When poor weather conditions turn the beautiful game days in the Grove into sloshy and muddy ones, the tailgating doesn’t stop. The party continues on. To make this work, landscapers, fans and vendors must all take on crucial roles in order to keep the iconic game day experience running smoothly.
Two weeks ago, a few hours before the Ole Miss football team was set to square off against Tulane in Oxford, Mother Nature decided to make her presence known in the Grove. Heavy showers poured down and the Grove quickly became one big mud pile.
Armona Daughaday, an Ole Miss football fan who has been attending the Grove for 29 years, says the state of the Grove’s landscape during the Tulane game was up there with the most torn up she has ever seen it.
“We usually put hay in and around our tent to avoid a muddy mess. However, it didn’t help with the Tulane game,” Daughaday said. “But even with all the rain, everyone appeared to be in good spirits and were having a good time.”
“Most of the veteran Grove tailgaters know if it rains or is wet they need to bring hay or wheat straw for under their tents,” Jeff McManus, Director of Landscape Services at Ole Miss said. “Here at Ole Miss, the fans know how to adapt and overcome to have a great tailgating experience, it’s what we do.”
When sloppy weather conditions become an issue, precautions and constant up-keeping from vendors are necessary in order to keep the tailgate going. Eric Trimble of the local tailgate setup company, Grovesharks Tailgating, said his company works very hard to keep their tailgates up and running when conditions aren’t ideal.
“For the Tulane game, we had to put a lot of hay down because we knew it was going to be a slosh fest,” Trimble said. “Those tents aren’t made to get rained on like that. We had guys running around like crazy pushing water off tents so they didn’t collapse.”
Ole Miss has another home game this Saturday against Arkansas. Being a top 25 matchup, the Grove is expected to be very crowded. However, because of the monsoon that took place two weeks ago, making the tailgate happen will still take hard work from vendors.
Trimble says they will have to put hay down again on Saturday. He added to that by saying that one of the company’s biggest obstacles for the upcoming game is having to clean off all of the tailgating equipment from the prior home game.
“Normally we load the trailers up after the games and we don’t have to touch it before the next game,” Trimble said. “But because of the chaos last week, every tent was soaked and all of the tables and chairs were muddy. We do 140 tents or so, and between the last game and this game we’ve had to pull literally everything out, air it out and power-wash it all: tables, chairs and everything.”
Keeping the landscape of the Grove intact during the season is a very complex job for landscapers, especially after game days like the Tulane one.
“When that many people gather on shady grass surfaces for hours on end, plus you add heavy rain, well, there is not a lot you can do except let it dry out and take the next four home games one game at a time,” McManus said.
“The Grove is not like a football field where it can be re-sod for the next game or even add subsurface drainage,” McManus said. “There is a vast infrastructure of tree roots that network just underneath the surface. Tree roots do not live in compacted soils for very long so foot traffic can be a big challenge. Even adding additional soil can be detrimental to the roots and the trees.”
For the Arkansas game, McManus said the landscaping crew will attempt to put down wheat straw on the muddiest parts of the Grove, such as walkways and emergency lanes, in order to help the tree roots and make it easier for everyone to walk.
Skilled landscaping, hard work from the vendors and proper adjustments made by the tailgaters will all factor into how well the Grove will go on Saturday.