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SSC class contributes to rain garden project

HERON LAKE -- Students in Louise Worm's community project class from Southwest Star Concept High School tried to beat out the rain Wednesday afternoon to complete a second rain garden project in Heron Lake in as many years.

Last year, Worm's Greenhouse Management class developed four rain gardens -- three in Okabena and one in Heron Lake -- in a cooperative project with the Heron Lake Watershed District, which provided cost-share assistance. The effort continued this year, thanks to increased interest among private property owners and a high school class that teaches students about community service.

Rain gardens have grown increasingly common in recent years, especially in metropolitan areas where surface runoff commonly results in water ponding. Yet, they can also be a valuable tool in rural communities, where soil erosion is causing lakes and streams to fill with dirt and silt.

Without the rain garden, SSC senior Kevin Luebben said water runoff carries dirt into city sewer drains.

"Eventually, that will get into the lakes and streams and fill up the bottom of the lakes ... just like Heron Lake out here," he added.

Luebben, who has worked with the rain garden projects each of the past two years, said the gardens -- consisting mainly of perennials and shrubs -- can help prevent soil erosion and, at the same time, create a nicely landscaped setting.

"The purpose is not to have runoff run straight in the drain and sewer," Luebben said. "With the rain garden, (the plants) soak up all the water. ... They just want to really clean up the lakes and streams in the watershed in this area."

Worm said the idea is based on the concept that plants stop water flow, taking rain water through natural purification until it enters the water table instead of flowing straight into the storm sewer.

Nearly a dozen students worked on the south edge of Heron Lake Wednesday afternoon, installing a rain garden on private property known as "Da Hunt Shack." The owners, seasonal residents of Heron Lake, wanted to do their part to reduce soil erosion due to runoff coming from the roof of their home.

"When water comes off the roof, you can calculate how much erosion or dirt that can run off and into the drainage system," Worm said. The surface area of the roof is used to determine how large the rain garden should be, she added.

Not just any plants can go into a rain garden. Worm said because they are dependent upon rain, plants in a rain garden must be both water tolerant to handle large amounts of rain, and dry tolerant to withstand the times in between.

For their latest project, students planted shrubs around the south edge of their rain garden and minimal-maintenance perennials throughout the remainder of the space.

The average cost for plants used in a rain garden is about $200. There were 28 plants, including shrubs, planted in the rain garden students developed Wednesday. Worm said plants should be spaced far enough apart to allow ample room to grow and fill in the space.

Last year's projects were completed at the Okabena City Hall, St. John's Lutheran Church in Okabena and private homes in Okabena and Heron Lake.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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