Raritan Highlands Compact (Ten Municipalities in the Morris County portion of the Upper Raritan River Watershed Mt. Olive, Mt. Arlington, Mine Hill, Roxbury, Randolph, Washington Twp., Chester Twp., Chester Borough, Mendham Twp., Mendham Borough), City of Linden, Township of Bradley Beach, Monmouth University, and the Greater Newark Conservancy.
Rain gardens are landscaped areas planted with native vegetation that function much like riparian buffers along streams by collecting rain and snow melt. This innovative stormwater strategy reduces the volume of runoff coming off of a site, increases the amount of water that filters into the ground that recharges local aquifers, and protects property from flooding and drainage problems.
The New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Partnership (NJCWRP) provided funding, plants, in-kind design, construction oversight, and project management services for the creation of over 12 municipal and two (2) university demonstration rain gardens within the state of New Jersey. Each selected rain garden site was unique and success required coordination/participation between municipal public works, historical societies, volunteers, academic entities, and assigned task managers. To ensure the success of the NJCWRP Rain Garden Initiative, AECOM, one of the corporate partners, has been coordinating with multiple organizations to verify timelines, create partnerships, ensure funding, confirm site selection, ensure site accessibility, ensure plants have been ordered, provide proper training, and keep construction on schedule. Organizations associated with the initiative include AECOM, the Raritan Highlands Compact, Linden Environmental Commission, Monmouth University, Rutgers University, the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pinelands Nursery, Verizon, Pfizer, and various other NJCWRP members. Each rain garden has been outfitted with an interpretive sign that outlines its purpose and water quality benefit.
In addition to providing construction and design oversight, preliminary site selection, on-site outreach, and project management services, AECOM, Rutgers, Verizon, and other members of the NJCWRP organized a well attended, one-day rain garden workshop for local construction and building officials, planning board and environmental commission members, and municipal public works departments. At the symposium, Verizon awarded ten (10) individual municipalities $1000 grants for the construction of rain gardens throughout Monmouth County, New Jersey. A colorful brochure describing the benefits, design and construction of rain gardens was also distributed to provide municipal officials and homeowners with the necessary tools needed to enable future construction of rain gardens.
With funding provided by the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (NJCWRP), the Bradley Beach Environmental Commission (BBEC), in partnership with the Monmouth County Master Gardeners, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Department of Public Works (DPW), Bradley Beach School Board, Shade Tree Commission, and the school's Eco-Club members, constructed a 1400 square foot rain garden and outdoor classroom along the perimeter fence located along 5th Avenue on the Bradley Beach School property in 2008. Prior to construction, the site was paved with asphalt and runoff from the playground flowed untreated into the adjacent street with eventual terminus into bordering coastal lakes. Asphalt removal and excavation were completed in July by the Bradley Beach DPW and planting was performed in September by student and local volunteers. Designs for the garden were submitted by the students to the Monmouth County Master Gardeners and their ideas were incorporated into the final design. The garden currently includes two picnic tables constructed of recycled material (one donated from the Bradley Beach 5K Committee) that are used as an outdoor classroom, a pathway consisting of stepping stones made by the students, and a butterfly sanctuary. Additional plans include a rain gauge, solar bird bath, a bird feeder, and educational signage. Currently it is estimated that the garden treats up to 250,000 gallons of stormwater annually.
The Bradley Beach School Rain Garden Initiative functions as a demonstration project for homeowners and local communities in the region. The rain garden highlights the environmental benefits of constructing rain gardens, which include:
- Increasing the amount of water that filters into the ground resulting in increased groundwater recharge.
- Decreasing the volume of runoff from the site.
- Helping protect local property and other areas from flooding and drainage problems.
- Helping protect streams and coastal lakes from pollutants carried by stormwater runoff such as lawn fertilizers and pesticides and oil and other fluids that leak from cars and wash off of paved areas.
- Providing habitat for birds, butterflies and other organisms
- Providing provide numerous educational opportunities, public outreach, community "green" awareness, and an outdoor classroom.
- Design, planting, and construction of a 1400 square foot rain garden.
- Construction of an outdoor classroom that seats up to 16 students.
- Enhancing aesthetics.
In addition, the construction of the rain garden brought together numerous partners with one focus and also provided ownership, awareness, and an understanding of the importance of stormwater management.
Founded in 1987, Greater Newark Conservancy strives to improve the quality of life in New Jersey's urban areas. Our four interconnected programs – Environmental Education, Community Beautification, Job Training and Environmental Justice Advocacy – foster a love for and knowledge of our natural world for thousands of urban residents each year. The Outdoor Learning Center is our main program site and was selected by the NJDEP's Green Acres program as one of their "Success Stories" (see http://www.state.nj.us/dep/greenacres/success_images/newark.html). Since the OLC opened in spring of 2004, we have taught over 12,000 urban children about environmental issues ranging from the protection of green spaces and conservation of water to healthy eating and proper nutrition.
The goal of the Outdoor Learning Center is to be an education space for urban residents of all ages. Homeowners and community gardeners can visit the Outdoor Learning Center to see what they could do in their gardens to promote wildlife, conserve green space and sustainable alternatives to common gardening practices. Youth can visit our garden as part of a school field trip, scout troop, church group or summer camps to learn about the importance of protecting and creating green spaces in their urban cities.
Some of our most popular demonstrations are our five 88-gallon rain barrels and our two teaching stations with green roofs. We use these to teach homeowners and students about water - conservation, where the water ends up, and pollution. We have installed 2 native plant Rain Gardens in this 1.5 acre site. These rain gardens collect water from the roof of the teaching stations and show visitors how, in their own backyard, they can divert downspouts to water a beautiful garden that improves local water quality while creating a beautiful natural area to attract birds and butterflies. These lessons will reinforce the concept that rain gardens are an important way to make our cities more attractive places to live and will build urban ecological health.