Ruth Steele-Walker, Advanced Master Gardener
Area Master Gardeners helped educate a group of about 40 community volunteers from the Montessori School “The Children’s House” at an October 20 clean-up of the rain gardens located throughout the Village of Suttons Bay.
The event gave those in attendance an opportunity to learn from MSU Extension Master Gardeners, who moved among the gardens offering weed identification, garden maintenance guidance and education on the many environmental benefits of rain gardens. In addition, participants learned about the importance of flowering plants and native grasses for providing soil retention, support for pollinator populations, as well as food and habitat for songbirds.
The rain gardens were established in Suttons Bay in 2013 to help eliminate direct runoff from the village’s storm water system into Grand Traverse Bay. Each year the village has 15-20 volunteers who are trained to and regularly care for the rain gardens.
Before this year’s fall clean-up and mulching began, volunteers from The Children’s House and the volunteer garden caretakers were treated to an educational presentation by Suttons Bay Village Manager Wally Delamater. The presentation highlighted the history of the rain garden project and use of Michigan native plants.
While the ability to do a water quality testing follow-up has been hampered by budget constraints, since the gardens were installed Suttons Bay officials have seen noticeable changes in the water at the storm drains that empty into the bay. Prior to the gardens’ installation plumes of debris and pollutant-filled run-off used to be seen entering the bay off the village’s marina park beach.
In the photo taken in 2011 prior to installing the gardens, you can see a black plume spreading into the swimming area from the first flush of storm water. Since the installation of the rain gardens and storm drain improvements there has not been a reoccurrence of those plumes, reports Delamater. “In fact,” he says, “during routine storm events no storm water entering the system reaches the bay.”
So, not only are the gardens a beautiful additions to Suttons Bay’s downtown, they’re having a significant effect on the quality of the bay. Thank you to all the volunteers who have helped to make this project such a success!
Sidebar: Computer modeling done by The Watershed Center estimates that the rain gardens annually prevent one ton of sediment, six pounds of phosphorus and 42 pounds of nitrogen from entering Grand Traverse Bay.
To learn more about the Suttons Bay storm water project and rain gardens you can visit https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/5-Uren-Suttons_Bay_Rain_Gardens_491828_7.pdf