Community support keeps Schlitz Audubon thriving. A perfect example of this is the rain garden that flanks the walkway and southeast corner of the Visitor Center. Thanks to a grant from the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, or Sweet Water, and the help of volunteer land stewards, Center staff transformed the area from an overgrown thicket to a beautiful demonstration site for native plantings. Planted in late summer of 2019, the garden will continue to evolve over the coming growing seasons to increase in size, beauty, and function.
Importance of the Rain Garden
More than just a decorative feature, the rain garden is strategically positioned to capture runoff from the walkways and rooftop of the Visitor Center. If not detained by the garden, water would flow through this space, through a ravine, and into Lake Michigan. Not only would this contribute to lake pollution by runoff, but it would also increase the size of the ravine by undercutting its slopes by erosion, causing excess sediment to also wash into the lake.
Though intended to work as a rain garden when initially installed with our building in 2003, the area had become overgrown over time with invasive buckthorn, cattails, and sandbar willow, reducing the ability of the habitat to capture water. By removing these invasives and planting native plants suited to a wetland environment, proper function of the rain garden has been restored.
Created with the Help of Volunteers
As with all of Schlitz Audubon’s conservation projects, volunteers were key to making the rain garden happen. Schlitz Audubon staff and volunteers prepared and regraded the site, and installed soil, seeds, and plants. A team of 40 volunteers devoted more than 100 hours to this effort.
The first step in improving the rain garden was removing the undesirable species from a 2,500-square-foot catchment basin and the 8,700 square feet of associated habitats that surround it. Engineered soil, consisting of 70% sand and 30% compost and free of external seeds, was then installed prior to planting to prevent the reintroduction of invasive species.
Finally, planting took place throughout the entire area, which has been expanded to 50% rain garden. Four trees and a mix of grasses, sedges, and flowers were planted, including little bluestem, common fox sedge, and Michigan lily. Once established, these plantings will capture an estimated 27,356 gallons of water per rain event!
The Rain Garden Within the Community
By demonstrating stormwater management practices to over 100,000 visitors and program participants annually, this project helps educate our community about the importance of healthy natural water systems and how we all play a role in maintaining them. In order to ensure the rain garden’s success as a demonstration site, a second project phase will occur as funding allows. This phase entails construction of a wheelchair accessible boardwalk leading to a teaching platform within the rain garden, allowing direct access to the project area.
Sweet Water’s mini-grant program has helped fund several Center projects over the past three years. In addition to the rain garden, Sweet Water funded the Sluiceway, a fun water feature created from ash logs in our preschool garden playspace. This summer, Sweet Water funding is allowing us to convert part of our grassy lot into a native planting buffer to protect Boardwalk Pond from runoff.
To learn more about projects like these and how you can get involved, contact Carrie Becker at (414) 352-2880 x122.