Community Thread mixes raingardens and volunteerism

Volunteers building the raingarden at Community Thread.

Two years ago, Community Thread, a Stillwater area volunteer center that serves 17,000 people each year, was faced with a problem. The grass behind their building on Orleans Street in Stillwater was constantly soggy from rain flowing off the parking lot, making the space unusable and unsightly. Drainage in the area was a concern for the Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD) as well because the Community Thread property sits uphill of a nearby wetland that eventually feeds into Long Lake, a local wildlife mecca surrounded by Stillwater neighborhoods. The popular lake suffers from occasional algae blooms during the summer, in large part due to runoff from parking lots, driveways, roads and  rooftops in the surrounding watershed that sends excess nutrients and sediment into the lake.Early in 2011, Karen Kill, BCWD Administrator, and Valerie Jones, Executive Director for Community Thread, put their heads together and began working on a mutually beneficial solution. Kill suggested some type of raingarden system to capture and clean water from the parking lot that would otherwise carry nutrients and pollutants downstream to Long Lake. Jones immediately recognized the opportunity to improve the aesthetics of their property, and she suggested using their upcoming “Spring into Service” event in May to connect volunteers with the planting project.

The two organizations turned next to Washington Conservation District (WCD) for advice and assistance in designing the raingarden. Tara Kline, a landscape designer with the WCD, put together a design that included a long, wavy planted area with several shallow depressions to slow down the runoff and allow it time to evaporate and soak into the ground. Viewed from above, the garden looks rather like a river of plants with ripples and pools, a fitting design for an area that functions almost like a seasonal stream. Because the project would capture pollutants and help to clean-up Long Lake, BCWD contributed a little over $5000 for installation and planting materials. Meanwhile, Community Thread rounded up a few dozen local volunteers on planting day to roll up their sleeves, get dirty and garden.

Community Thread raingarden and swale, one year after planting.

This May 7, Community Thread and the Brown’s Creek Watershed District will invite area residents to learn more about the 2011 clean water planting project at a special raingarden workshop. During the workshop, participants will learn about raingardens in general – what they are, how they work, and how to plant one – in addition to getting the most recent water quality data for Long Lake, Brown’s Creek and the St. Croix River.Over the past five years, more than 150 Stillwater homeowners and businesses have added raingardens to their existing landscaping. People plant raingardens not only to help protect their local water resources, but also to beautify their yards, attract birds and pollinating insects, and manage drainage issues. In Stillwater, Brown’s Creek Watershed District and the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization offer cost-share grants for raingardens in high priority locations. This year, BCWD is particularly interested in working with people living in the Orleans and Croixwood neighborhoods, both of which drain to Long Lake.

The May 7 Raingarden Workshop will be held at Community Thread (2300 W. Orleans Street). The workshop runs 6-7:30pm and is free. Pre-register at

Call or email me for more information about grants for raingardens in Stillwater.