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New Environmental Classroom at Camp Agnes Arnold’s Nature Center

We recently added a new classroom to the Nature Center located at Camp Agnes Arnold. But guess what? It’s not a classroom with four walls like you’re used to at school. The environmental classroom we created for you is outdoors and includes a rain garden and bioswale. Rain gardens and bioswales are landscaping features designed to collect rain runoff from roofs, walkways, patios, driveways or other hard surfaces. Every time it rains, water runs off these surfaces causing erosion and collecting pollutants such as particles of dirt, fertilizer, chemicals, oil, garbage and bacteria along the way. Often this water enters storm drains untreated and flows directly to nearby streams and ponds. This runoff can also cause flooding and reduces our groundwater. The water you drink most likely comes from groundwater found below the earth’s surface. When water soaks into the soil it undergoes a process known as infiltration. As water moves between the soil and rocks, some of the water is soaked up by roots to help plants grow. The rest of the water keeps moving down into the soil to a level that is filled with water called groundwater. Large areas of groundwater below the surface are called aquifers. It’s important to know that groundwater moves outward also and supplies water to our rivers, lakes and streams. Did you know that groundwater supplies drinking water for 51 percent of the total U.S. population and 99 percent of the rural population? Groundwater helps grow our food. Sixty-four percent of groundwater is used for irrigation to grow crops. Groundwater is an important component in many industrial processes that produce metals, wood and paper products, chemicals, gasoline and oils. The Nature Center’s rain garden collects rainwater that flows off the roof, walkway and falls from the sky. Rain gardens effectively remove up to 90 percent of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80 percent of sediments from the rainwater runoff. Compared to your lawn, rain gardens allow for 30 percent more water to soak into the ground. Soil preparation is important in establishing a rain garden. A good soil mixture consists of 50-60 percent sand, 20-30 percent compost and 20-30 percent topsoil. A rain garden is not a water garden, a pond or a wetland. In fact, a rain garden is dry most of the time and typically holds water only during and following a rainfall event. Because rain gardens usually drain within 12-48 hours they prevent the breeding of mosquitoes. We planted native plants along a bioswale that collects the rain and water runoff. You’ve probably seen a bioswale in your neighborhood or maybe even in your own backyard. A bioswale is a small ditch or trough with gently sloped sides and filled with plants, providing a path for water to run through slowly. Our bioswale is lined with river rocks to allow water to move directly into the ground. We installed two drains in the bioswale to help move large amounts of water during heavy rainfalls and a four-inch perforated pipe that runs toward Shadow Lake. Water flowing through this pipe helps keep the lawn between the Nature Center and lake healthy and green. Good plants for a bioswale include hardy, native shrubs, plants and grasses that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions. Bioswale plants must tolerate standing water, but also need to thrive when the water dries up. A bioswale has several growing “zones” with different needs. The center, and deepest, part of the bioswale loves plants that love moisture. The middle of the sloping sides prefers wet to dry plants, while the upper part of the bioswale likes drier types of vegetation. Another important fact about plants in general is their root system filters water and aids in absorbing pollutants. Native plants that grow naturally or have existed for many years in this area are great choices for bioswales because they love the local climate and soil. Once they are planted and established, they don’t need extra water or fertilizer. Many native plants are deep rooted, so they can survive droughts when little to no water is available. The best reason to have native plants is they provide habitat and food for native wildlife. We chose to plant Texas lantana, blue plumbago, Texas sage, Mexican heather and Mondo grass in the rain garden. Texas lantana and Texas sage are drought and deer resistant. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love these flowers. Hummingbirds also love Mexican heather. All this wildlife including birds are important pollinators. We invite you to visit this new environmental classroom while you’re at camp. Now that you’ve learned more about rain gardens and bioswales, look around your neighborhood and you’ll be amazed how many you see.

Around Camp

Nature Trivia

What do Queen of Hearts, King of Hearts, Jack of Hearts, Millionaire, Crimson, Trio and Nova have in common? Want more guesses? How about Charleston Gray, Black Diamond, Jubilee, Allsweet and Crimson Sweet? Okay, last hint: Desert King, Tendergold, Yellow Baby and Yellow Doll? The first seven are seedless watermelons that were created in the 1990s for those of you who don’t think spitting melon seed is fun. Seedless watermelons have tiny underdeveloped seeds, despite the name, which are easily consumed. The melons usually weigh from 10 - 20 pounds and mature in about 85 days. The next set of five watermelons are the Picnic type and tend to be larger, from 16 - 45 pounds or more, perfect for a picnic gathering. These are the traditional oblong or round melons with a green rind and sweet, red flesh – which mature at around 85 days or so. And, the last set of five watermelons are yellow/orange fleshed watermelon plant varieties, which are typically round and can be both seedless and seeded. This variety matures in about 75 days. Here’s a question for next time: Since we’ve been learning about rain gardens, bioswales and groundwater, how many aquifers have been the primary source of water for the Houston-Galveston region since the early 1900s?

34 July/August 2019 l The Golden Link

Profile for GSSJC

The Golden Link - July/August 2019  

Activities and news stories about Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council

The Golden Link - July/August 2019  

Activities and news stories about Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council

Profile for gssjc