Re-created native habitat replaces lawn, reduces CO2, prevents runoff

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 3.45.14 PM2014 Cool Congregations Challenge Winner

St. Peter’s United Church of Christ
Carmel, IN
Faith tradition: United Church of Christ

Cost Savings: $2,000 annual savings
CO2 Reduction: 3.7 metric tons CO2 per year

St. Peter’s UCC has approximately 2.5 acres of ground surrounding the church building, much of it having been planted in turf years ago. The turf area has not been used frequently either by the church nor the surrounding community. Some years ago the church established, and currently maintains, a Peace Garden where vegetables are grown for local food banks, but most of the land remained in turf. The property has a dry detention basin created by the city of Carmel as part of its storm drainage system that is adjacent to a major limited access road. The parking lot for the church also created a runoff area that caused erosion and pooling of water both in the lot area and in an adjacent turf area near the church building. Several individuals with a shared passion for improving the landscaping by using native plantings came together in the fall of 2013 to consider ways to better manage the perennial water runoff problem while at the same time creating a more sustainable environment and native habitat.

A comprehensive plan that included specific site development and plants to be used was developed by Dr. David Benson, member of the church and Professor at Marian University, along with several other members of the church. A committee was formed to bring the plan to the congregation and, after approval by the church members, was charged with its implementation. The plan envisioned two rain gardens and a bioswale, along with a watershed area planted with trees and shrubs and a prairie, covering approximately two acres of ground. The plan called for more than 6,000 plant plugs, 2 acres of prairie and wetland seed mix, and 60 native trees and shrubs as part of the watershed and management system. In the spring of 2014 the project became a reality. Once established, native sedges, grasses and wildflowers will help reduce contaminated water reaching the White River by filtering the water as it passes through the church property and into the storm drain system, as well as keeping the flow more manageable during our prolific rains.

Two existing runoff areas, including a detention pond, were graded for planting of the 6,000+ plugs of sedges, grasses and wild flowers. Volunteers from the congregation and outside community spent over 300 hours planting and caring for the gardens and bioswale in the spring and summer 2014. In the fall 2014 trees and shrubs were planted according to our master plan and, again, volunteers assisted by planting, staking and mulching. A prairie area will also be seeded before the end of the year 2014. To date, the rain gardens and bioswale are already lush with plants and have made a significant difference in the runoff. Along with volunteer time and donations from the congregation, various grants and outside support have helped make this possible.

The primary concerns of the congregation were to lessen our carbon footprint, to manage runoff more effectively, to provide educational opportunities for our preschool program and general community and to provide an area for a variety of activities and functions for the church and wider community. Many in the congregation were particularly pleased that we were going to become better stewards of our property and would be participating in actually doing something concrete to mitigate the effects of our generally careless and destructive approach to the environment. As the plants grew during the summer months, the sheer beauty of what we were establishing had its impact on the church and broader community. We’ve also had several opportunities to share our project with various groups. As people see what we are doing and learn more about the benefits of the project, they become increasingly interested and excited about the possibilities. The church anticipates becoming a leader in educating the community about the benefits of creating and developing more sustainable environments and will actively encourage others to consider similar plans.

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