Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Rain Garden Ramble" organized by Prairie Rivers Network combines recreation, education

"Rain Garden Ramble" organized by Prairie Rivers Network combines recreation, education

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The weather on the afternoon of Saturday, September 21st was perfect for a bike ride—blue skies, a light breeze, and temperatures in the low 70s. Still, I wondered how many people would turn out for an event billed as a “Rain Garden Ramble,” in which participants would pedal from the Prairie Rivers Network office in Champaign to four sites around town. I need not have been concerned.

By the time we set out our group included nearly thirty people. Among them were two small children, conveyed by their father, some active retirees, students from the U of I, people who already had rain gardens of their own, and people who were new to the concept but wanted to learn more.

[Photos by author: above, Stacy James stands on a rock to explain the creation of her neighbors rain garden; middle, participants en route to next site; below, at the Eppichs.]

Our first stop was the least garden-like site on the tour. In a heavily shaded place at the back of his yard where water from his own home and the homes of two neighbors once ponded, Bob Hudson pointed us to a bed of rocks. Below that, he explained, vertical shafts had been dug to detain water until it could soak into the surrounding soil.

Next on the tour was the home of Stacy James a water resources scientist with Prairie Rivers, and the leader of the rain garden ramble. In order to reduce water seeping into her basement, James explained, she extended a downspout away from the the house and created a shallow depression where water can pool before soaking into the ground. This small rain garden is planted with sedges, grass-like plants that grow in attractive clumps and tolerate occasional flooding.

Before moving on, we also crossed the street to look at a rain garden James helped her neighbor create in the right of way, which features a variety of flowering plants native to our area. I found it especially striking to see how much life was associated with the these flowers—in the form of bees, butterflies, and other insects—compared to the adjoining lawn.

Stop number three on our tour was South Willis near John Street in Champaign, where the city finished installing very large rain gardens between the street and sidewalk last year. At this site, Leslie Mitchell, who is an engineering technician with City, explained the idea is actually to move some water off the street and into the rain gardens by means of openings in the curb.

While we were at this site Mitchell took time to outline the incentives Champaign is currently offering that encourage residents to adopt measures to alleviate flooding. [Click here for details on the City's Website.]  These include cash reimbursements for the purchase of rain barrels, and larger payments to help cover costs associated with putting in rain gardens.

The last stop on the Rain Garden Ramble was the home of Doug and Mary Eppich, just “upstream” of Hessel Park. Their rain garden, which they installed themselves ten years ago, occupies a 400 square foot area that was formerly lawn. It’s a foot below the surrounding grade at its deepest point, but you don’t see that from the street. What you do see is an artfully designed garden that’s bursting with native flowers.

The Eppichs rain garden was designed to accommodate all of the water that would come off the roof of their entire house in a 100-year storm. When such an event occurred in 2005, Doug Eppich happily reported to me, the rain garden performed just as intended.

If you’re considering a rain garden of your own start with a visit to the rain garden pages at Website of Prairie Rivers Network.