Erie Rain Garden

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By Craig Schill
GreenEriePA Writer

Rain gardens exist in order to limit the amount of storm water runoff that eventually reaches bodies of water in an area. This is important because storm water runoff contributes to pollution in waterways, so limiting the amount of contaminants that enter our local waterways is vital to maintaining cleaner lakes and streams for aquatic life. This becomes even more important when a community (such as Erie) uses one of these waterways for its drinking water source. The cleaner the water is that enters a treatment plant, the less work and energy that is needed to supply safe water for the local community. It is important to limit storm water runoff into streams and lakes as much as possible in order to promote a cleaner and safer environment. Below is a list of organizations which helped with the Erie rain garden project located near Perry Square that began in the spring of 2005:

- Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force (now called Earth Action)

- City of Erie Master Gardeners

- Gannon University

- Erie Wastewater Treatment Center

- PLEWA (Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association) and JrPLEWA

- Johnston Evergreen Nursery

According to Sister Pat Lupo of Earth Action, the city needed to repair the garage under a parking lot and grassy strip near City Hall. Since a rain garden offered more value than just digging out the space and re-planting grass on the site, the city funded a portion of the demonstration rain garden project. Freshwater Future, an organization focused on restoration projects in the Great Lakes Basin area, also provided funding. The collaborative group, led by the high school Earth Action group - JrPLEWA, devoted a year to the early stages of the process: research and planning. Four to five months alone were spent on finding the optimal plan and design for the garden both in terms of short term implementation and longevity. Some issues that were dealt with in the planning and construction phase included:

-Locating quality compost for the garden

-Designing the space in terms of both purpose and aesthetics

-Choosing hearty native plants to fill the garden

-Fulfilling the necessary tilling in preparation

-Sustaining the lengthy project into the future

Part of this sustaining effort is cleaning up the garden every spring and fall (sometimes in the summer as well). Lupo and JrPLEWA, Sarah Galloway, and the Bay City Gardeners have been responsible for maintaining the garden for a few years. Invasive plants have increased the amount of time it takes to clean up the garden every year.

The immediate environmental benefits of the rain garden that were key to gaining funding for the project are numerous. The rain garden helps prevent runoff and flooding. It also removes contaminants from the storm water that runs through it before being released into Presque Isle Bay. Lastly, the garden provides habitats for various species of plants.

The garden also works to sponsor greater change in the future, by incorporating an important educational tool. The project effort included the fabrication of double-sided informational signs. The signs are placed in the garden to provide visitors with information about the garden and its purpose.

The Erie Rain Garden is also used as a lesson for area students. It teaches that rain gardens are typically in place to help filter storm water rather than having it run off parking lots and enter storm drains. The garden also incorporates native plants, creating an environmental avenue in a busy urban area like Erie. Open public education sessions on the rain garden are held in order to allow visitors to explore these benefits and learn more.

The Erie Rain Garden encourages visitors to come and enjoy the green scene and learn more about the importance of conserving our fresh water. The garden is located near Erie City Hall, Perry Square at the corner of Seventh and Peach street. It is in bloom between spring and late fall every year. For more information about the Erie Rain Garden and its construction, read the Freshwater Future's article, "Young Advocates Sow Rain Garden and Stormwater Awareness" written by another key leader in the Erie Rain Garden project, Sarah Galloway.

Photo of the finished rain garden courtesy of Pat Lupo