As clouds of dust and gravel plumed around the sidewalks of the University of Montana campus, grounds maintenance crews used noisy leaf blowers to push gravel off of the lawn of the Oval. Large rotary brooms and trucks moved dust and dirt around while students dodged between them.
University grounds crews have been racing to clean up campus in time for commencement on May 4. They were tasked with the difficult job of cleaning up the gravel that was put on campus sidewalks during the winter to create traction. But now that graduation is approaching, that gravel needs to be removed.
Ben Carson, grounds maintenance manager, said while the majority of the gravel has been taken care of, the winter put major complications into the gravel removal.
"This was the worst year in the eight years I've been here," Carson said.
Missoula’s winter has been prolonged with record snowfalls and lows in February and March, according to the Missoulian. The National Weather Service reports this year’s temperature lows for February and March were about 40 percent lower than the temperatures of previous years. The extended winter halted plans to clean the gravel, putting it off until now.
Currently, workers are using leaf blowers to blow the gravel out of the grass so trucks and rotary brooms can move the gravel away. William Zimmermann is one of the people trying to clean up the gravel without creating too much dust.
"It's hard to get out when, you know, the grass is starting to grow and it just kind of sticks in there," Zimmermann said.
Carson said typically, the large UTV rotary broom can deal with the gravel. But snowmelt and possible turf damage forced the grounds crews to shift to cruder instruments like the leaf blowers, he said. While leaf blowers are noisier and less efficient, it’s the only option for the grounds crews’ timeline, according to Carson.
In past years, UM commencement has been held on the second Saturday of May until it was bumped up to the first Saturday of May this year. Carson said the earlier date isn’t the real issue as much as the winter, which has left much of spring activities like turf aeration and fertilization undetermined.
While he understands the concerns that graduation day could look worse for wear if the weather doesn’t let up, Carson said the situation is, frankly, out of his control.
“Mother Nature is the one thing we have no power over,” Carson said. “We’ll make it look good, regardless of what the weather looks like. If we have to put pots out the morning of, then that will be the case.”