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Students revitalize rain garden in Solon Springs

Solon Springs students and community members expanded the village rain garden on Tuesday, June 7.

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Solon Springs students and community members plant a new rain garden behind the old village hall on Tuesday, June 7. The project, intended to protect the watershed and curb erosion, included expanding a 10-year-old rain garden and adding living plants to a nearby retaining wall behind the Little Gift House.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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SOLON SPRINGS — A rain garden expansion took shape behind the old village hall in Solon Springs Tuesday, June 7.

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Solon Springs students Lily Garland, left and Miles Hoyt, right, dig a hole for native plants in an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Students enrolled in the Solon Springs Eagles Academy, a project-based learning charter school, dug into the work of placing native plants throughout the newly-formed basin.

“It’s really fun. The sun’s a little warm, though,” said Lily Garland, 14.

In addition to being cool, said her classmate Miles Hoyt, the planting project served as a teaser to the kind of work they’ll be doing next year in Eagles Academy.

When it's completed, the space will be filled with water-soaking plants, about one every 11 inches.

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“I can’t wait to see it in a few years,” Garland said.

Elli Tyson, 11, brought additional flats of plants to the students and watered them, stopping to write plant names on flags. She could have been on a field trip with her class, but chose to spend the day in the garden.

“I kind of want to plant more and help the community more than I want to do the fun field trips. I like planting a lot, and I like helping out the community a lot,” Tyson said.

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Eagles Academy student Elli Tyson, 11, waters plants in a new, expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in the village of Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

For these Eagles Academy students, it’s the entry point for research on the local watershed and how local actions have a ripple effect in the community.

“Right now, for them, it’s just planting a rain garden,” said Eagles Academy coordinator Brittany Hagar. “I hope to use this as a bigger learning project next year.”

The initial rain garden was planted behind the village hall in 2012 by Solon Springs science teacher Joanne Zosel and her students. The new project more than doubles the size of the original garden and extends it along the edge of the parking lot. The area has been designated as an area of critical concern because all the water from Main Street rushes down the sloped parking lot to Park Creek, Hagar said.

Funded largely through Douglas County grants, the rain garden expansion includes creating a living retaining wall behind the Little Gift House and a 10-year conservation plan. Students will take stock of plants in the fall and spring to check what survived. They will eventually collect seeds on site so they can replant any species that die off.

“We’re hoping to foster that learning and activity in this space through the students so that as they mature through school, they are part of the project each step of the way,” said Nell Rae Forrest, president of the nonprofit Solon Springs Forward, which leases the village hall. “And having them become champions of their watershed. As an upstream neighbor to Lake St. Croix, we really have an important job here to protect the waterway.”

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Forrest, who is also a co-owner of the Little Gift House, spearheaded the rain garden expansion project after seeing the erosion damage that was caused by flood waters in 2016. She applied for grants through the Douglas County Land & Water Conservation Program and connected with Eagles Academy.

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Nell Rae Forrest, president of Solon Springs Forward, fills a bucket with dirt to be used for an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

“She always finds a way to get things moving in the right direction for our community. And so we are really thankful to have her and the Little Gift House as partners and to invite us to be a part of this project because this is a very impactful project for our watershed,” Hagar said.

"It was definitely something that needed to happen," said Ashley Vande Voort with the Douglas County Land Conservation Department.

She said in past water would wash down from Main Street and straight off the end of the parking lot, leading to washouts. Vande Voort is hopeful that the expansion will bring water into the rain garden so it has a chance to infiltrate and not keep washing out the area.

The plants include everything from wild geranium and common milkweed to poverty oat grass and spotted bee balm. They may not be as bright and colorful as traditional garden plants, Tyson said, but they serve a purpose.

"They'll soak up more of the rain and keep it underground more than keeping it above ground and making trenches, " the 11-year-old said.

Because of the sandy soil in Solon Springs, the plants also needed to be able to tolerate dry conditions, as well as short periods of wet.

Forrest has future plans for the site, which include adding a compost facility and bringing in experts from local greenhouses and nurseries to offer programs on native plant species. Solon Springs Forward has also entered into conversations with village leaders about possibly purchasing the old village hall.

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The nonprofit accepts donations through its website, solonspringsforward.org , or by check to P.O. Box 391, Solon Springs, WI, 54873.

Applications are still being accepted for Eagles Academy, which serves students in middle and high school. Visit the Eagles Academy website for more information.

Rain garden tutorial

Vande Voort said it's a good time of year to think about installing a rain garden. She offered some advice on how to pick a spot.

"A lot of people want to put them where they’re already holding water, and that’s not the ideal spot," Vande Voort said. "You want to put it where it’s actually going to drain water. So somewhere near a downspout, something like that, where you create a depression."

There are a lot of factors that go into picking the right spot.

"You don't want it near your septic, don’t want it right next to your well, but a nice level area where you can make a depression and a little bit of a berm on the downward side … not on a steep slope," Vande Voort said.

For more information on how to install a rain garden or a listing of nurseries that provide native plants, contact Vande Voort at 715-395-1266 or ashley.vandevoort@douglascountywi.org.

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Eagles Academy student Serena Smith, 13, digs through a rocky patch while planting native plants in the expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Solon Springs student Blake Voynich, 12, adds plants to an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Solon Springs student Elli Tyson, 11, writes plant names on flags on the back steps of the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7. The flags will be used in an expanded rain garden behind the hall to mark native plants that students will monitor over the years.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Students and community members work on an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Solon Springs student Elli Tyson, 11, brings a pack of native plants to fellow students so they can be planted in an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Wild geranium plants sit behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7. They were added to an expanded rain garden by students and community members.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Left to right, Solon Springs students Lily Garland and Miles Hoyt plant native plants with Ashley Vande Voort, a Douglas County land conservationist, in an expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Solon Springs student Gretchyn Hackensmith, 14, sets a native plant into the expanded rain garden behind the old village hall in Solon Springs on Tuesday, June 7.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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