campus, with a nursery site, it’s the same thing — a dump bed can help move plants and get around the campus.” 

Related Content: Making the Move to Electric Utility Vehicles

As the seasons change, the setups of the UTVs often change with them. In the winter, many are equipped with snow attachments to clear paths and groom trails. In the warmer months, the horticulture teams can use the UTVs for tasks such as cleaning up debris, moving rocks and dirt, trimming branches and delivering mulch. In the fall, grounds employees use them for leaf pickup. 

“Sometimes you can’t get a dump truck into tight spots, so we actually built leaf boxes so we can put it on the back (of the UTV) and suck the leaves right up to the bed and go dump them,” Viola says.  

In addition to the grounds and maintenance teams, Viola sees other employees at Holden Forests & Gardens using the UTVs to move around the property. 

“The nursery staff has them for nursery use, and then in the last year, we started acquiring some for our research department,” he says. “The arboretum campus is huge. You cannot expect somebody to walk miles and miles and miles to go to a research plot. What they would end up doing is taking a truck or van and parking alongside the road and still hiking two or three miles into the woods to get where they’re going.  

“We added two more crew (UTV) models because we’ve come to find that you can put four or five people in one of these things and get them very close to where they need to get into the middle of the forest. That’s been a big change, getting these in the hands of our researchers, as well.” 

With UTVs spread over all three properties and the staff using them for many tasks, keeping the machines out of the repair shop for long periods is paramount. Most of the work is done by one mechanic at the arboretum, with exceptions. When minor issues with a specific vehicle come up, the mechanic will travel to the site to address the problems. 

“We have a full-fledged repair shop, and we have two lift bays, so my mechanic is always busy,” Viola says. “He’s always got something up on the rack that he’s working on. If something is under warranty, we’ll send it back to the dealer, but once they’re out of warranty, we do all the service in-house or if there’s something beyond our skill level or something is very wrong.” 

Continue Reading: Grounds Management

Utility Vehicles Provide Versatility for Public Gardens

Developing a Replacement Plan for Utility Vehicles

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 4/3/2024   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: