Every year during spring, people gather together to celebrate Earth Day. Started in 1970 by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as a way to move environmental protection onto the nation’s political agenda, Earth Day is now a global event. More than 192 countries particpate in this celebration of environmental stewardship. Here in Tennessee, Earth Day events can be found across the state, in places like Harrison Bay. Nestled along the shores of Chickamauga Lake, Harrison Bay became the first state park in 1937. Named for the now partially submerged town of Harrison, the park is also home to a very unique golf course…which is what makes it the perfect place to celebrate Earth Day.
Among many honors the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay has received is being rated among the best public golf courses in America. And it’s been designated as a “certified Audubon cooperative sanctuary” by Audubon International. That’s quite an honor considering there are fewer than one-thousand golf courses around the world to receive that distinction. But Harrison Bay is not the only state park golf course to take its commitment to environmental stewardship seriously. All nine state park courses on the Tennessee Golf Trail have been recognized as certified cooperative sanctuaries by Audubon International. To learn more about Harrison Bay and all the courses on the Tennessee Golf Trail, visit the Tennessee State Parks website.
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How the Tennessee Golf Trail helps the environment…
All nine golf courses in the state park system’s Tennessee Golf Trail are recognized as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International. To achieve Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification, a golf course must demonstrate a high degree of environmental quality in a number of areas including environmental planning; wildlife and habitat management; outreach and education; chemical use reduction and safety; water conservation; and water quality management. Obtaining cooperative sanctuary status is no easy feat, as only about 900 golf courses in the entire world have received this honor. And the reward to receiving such an incredible merit does not just positively impact nature – it can influence a golfer’s course of choice, which ultimately impacts the bottom line.
Many of the certification efforts have been initiated systemwide. However, some efforts are truly unique to a particular golf course. For instance, as part of the certification process at the Bear Trace course at Harrison Bay State Park, the team installed 45 nesting birdhouses and created a large plant bed comprised of 218 plants native to Tennessee. In addition, 40 acres of the course were naturalized to minimize maintenance and the turf grass was changed from “bent grass” to Champion Ultradwarf Bermuda grass – reducing the course’s chemical use and budget from $39,000 to $8,000 annually.
The return on investment is worth noting. Just at Harrison Bay, the park saves five million gallons of water a year by using fewer spray heads as part of a more efficient irrigation system. That’s five million gallons of water that remains in Chickamauga Lake. In addition to water conservation, other positive impacts to the bottom line include savings on fertilizer, chemicals, fuel and labor. These savings are partly due to the conversion of selected areas to native habitat, which requires less mowing. Paris Landing State Park’s golf course holds the distinction of being the first Tennessee Golf Trail course to achieve the cooperative sanctuary status. According to Keith Hickman, Paris Landing’s PGA professional, their efforts to become more wildlife friendly have been truly educational for both golfers and park visitors. “I’ve spent my entire life working as a golf professional and I had to change my normal course of thinking as part of the Audubon certification process,” said Hickman. “The first thing I wanted to do was mow and clear out overgrown areas. But Audubon International encourages us to let these places grow back up, providing a habitat for local wildlife.” Hickman added through various communication with the public, including signs about environmentally sensitive areas and working with partners such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Operation Oak – visitors and park staff have a better understanding of why these particular areas are so important.
From the grounds keeping staff to course managers, Tennessee State Parks’ golf courses have shown an incredibly strong commitment to its environmental program and we commend their efforts to provide a sanctuary for wildlife. Being recognized as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary has been very rewarding,” said Chad Garrett, golf course superintendent for the Bear Trace at Tims Ford State Park. “Golfers, guests and staff have a greater appreciation for the natural beauty of the golf course and better understand how our actions – both direct and indirect – will positively impact wildlife, waterways and other aspects of the environment.”
While Audubon International certainly is the most recognized name among worldwide environmental efforts, there are a few lesser-known organizations whose message is no less important – including The Groundwater Foundation’s Groundwater Guardian Green Sites, which encourage best practices to protect water quality. The nine state park courses with Audubon certification also have documented an array of groundwater-friendly practices to earn this exclusive designation, including optimizing fertilizer applications, applying natural organic products when possible, and using native plants to create a vegetative buffer area around wetlands and shorelines.
All of these incredible environmental honors demonstrate the golf course teams overall management strategy that continues to produce significant improvements to the land, the water we drink and to the air we breathe. Their innovation and conservation leadership have allowed Tennessee State Parks to stand out locally, regionally and nationally as true ‘green’ courses.