UAFS campus earns top award in Green Star competition

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 747 views 

Members of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith grounds crew.

Landscaping and grounds management has earned top honors for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. UAFS received the Grand Award in the Professional Grounds Management Society’s 2019 Green Star competition. Hundreds of campuses across the country vied for the award, which was given to UAFS.

UAFS shared the top award with the The University of Nevada at Reno, Oklahoma State University and The University of Maryland. Winners were honored during the Society’s 2019 Awards Dinner in Louisville, Ky., noted a press release from UAFS.

The 168 acres on the UAFS campus are maintained by 13 grounds employees, who also help preserve the historic gardens and lawns at the Wilahuf and Drennen-Scott sites in Van Buren.

“It is a great honor to compete,” said Matt Rich, grounds manager for UAFS and its contracted lawn service company Southeast Service Corp., “But a greater honor still to win such accolades. Out of all the beautiful campuses in the United States, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is a gem that shines above the others.”

Rich and his team will not rest on the laurels now that they have been acknowledged for excellence though. The grounds team have some “really fun plans” for the coming year and will work to continue improving and beautifying the campus and “increasing efforts toward sustainable practices and environmentally-friendly gardening,” Rich said.

“There are many plans to innovate and renovate our campus so the students can interact with the landscape and enjoy their surroundings as they learn,” he said, adding that he likes interactive landscaping.

The crew created a hammock area for the students at the Lion’s Den last year, which Rich said is a lot of fun for the students, as is the palm tree at Sebastian Commons. Rich points to the crape myrtles on the campus are one of the best investments because of their beautiful summer colors.

“We do have some great unique plants and trees,” he said. “I’m especially proud of the grounds team because they work so hard, and sometimes it just feels like you can’t work as fast as all the plants are growing. But we are able to steadily push forward and continue progress in the right direction.  It takes a lot of communication to understand the vision for the landscape and they are certainly patient with me as I try to explain what we are trying to achieve in certain projects/tasks.  It has been a lot of fun for us and it is even better when we get to interact with the students on beautification or education events.”

The Green Star Awards program brings national recognition to grounds maintained with a high degree of excellence, complimenting other national landscape award programs that recognize outstanding landscape design and construction. Overall, PGMS presented six Grand Awards, its highest honor, as well as 14 Honor Awards and four Merit Awards in nine categories of competition.

In the statements and analysis of the award to UAFS, judges noted the “meticulously maintained landscape beds, clean, neat appearance, and well-maintained campus,” and emphasized the diversity of plants, both in type and hue as an asset, the press release said. Over the past year, The UAFS team implemented several sustainability practices over the past year, something the judges also noted.

“Emphasis on irrigating sustainably seems to have come a long way,” the judge’s report said. “And their collaboration efforts reach across departments on campus.” Increased planting of trees and the use of smart-irrigation to reduce water and natural techniques to reduce chemicals used also were noted.