More than April showers are responsible for the flowers that soon will beautify the path to Ohio Wesleyan University’s Branch Rickey Arena.
New 30-foot-by-15-foot rain gardens are currently being installed on each side of the north steps leading to the athletics facility. The project is a collaborative effort involving OWU students and faculty, City of Delaware employees, and even an Ohio State University graduate student.
The rain gardens were proposed by Janelle Valdinger, a public utilities GIS technician for the city and an OWU student in professor John Krygier’s environmental geography course.
“Our community, and the surrounding environment, are ours to protect,” said Valdinger, a junior geography major who has worked full-time for the city for about a year. “These bio-retention cells are living examples of best management practices for stormwater management.
“This implementation allows us to prevent, and reduce, pollution from nonpoint sources,” added Valdinger, who has helped to secure $7,500 in city stormwater funds to cover the cost of creating the environmentally friendly gardens.
“My hopes for this project are simple – education and encouragement,” Valdinger said. “Students, faculty, and residents will be able to view these cells, along with educational signage explaining their purpose. As for encouragement, I hope seeing a student project of this caliber come to life on campus inspires other students to step outside their comfort zone and pursue their ideas, no matter how big or small they may be.”
The rain gardens will be located around stormwater drains that follow the bed of a now-buried stream that empties into the Olentangy River. The gardens will be filled with colorful flowers including pink phlox, blue flag irises, yellow black-eyed Susans, red cardinal flowers and orange butterfly milkweeds.
The flowers were selected with oversight from Caroline Cicerchi, Delaware’s sustainability and watershed coordinator, and input from OWU freshman Dustin Braden, a double-major in environmental studies and communication who previously worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help convert land in his hometown of Granville, Ohio, into a public nature preserve.
Braden said he and Cicerchi chose plants that “would be effective and beautiful, as well as great habitat for pollinators and other native Ohio species.” They also selected plants with differing bloom cycles so that the rain gardens provide splashes of vibrant color from late April to early November.
Not only will the gardens be eye-catching, said Krygier, Ph.D., OWU’s director of environmental studies, but they also will help to improve the environment.
“Rain gardens improve water quality in nearby bodies of water,” Krygier said. “They have the ability to reduce the amount of pollution reaching nearby streams and rivers by up to 30 percent. The gardens work by trapping stormwater and filtering it to reduce pollutants such as oil, gasoline, road salt, pesticides and fertilizers.”
Krygier said he and his students are grateful for the collaboration of so many people in planning and installing Ohio Wesleyan’s first rain gardens, including the City of Delaware, the university’s building and grounds staff, botany and microbiology professors Laurie Anderson and David Johnson, and Jonathan Stechschulte, an OSU master’s student in landscape architecture who created hand-drawn renderings of the gardens.
Krygier said he looks forward to similar collaborations in the future.
“More projects like this are underway, but not yet official,” he said. “All are the result of collaboration among OWU students, staff and faculty, the City of Delaware, alumni and others. They are at the core of our new Environment and Sustainability Program, and, shaped by The OWU Connection and distinctive program goals, they are a win-win for all participants. We also have a growing array of externships and internships, some of which overlap with these projects.”
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