A Brooklyn Park teen hopes other residents will follow the example she set when she created a rain garden in a public park last month.
Covered with woodchips and filled with a variety of native plants, the rain garden sits alongside the boat tie-down area in the parking lot at River Park. Michelle Smeaton, 17, spent more than 60 hours creating the garden for her Girl Scouts Gold Award project.
Like the Eagle Scout rank for Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn. Receiving the award requires a large-scale service project. For Smeaton, that was creating a rain garden and educating others about it.
“A rain garden takes in all the rainwater runoff from any flat surface like this parking lot,” Smeaton explained. Then the water can trickle into the ground instead of washing down drains and into lakes and rivers. That helps reduce stress on drainage systems. The soil also acts as a filter, which keeps the water cleaner.
To cover the cost of making the garden, Smeaton applied for a grant from the Shingle Creek/West Mississippi Watershed Commission. As part of the grant application, she had to show the project would have educational value for teaching others about rain gardens.
“The whole project is an educational piece to show people what it is, what it looks like,” she said. “… The bigger picture of this project is that people will see this example and create their own rain gardens.”
But Smeaton isn’t stopping there. She is also designing an educational poster and pamphlets about rain gardens to display at the Brooklyn Park Library. And she has considered getting a sign to post next to her rain garden, explaining what it is.
Making Smeaton’s garden wasn’t easy — she spent more than 60 hours researching, planning and creating the project. She said the most difficult part was designing it.
“There were so many parts to it,” she said.
First she had to find a location. She knew she wanted it on public land.
“That helps a lot in spreading the word,” she said. “Also, I felt like it would have more impact” because it could be larger and capture more runoff.
She also pointed out that having the project right next to the river serves as a reminder of one of the primary reasons for rain gardens — to reduce pollution in rivers and lakes.
Smeaton approached Brooklyn Park’s operations and maintenance department to ask where she could do the project. They suggested River Park.
Then the real work started. Smeaton had to research soil and plants, plan how to arrange the garden, gather supplies and volunteers and then create the garden.
City staff told her the soil in the area is naturally sandy, which is helpful because it allows water to filter into the ground more quickly. Smeaton decided to add black dirt and compost to enrich the soil and peat moss to loosen it for better infiltration.
Smeaton chose to plant native vegetation because it requires minimal maintenance. She used familiar plants such as black-eyed Susan’s and day lilies, as well as less-familiar ones, such as nodding pink onions and false indigo.
Getting volunteers proved difficult, but Smeaton convinced about 10 family members and friends to help. She also got help from the city, which brought in equipment to excavate a hole about 3 feet deep and more than 10 feet wide. Smeaton and her crew hauled in the soil amendments, mixed them and put the soil back using shovels. Then they planted approximately 60 plants.
Smeaton’s crew finished the project in only one day. Then she began watering the plants daily with water from the river. She planned to stop once the plants became established.
Although Smeaton still had to design and distribute educational material, it felt good to finish the bulk of the project.
Her mother, Lynda, shared her sentiments.
“I’m just very proud of her to have seen it through,” she said. “In the beginning it seems very overwhelming … It’s easy to stop along the way. But she didn’t.”
Michelle hopes her rain garden will have lasting benefits for the community, because of its function as a rain garden and as an educational tool.