Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

Over the inauguration weekend, many people took time to get out and enjoy the nice weather, strolling around and greeting each other like long lost friends.  Small groups and larger crowds gathered together in the sunshine.  And as they milled about in their enthusiasm, very few stopped to consider the ground upon which they stood.

Any time you get massive crowds walking on turf the grass suffers. When that happens in winter, damage can be compounded by slow recovery of the lawn in dormancy. You won’t see the harm until spring warms the soil, so the pros know how to plan for keeping the grass green.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C. saw its share of feet, but the newly renovated turf was protected by specialized panels laid down by the National Park Service. No strangers to massive crowds, the NPS brought in 50,000 of the translucent, 16-square foot panels to interlock over the grass and cushion it from the grinding of feet.

“They covered the entire lawn (at the National Mall) with these flooring systems; it was 10 stadiums’ worth of flooring,” said Dr. Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist with Colorado State University Extension. In the newly renovated Mall, “the flooring is to protect the soil, not just the turf.  They essentially have a giant, sand-based golf green out there.  It’s a manufactured rooting zone along the same lines as Coors Field or other sports venues. They don’t want the sand divoting under all those feet so they had to cover it.”

Civic Center Park in downtown Denver had no protection and the frozen ground underwent the trampling of more than 100,000 people on January 21. This surprised both the organizers and the turfgrass. But the pros of the Denver Parks Department aren’t worried; they’ve seen their share of big events before.

“This time of year the frozen ground provides a lot of protection. We worry more about rutting and compaction when there are rain events,” says Michael Miccown, Parks Field Superintendent with Denver Parks.  “We’ll do something when spring comes, like a deep tine aeration of the lawn and deep rototilling of the garden beds.”

The bluegrass/perennial rye mix is given light, consistent fertilization and seeding throughout the growing season, he said, something that’s a bit different than what homeowners should do. Civic Center Park hosts major events two to three times per week, and because of that, the lawn is treated more like sports turf than a home lawn.

Though the numbers were higher than anticipated, Miccown says they’re used to huge numbers, especially Broncos rallies. It’s one reason why perennial rye is used in the turf mix; it’s a forgiving grass, coming back from use like this quickly.

In your own yard, if you have lots of foot or paw traffic over the yard in winter, don’t worry.  “With turf you’ve got to get it growing and then it’ll recover,” says Koski.  “What it really comes down to is the condition of the turf going into the winter and as soon as you can in spring, core cultivate and fertilize it.” The fertilizer will give the grass the boost it needs to repair and extend its roots system as well as top growth.

In the meantime, winter water the lawn should it have any dry spots and we aren’t getting snow.  This keeps roots healthy and hydrated. Try to avoid driving across the lawn when it’s frozen, or even walking across it, since this can rupture frozen cells and damage the lawn.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail [email protected] or visit