Magic Wings Butterfly House | Rain Gardens
As communities in North Carolina grow, buildings and pavement cover more and more of the state. When it rains, these impervious surfaces become stormwater superhighways. Rainwater that once soaked into the ground carries sediment, pesticides, fertilizer and automobile oil into our streams.
Sediment, or dirt, may not seem like a pollutant—it is natural, after all. But sediment carried by stormwater is North Carolina’s number one stream pollutant. It can ruin aquatic ecosystems, wipe out fish and freshwater mussel populations, and increase the chances of flooding.
Six Museum Youth Partners and two Museum staff decided to learn about and address these problems in a project funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Environmental Education Fund. They spent 12 evenings conducting inquiry-based experiments and 12 Saturdays in the field with area scientists and environmental professionals. With this new knowledge the MODELS chose a culminating project: building a rain garden.
A rain garden soaks up stormwater flowing off of an impervious surface, in this case the walkways leading from the Train Station. The MODELS surveyed the walkways to determine the area of impervious surface that would drain into the garden: around 3,300 square feet. A successful rain garden will be about 5% of the total drainage area, in this case 170 square feet. With Durham’s average annual rainfall of forty-three inches, the rain garden could capture approximately 90,000 gallons of stormwater.
The MODELS set criteria for what plants to include in the garden: surviving brief inundations during rainstorms, being suited to local soil and rainfall, attracting and feeding caterpillars or butterflies, and providing a pleasing range of heights, colors and shapes. They decided to plant the garden entirely with native plants and wildflowers, which are adapted to our climate and, most importantly, are part of the region’s intricate web of life.
Next time it rains, throw on your rain jacket, grab the umbrella and take a walk outside around your house. If you don’t mind getting wet, take a stroll around the neighborhood. Observe the water flowing off roofs and over pavement and imagine the rain gardens that could grow there. Each rain garden may seem small, but their benefits are numerous: reduced flooding, beautification, replenishing groundwater, and valuable habitat for birds and beneficial insects. And remember, we all live downstream!