Prairie students learning a lot in pursuing rain garden project

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This is the area near the Performing Arts Center that will become the first rain garden at Prairie du Chien High School. (Photos by Ted Pennekamp)

Gavin Knapp and Collin Kober stand next to the ebb and flow tank in the high school greenhouse that will be used to grow some of the plants for the rain garden.


By Ted Pennekamp


Teacher Diane Colburn gave a presentation to the Prairie du Chien School Board Monday night saying that the rain garden project at the high school is proceeding nicely and she continues to seek funding.

Colburn said the 12 students in her Forestry Wildlife Conservation Management Class have been working on the project and are eager to help make the school grounds look better by having rain gardens take the place of eye sores at various locations around the school.

Colburn said her students attended a Master Gardener meeting in Prairie du Chien, and the Master Gardeners have given excellent support, advice and seeds to help with the first rain garden, which the students hope to plant this spring at a drainage area near the south parking lot and behind the Performing Arts Center.

Colburn said Carl Perkins funding has been secured for the growing of seeds in the greenhouse and there are other sources of funding being looked into, including potential FFA service grants.

The Master Gardeners gave the students several types of seeds for the project, including agastache, purple cone flower, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed, which are all native plants of this region and are also good for water absorption and for pollinators.

“Pollinators love them, and they make an area look nice,” said Colburn, who noted rain gardens not only help to make an unsightly drainage area look good, they soak up a lot of water to help prevent erosion, reduce runoff onto the nearby roads, help get water into the groundwater, and can be used as an outdoor “lab” for various science and ag related courses at the high school. They can also help to reduce the amount of pesticides applied to the various drainage areas on school grounds.

“My goal is to have it (the first rain garden) done by the time I graduate,” said Gavin Knapp, a junior in the Forestry Wildlife Conservation Management course. “I will also come and help after I graduate. We need to do what we can for our school.”

“We need to help make our school look better,” said senior Collin Kober, who noted that rain gardens can also make nearby roads last longer. He pointed out that a road near a drainage area to the west of the fieldhouse is already starting to crack due to runoff. Kober also said there is a lot of salt that washes into a ravine to the south of the south parking lot, which produces poor nutrition for grass in that area. “We need to use salt resistant plants in that area,” he said.

Colburn said her students have already gained a lot of knowledge in working on the rain garden project. They had to put a proposal and presentation together and speak to the Board of Education during a meeting in October. They interacted with the Master Gardeners and contacted Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester and Prairie du Chien Public Works Director Dan Titlbach for input. The students also gain the experience of dealing with the frustrations and setbacks that can occur when pursuing any project.

“They are finding out what it takes to get something done,” said Colburn. “They are also taking on citizen leadership by doing something that makes a difference rather than just sitting back.”

Colburn said she and her students are gaining knowledge in engineering and are striving to get a cost estimate for their initial rain garden. She said the high school and the Performing Arts Center have a lot of roof area and Dan Titlbach will help them to find out how much rain water flows into the drainage area that they will be working on.

“We need to find out how much water we’re dealing with,” she said. In turn, they will then get a better grasp on how much rock will be needed to fill the bottom of the rain garden. Ideally, a weed barrier is laid down first and then the rock added. The rain garden plants are then grown and will help greatly in holding the soil in place.

Colburn said Donna Teynor of the Master Gardeners advised that the rain garden should be given at least five years to become well established. It is hoped that eventually, there will be 31,758 square feet of rain gardens at various spots around the high school.

“It will become self perpetuating and we can collect seeds from the garden to help produce other rain gardens,” said Colburn, who noted that summer school students can help and, possibly students in the Master Gardeners’ Kids in the Garden Program.

“There’s lots of potential,” she said.

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