Rain Gardens in Eastgate Neighborhood:
Beacon Hill is at Eastgate, ensconced within the Eastgate neighborhood, and over the course of its nearly 60-year history, it has steadfastly served its Eastgate neighbors and the broader community. About a year ago, Beacon Hill joined together with the Eastgate Neighborhood Association to form the Eastgate Engaged initiative—a partnership committed to working together to enhance the surrounding community.
The Eastgate Engaged Steering Committee often refers to a community study, conducted by Calvin College a couple of years ago, to identify key areas that were particularly important to Eastgate residents. Among those areas with the greatest support from the neighbors were having more public places like parks, bus benches and shelters, and more green space.
One economical way to create green space in individual yards is to make a rain garden. Several of the Steering Committee members were very interested in rain gardens, also called storm water gardens, which are bowl-shaped and planted with native shrubs, perennials and flowers. They are designed to temporarily hold and soak in rain water runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios and lawns.
Rain gardens can actually reduce rain runoff by allowing storm water to soak into the gardens rather than have it flow into storm drains and surface water which causes erosion, water pollution, and flooding. Rain gardens also cut down on the amount of pollution reaching nearby creeks, streams and rivers.
All of this was extremely interesting to the Eastgate Engaged Steering Committee, but the group felt they needed more background information. They learned about a group called the Plaster Creek Stewards—a collaboration of Calvin College faculty, staff and students.
Two individuals from the Plaster Creek Stewards, Deanna Geelhoed and Julie Wildschut, each addressed our group, providing a rich background and useful information. Here is what we learned from them: Eastgate is located within the Plaster Creek Watershed, which is an area of land where all the water drains to the same place. Plaster Creek Watershed occupies about 58 square miles, all in Metropolitan Grand Rapids.
The creek is 14 miles long, originates southeast of Grand Rapids, and flows through commercial, residential and industrial areas of the city. By the time it empties into the Grand River, south of the city center, it is considered one of the most polluted waterways in West Michigan, with high E-coli levels and other damaging contaminants making it unsafe for everything.
Deanna took us through the history of Plaster Creek Stewards, which formally began 10 years ago. The group decided to address the watershed problem by focusing on research, education and on-the-ground efforts to restore it. They began working with local schools, churches, and community partners to restore the health and beauty of the watershed. They did this through green infrastructure—an approach to counteract the growing degradation of the watershed.
According to Deanna, “The goal of green infrastructure is to use plants to intercept rain water, keep it from entering storm drains and pipes, and allow the water to soak into the ground. When rain water is able to soak into the ground, as it would in a natural setting, it cools down and enters the creek naturally via groundwater.”
Elements of green infrastructure include planting trees, restoring natural habitats, installing rain gardens, and, in many other ways, capturing and cleaning urban rainwater runoff. Many Eastgate residents are interested in creating rain gardens to support cleaning the Plaster Creek watershed.
Julie is an engineer who decided to focus her career on storm water management, the biggest polluter of waterways. She explains that she is motivated to do this work because the “waterways impact everything,” and she wants to be a “steward of creation.”
Both Deanna and Julie explained that creating rain gardens in Eastgate is a challenge because the soil is primarily clay, which stores water well, but does not infiltrate well. It’s tougher to plant the indigenous shrubs, perennials and flowers in clay, but she encouraged residents to create rain gardens or collect rainwater in barrels. As she explained: “Even smaller steps have a positive impact and help enormously.”
Stay tuned for more opportunities to learn about the Plaster Creek Stewards and how you can help restore the watershed right in your own backyard. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the Plaster Creek Stewards, or need help in creating a rain garden at your home, please email the group at: firstname.lastname@example.org.