All About The Rain Garden Reserve
Cathy Basile, 07-23-2018

Stephen Mulé
Have you ever seen Culver’s Root, sedge, swamp oak, switchgrass, or even blue flag iris? You will when you visit Cuyahoga Falls’ beautiful Rain Garden Reserve, located between 6th and 7th streets near Silver Lake Ave. The reserve is a great example of a practical, environmentally friendly solution to a common problem—though it took a disaster to bring it to fruition.

The Rain Garden Reserve resulted when Cuyahoga Falls was declared a disaster area following two 500-year flood events in 2003 and 2004. Four homes were severely impacted by flooding, with damages exceeding $120,000. In order to devise a long-term solution to this continuous flooding and reduce storm water runoff, the city created the Flood Prevention Initiative to work in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA).

The major goal of the Rain Garden Reserve when it was built was to mitigate flood water—that is, temporarily hold and slowly release excess water rather than attempt other methods of flood prevention. In 2006, FEMA authorized flood buyout funds to acquire the four adjacent properties that now make up the Reserve. The properties were already prone to floods, and creating the Rain Garden would also make the area accessible to the public. Rain garden projects had been approved for residential development in the past, but this was the first one built municipally.

Everything about the rain garden was designed for rapid collection of rainwater and its slow release. Properly designed rain gardens do not hold water for more than 48 hours, so as not to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. To this end, pervious concrete was used for the garden’s walkway, which is also compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This type of concrete is made with specific amounts of aggregates, water, and cement, but it contains no sand. This allows water to penetrate slowly through spaces in the concrete to the ground below. When storm water runoff picks up pollutants such as fertilizer, pesticides, sediment, motor oil, litter, and pet and yard waste, the soil and plants in the rain garden can help trap and filter these pollutants. The 24,000-square foot space running between 6th and 7th streets holds three separate rain gardens and an overflow pipe for use during peak rain events. Overall, this allows the garden to drain more than three acres of water from its lowest point.

A rain garden of this size is quite effective at its goal of flood water mitigation in the community. In fact, on May 12th, 2014, a major storm event dumped four inches of rain on the area within just 45 minutes. Widespread damage was reported across the city, but there was no damage reported in the neighborhood surrounding the rain garden.

The total construction cost for the Rain Garden Reserve, completed in 2008, was approximately $160,000 (not including the purchase of the land) with $107,000 coming from FEMA and $50,000 in donations of cash, resources and materials. Since maintenance of the garden is very low, the most spent per year is only $700 for mulch and the removal of invasive plant species. Cost-effective, low-level solar lighting illuminates the walkway for residents who want to stroll through and admire the different plant species, not to mention birds, rabbits, and other wildlife the reserve attracts.

The unique treasure of the Rain Garden Reserve is an environmentally friendly solution to storm water runoff in its residential setting, and smaller rain gardens may be effective in front and back yards elsewhere around the city as well. Planting a rain garden with perennial flowers can attract butterflies and beautify yard spaces in addition to controlling storm water, which might also help property value. Lots of information for creating a rain garden is available online, but a visit to the Rain Garden Reserve any time of the year is a good place to start, and it just might be an inspiration.

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