The aesthetic of lawns, enshrined in Village of New Paltz code, is being revisited because maintaining this non-food crop uses hundreds of gallons of water per day per household, and also results in more fertilizer polluting bodies like the Wallkill River. Village code, which limits the grass to three inches in height, tends to be enforced selectively, and technically makes it illegal to create a pollinator meadow in one’s yard.
Deputy mayor KT Tobin would like the law changed to match the state minimum of ten inches, as anything taller would trigger that higher law. This is in keeping with a growing movement to abandon the grass aesthetic for something more natural and less deleterious in an age of changing climate. There are concerns that longer grass could harbor ticks, the diseases from which are already a serious concern in the region, but Tobin said that based on what’s she’s discovered, “those fears are unfounded.”
Others have weighed in on this idea, and favorably. Shade Tree commissioners reportedly support meadow over lawn because it increases plant diversity and reduces dependence on chemicals and watering. Trustee Michele Zipp relayed an anecdote about research indicating that the main negative reaction to longer grass — the aesthetic sensibilities of neighbors — is usually resolved by simply putting out a sign explaining that it’s a choice to support pollinators, not the result of neglect. Zipp admitted she’d initially been concerned about ticks, but the more she’s learned the more she agrees with Tobin that it’s a non-issue.
William Wheeler Murray is not ready to dismiss the tick concern, noting that longer grass is “shadier and moister” and thus provides a good home for the bloodsucking arachnids that can carry Lyme and other diseases. He said he’d “rather not see an increase in ticks in the village.”
Mayor Tim Rogers plans to get a sign, because he doesn’t mow. In addition to the water and chemical use which impacts the sewer treatment plant in the village, most lawns are mowed by gasoline-powered equipment that contribute to the pollutants amplifying climate change, which in New Paltz is projected to mean more intense storms and a gradual increase in average temperatures all year round. Winter would be effectively eliminated, which for example would strike a death knell locally for milkweed, the only plant on which monarch butterflies breed.
A public hearing on the change was scheduled for November 13, with Rogers noting that the change wouldn’t prevent someone who prefers to mow from doing so.