During my internship for Sea Grant I have been fortunate to not only learn about rain gardens but also be able to see one garden come to life. I saw the area beforehand, while the garden was built, and after the final flower was planted. I saw the change in the landscape. I sat under a tree just next to where the garden is today. I had the opportunity to speak with park experts to gain more insight in what it took to build the garden. But above all, I have been able to see the beauty of the garden as it grew.
The idea of planting a rain garden in Clark Park in Champaign began in September of 2014 when presented during a John Street watershed meeting. This led to a three-month-long period in which different designs were presented to the community. The final design was presented at a public meeting in February. Unfortunately the actual digging did not start until mid-June and the planting was not finished until July. This was due to excessive rain, ironically, and the maintenance of other park amenities such as pools, and tennis courts.
Eli Tabova, a park planner, explained to me that the garden was meant to have distinct patches of native plants. During the design process she and her boss Lead Park Planner Andrew Weiss chose plants that were hearty—mostly ferns, sedges and grasses. But they did not want the garden to look messy. The garden has brown-eyed Susans, columbine flowers and Ohio spiderwort to add color. Plants such as Gray’s sedge and switchgrass make the garden look full of life despite the lack of many blooming flowers. The plants attract pollinators and are shade resistant.
The garden came to life.
When I recently went to visit the garden, it was very rewarding to see how much it had grown. Even if I was not personally involved in making the garden a reality for this park, it was rewarding to see what can happen when there is a community willing to be involved as well as a park district willing to make this a reality. It didn’t matter that not all the flowers bloomed this season or that the flowers didn’t grow as much as they could have. I could see what the garden was bringing to the community. It was an environmentally conscious way of collecting water, attracted wildlife and added texture to the park.
Shortly after it was planted I wondered how the garden was going to be able to grow. The seedling were small and fragile. Even with the rain that fell in July it still needed to be watered about every three days. What about children and pets who might trample them? But Horticulture and Natural Areas Supervisor Randy Hauser was not worried about this. Residents, in general, were careful of the garden. But that didn’t mean it was quarantined. People were welcome to interact with the garden even if the plants were very young.
“Not everyone wants to go in deep with [the plants and] bugs, but I’m not going to chase the ones who do,” Hauser said.
This is the goal of the garden—to be inviting and influential to the community. The garden is just as much a part of the park as the swings or tennis courts. It exists to be enjoyed as well as to work for the community. Weiss hopes residents will use this garden as a resource for plant and design ideas. I know I picked up some ideas. I hope the residents did as well.
Allison Neubauer and Kirsten Walker were at the University of Illinois Public Engagement Symposium last week to raise awareness of IISG outreach in Champaign-Urbana. Allison had this to say about the event.
The public engagement symposium was a great opportunity to find out what other local organizations and academic programs are working on. The crowds of people—both those staffing booths and walking through and exploring—were a true testament to Champaign-Urbana’s widespread effort to get involved and take collective action on local initiatives.
Our IISG table generated a lot of traffic. With spring on the horizon, many visitors were excited to learn about our mobile walking tour of downtown Chicago. Others stopped to discuss invasive species and ways they can help halt their spread.
But the biggest draw was our university Learning in Community (LINC) course poster, created by undergraduate students enrolled in our section last fall. These students focused on increasing awareness on campus about how pharmaceuticals contaminate our waterways. They also coordinated a take-back event for students and community members to properly dispose of their unwanted medication. The event was a big success, collecting 15 pounds of unused medicine for incineration in just six hours.
For Kirsten and I, what was particularly exciting and unique about this symposium was our ability to connect with others working locally on related problems. For example, a Champaign community health center invited us to discuss pharmaceutical disposal with their patients. There was also a UIUC engineering student interested in the homemade filtration system our LINC students created with local high schoolers to show how some contaminants can slip through wastewater treatment processes. She is currently working to design and implement a water system and health program in a rural Honduran community and was looking for ways to engage with local residents.
Eliana Brown recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center as an outreach specialist. Prior to starting at IWRC, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities & Services as the MS4 coordinator and at Illinois EPA as a field engineer. Eliana has a M.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in general engineering and marketing from the University of Illinois.
The following is a contributing post from Eliana, who has a passion for rain gardens and green infrastructure:
When you were a university student, did you ever reimagine your campus landscape? Students at the University of Illinois did exactly that as an assignment for Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, Native Plants and Design.
The U of I campus has 84 miles of storm sewer, most of which drain rainwater directly to Boneyard Creek. The LA 452 students designed landscapes with elements that capture water and allow it to soak in on-site to reduce loads to the existing storm sewer and creek. These elements (called green infrastructure) include rain gardens, swales, and green roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees green infrastructure as a way to create sustainable, resilient communities that improve water quality.
EPA has a competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge that invites “student teams to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.”
According to Jason Berner, EPA environmental protection specialist, who has been involved with administering the competition, it is a great way for students to see how green infrastructure is related to the larger campus master plan. “It moves us beyond single pilot projects, but at the same time, blends both small and large scale thinking,” he explained.
LA 452 instructor Tawab Hlimi is leading the U of I Campus RainWorks entry. Students in his class helped brainstorm ideas for the entry. One of those ideas is pictured. Student Jiwon
Kim reimagined the grounds at the National Soybean Research Building (which happens to house Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center). Native plant rain gardens intercept stormwater from the building roof and parking lot. During large storms, the design takes advantage of existing storm sewers by overflowing excess water to them.
Like many cities and universities, the U of I began installing storm sewers more than 100 years ago. Storm sewers benefit cities by draining flooded areas. However, they can overload receiving streams and cause unintended damage. Adding green infrastructure elements to the existing infrastructure helps ensure a healthier ecosystem on-site and downstream.
Per Hlimi, “Through a campus wide application of rain gardens, students hybridized native plantings with a superficial stormwater management strategy to meet multiple objectives: accommodating the ‘first flush’ of frequent storm events through detention, infiltration, and biofiltration, reducing the load on existing subsurface infrastructure, improving the water quality entering into the Boneyard Creek, creating habitat for pollinators, and rendering the campus landscape as living laboratory.”
Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, students won’t have to imagine green infrastructure on campus. They’ll see it.
Last month, we announced that six teachers from the Champaign-Urbana area had won tool kits for constructing simple, remotely operated underwater robots with their students. With the help of online lesson plans, the winning teachers will use the SeaPerch robots to teach their students about topics including buoyancy, propulsion, circuitry, and biological sampling.
Along with the kits, teachers got an opportunity to learn construction techniques and practice using the equipment during one of two SeaPerch Build Sessions held in October. During the sessions, Blake Landry, coordinator of the University of Illinois SeaPerch Program, took teachers step-by-step through the build process.
The winning teachers have big plans for their robots. Some will use them to introduce their younger students to basic engineering concepts for the first time. In other classrooms, the robots will provide an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of things like simple circuits. Some teachers are even considering partnering up to start an after-school club that will compete in the national SeaPerch Challenge. With these six teachers now using SeaPerch, there is also a possibility that they may launch a regional SeaPerch Challenge.
The SeaPerch giveaway contest was funded by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to help teachers in the Great Lakes region integrate science education with engineering and math.
Visit the SeaPerch homepage to learn more about the tool kits and the SeaPerch program.
Top: Blake shows Carol Smith and Geoff Frymuth how to use the tools provided in the SeaPerch teacher’s kit. Carol is a 5th grade teacher at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, and Geoff teaches 7th grade science at Champaign’s Jefferson Middle School.
Middle: Carol practices stripping electrical wires used to connect the three motorized propellers that steer the underwater robots. Stripping wires and building motors are just a few of the many engineering tasks her students will have to do when they build their own robots in the spring.
Bottom: Carol, Geoff, and Jen White, an 8th grade science teacher at Jefferson Middle School, take notes as Blake shows how to install and waterproof the motors and secure the frame of a completed SeaPerch robot.