Bonita Bay

If you have ever wondered what entices people to relocate to Florida, be it for a season or year-round, the description of Bonita Bay may just give you a pretty good idea.

Bonita Bay is a 2,400-acre gated community, devoted to private homes, condominiums and villas with 5 golf courses, 15 tennis courts, a swim center, 7 miles of bike paths, a Gulf-of-Mexico-access marina, 3 recreational parks and a private beach club. The Shakarian family, founders of General Nutrition Centers (GNC), purchased this parcel of land in Bonita Springs in the 1980s. The patriarch of the Shakarian family envisioned a place where people, plants and animals could coexist in a beautiful, natural environment. Although Shakarian died before he was able to see most of his dream come to fruition, his family still owns Bonita Bay Properties Inc., the developer, and carries his vision forward.

Bonita Bay was designed from its inception to blend with nature, to become and to remain an unspoiled ecosystem of 2,400 acres. The developer built the community with the highest standards of quality and is dedicated to maintaining the natural beauty and integrity of Bonita Bay, while providing recreational amenities.

The Bonita Bay Community Association maintains the common grounds, roads, streetlights and four private parks. We also monitor and maintain the extensive storm-water-management system, which consists of 45 lakes of varying size. The community association does not have any affiliation with the club operation, which maintains the 90 holes of golf, the tennis and fitness center and swim club. However, we do have some community tennis available for resident non-club members.

The property's borders include the Imperial River, Spring Creek, Estero Bay and U.S. Highway 41. Estero Bay Park is one of the three on-site parks residents can enjoy. Nature trials wind through an excavated and preserved Caloosa Native American site. A 1,000-foot boardwalk provides a view of mangrove fringe as residents make their way out to the bay. Estero Bay Park is equipped with a screened-in pavilion, a playground and grills, making it a nice place for a family picnic or a neighborhood cookout.

A short drive away from the community brings you to the private Bonita Bay Beach Park, where a variety of native plants thrive in their natural surroundings. About 50,000 visitors enjoy this park during the prime South Florida season (December through April), so the grounds-maintenance crew rakes the beach daily and performs general landscape maintenance before the park opens.

Team maintenance A crew of 45 workers maintain the property using a team approach. We employ integrated pest management (IPM) applicators, irrigation specialists, technicians to maintain annuals and natural areas, two certified arborists and four hardscape specialists. Technicians and team leaders are responsible for their own areas of specialization. The remaining crew members have specific assigned areas for which they are responsible for maintaining.

On a daily basis, the Bonita Bay grounds-maintenance crew must work around three maintenance challenges: weather, traffic and water conservation.

* Heat. The staff works with the heat and humidity everyday, which can be brutal. Therefore, we begin working at 7 a.m. and usually finish by 3:30 p.m. In the summer, the rain can put a damper on activities. When this happens, we often have to do some catch-up work on the weekends.

* Traffic. Bonita Bay's main entrance processes more than a million vehicles a year. Our grounds are very median intensive, and the auto traffic can be perilous. Safety cones are commonplace around the site. The heavy-construction traffic is another concern because it makes all maintenance work, including irrigation, hazardous.

* Water. Bonita Bay's grounds crew uses a combination of effluent and well water for irrigation. Florida depends on ground water throughout the state. Therefore, conservation is really moving to the forefront. Water conservation always has been a concern, but it's reaching a crisis stage now. We operate the Toro Network 8000 irrigation system to its fullest extent throughout the common grounds. Radio links keep our controllers in touch with the central computer. The expansiveness of the property mandates that we employ three full-time irrigation technicians.

Recently, we started airing a community channel. We have filmed seven segments related to grounds maintenance for the benefit of the residents.

Planting and ornamental care When operating a facility in a region of the country that doesn't experience significant seasonal changes, it is important to schedule your planting so that everything is always in bloom. We try to achieve year-round color by installing about 25,000 annuals in our more than 130 feature beds twice a year-in November and the week after Easter.

In the winter, begonias, impatiens and petunias are mainstays at Bonita Bay. However, when an occasional winter frost necessitates the need for some hardier choices, we usually select petunias. In the summer months, we favor crossandra, many varieties of pentas, caladium and purslane. Over the past 2 years, we have been working with Abbott Labs (Chicago) to determine the value of Di-Tera for nematode control. Nematodes are a constant problem in our sandy soils, and they seem to affect annuals more than any other crop.

One of our most critical IPM strategies is wall-to-wall pre-emergence-herbicide application to ornamental beds. Every 6 months, we apply Surflan and Gallery (Dow Agrosciences). Our IPM applicators find this to be more effective than any other for weed control.

On the shady side, our arborist and his staff maintain the thousands of palms and deciduous trees that reach high above the grounds of Bonita Bay. The woody shade trees, such as live oak, mahogany and black olive, as well as the site's many palms, such as the Phoenix dactylifera 'Zahitii' palm, line the roadways throughout the site making line-of-site maintenance for traffic a main concern. Coconut palms line the paver walkway at the Bonita Bay Marina. Arborists perform pruning and maintenance on these tall palms during the early pre-business hours of the day.

The arborist staff installs about 100 slash pines per year, as pines decline regularly in south Florida. Currently, we are testing a mycorrhizal product to assist with establishment.

We have a development order that requires us to maintain the site free of exotic vegetation. Brazilian pepper and Melaleuca are the two most prevalent species. Our natural-area technician takes a small motor boat out to the islands to perform exotic plant control.

Equipment selection Bonita Bay's extensive storm-water-management system uses all of the lakes on the property to accommodate the heavy rains, which is a constant challenge. We must undergo a yearly inspection of the hundreds of storm drains, control structures and spreader swales to ensure that they can process the summer rains. In 1995, more than 85 inches of rain fell during the summer season, flooding many areas in South Florida. Bonita Bay fared well when others did not.

The site's 85 acres of turf require weekly mowing. Our in-house mowing operation uses 20-hp Gravely zero-turn-radius mowers to tackle the steep slopes. The mowing crew is especially careful when changing mowing patterns to prevent rollover. The intensive maintenance required in South Florida forces us to mow about 48 times a year, which makes pattern change important.

We presently use Gravely equipment for our mowing operations. The mulching blades, which are a standard option for most mowing equipment, work well. They chop the cuttings very fine and leave little debris, which is great for returning nutrients to the turf.

We do everything we can, big or small, to preserve and to maintain the natural beauty of Bonita Bay. We derive a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we contribute to the vitality of the environment, which is what we strive for here. Furthermore, the residents live here because they too have an appreciation for the environment and desire to enjoy it by incorporating it into their daily lives.

Steve R. Pietrzyk is the grounds-maintenance manager for the Bonita Bay Community Association Inc. (Bonita Springs, Fla.).

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