Students at Rice Lake Elementary in Lino Lakes have added a fourth "R" to the fall curriculum:
Before summer vacation started in June, teachers and students at the K-5 school joined with folks from the Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD) and the Anoka Conservation District and built three rain gardens on the school's property.
The school sits right next to Rice Lake. "It's a great location to do it," said Principal Warren Buerkley. "It was exciting for us; we had three grade levels work the project into their curriculum. The teachers got on board with it right away."
Part of the Watershed District's mission is to prevent flooding and enhance water quality. The rain-garden plan arose out of an assessment done to identify cost-effective projects to treat storm-water runoff before it goes into Rice Lake, said Nate Zwonitzer, conservation specialist for the Anoka Conservation District.
The city of Lino Lakes approached the school to gauge interest in making the rain gardens. "We said we'd be happy to with work with them," said Buerkley. "After that the RCWD went out and got grant funding and we all took it from there".
"There was runoff from the parking lots and buildings at Rice Lake Elementary," said Kyle Axtell, water resources specialist with the RCWD. "So the goal is to intercept that runoff as much as we can, and get that water infiltrated into the ground. ... It has to go through the ground to reach the lake".
The three garden locations were picked, a contractor was selected, and the gardens were built, said Zwonitzer. Something that posed a challenge for the rain gardens was ... rain.
The extremely wet spring raised the possibility of the gardens holding water longer than they should, Zwonitzer said. So one garden was made shallower than originally designed.
As for the students, "they all had fun" said Buerkley.
"Some were planting, while some were working in a classroom, some in an outdoor setting, learning about watersheds and wetlands, and how water is purified. It was very hands on," Buerkley said.
Axtell said he was impressed with Rice Lake students and teachers. "They had around 90 students," he said. "It was really just a good day for everyone. The students were learning different things related to the rain gardens, and now the rain gardens will be able to be used in the science curriculum at the school moving forward."
The school, its students and faculty will be responsible for the gardens' maintenance for the next 10 years. Buerkley said that some Boy Scout troops are doing some basic weeding this summer and that, come fall, the students will take over again.
Zwonitzer said the project "was a great example of different government organizations working together to get something done."
Kelly Jo McDonnell is a Twin Cities freelance writer.