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Greening Parks with Rain Garden and Bio-Swales

By Michelle Kelly, RLA, CPSI

IS THERE A WAY TO MAKE YOUR PARKS MORE GREEN? Parks have been going green for as long as there have been parks. Addressing a communities open space needs while creating large areas of non-paved surface and even habitat for animals and plants is an asset to parks and people. But can Parks and Recreation agencies expand the contribution to the community and earth with the way we design and manage parks? This article explores the way rain gardens and bio-swales can be used to improve a parks environmental foot print. swale purpose is to filtrate, slow-down, cool and cleanse run-off water. BENEFIT: Bio-swales cleanse and slow run-off water directing the water to another location. Definition: Rain gardens collect run-off water with a flat, low area that is vegetated with specific plants chosen for their ability to tolerate excess water and for their ability to use the water and in some cases remove contaminants. Rain gardens minimize the negative impacts of excessive run-off from nearby impervious surfaces on local water bodies and storm water systems by encouraging infiltration. BENEFIT: Rain Gardens cleanse and encourage infiltration of run-off relieving stormwater systems or nearby water ways. The bottom line is that rain gardens are flat to provide large areas of infiltration whereas bioswales are sloped to slow and move water from one point to another.



First, lets identify the difference between rain gardens and bio-swales. Both of these provide locations for native and non-native plant species to improve the aesthetic of a park, clean storm water run-off, and encourage silt to stay on site, rather than entering the storm water system or pollute local creeks and rivers. But with all that, they each have a different role in greening our parks. Definition: Bio-swales are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water while directing the water. They consist of a shallow, linear drainage course with gently sloped sides. Bio-swales are typically planted with native grass and forbs, but can also use stone as part of the drainage way. The bio-


RAIN GARDENS: Parking Lot Drainage -A widely used location of both bio-swales and rain gardens is adjacent to paved parking lots. As water sheets off a parking lot, or is captured in catch basins and directed through pipes, a perfect location for that water is directly into bio-swales and into rain gardens. Copyright 2009 Upland Design LTD

Tennis Courts and Basketball Courts -With the large pavement requirements for basketball courts and tennis courts, this is a perfect location for a bioswale. The areas adjacent to tennis and basketball courts direct the water to drain off and swale away to improve long term pavement quality. A bioswale adjacent to courts can be used to slow the water down, encourage infiltration, as well as improve plant diversity and habitat in a park. It is important to note that in no way should water be allowed to back up as it comes off the courts. This could create long term maintenance issues for your pavement. Water moving off the courts is essential. Detention Ponds The current stormwater ordinances in the Chicago metropolitan area require the use of detention or retention ponds for new and many redeveloped parks sites. This becomes an opportunity to create bio-swales to

a 1.7 acre garden site with passive recreation. The site needed a small amount of detention which was created with a rain garden area. The rain garden consists of native and non-native plants that fit the ornamental nature of the park. Riverview Farmstead: The Forest Preserve District of Will County used a bio-swale to clean run-off from a new parking lot located at the Riverview Farmstead. The site is both an historic farm and a site along the DuPage River. To help protect the natural resources, the new parking lot is drained to a bio-swale planted with native plants and lined with stones. The water has a chance to be cleansed and infiltrate into the ground. Water that leaves the bio-swale to enter the river moves at a much slower pace and a reduced volume. Spring Lake Park - Fox Valley Park District recently renovated the Spring Lake Park in Aurora, Illinois with many green amenities. A 70-car permeable paving parking lot has been added with two rain gardens. Each rain garden allows water to infiltrate, cleanse the water and slow it down. This benefits not only the water quality in the park, but habitat downstream as the 20-acre on-site detention is part of the Waubonsee Creek. The final result adds both aesthetically pleasing rain gardens and the opportunity to educate the public on green technology. Interpretive signs add the final component of sharing the story of permeable paving and rain gardens with park visitors.

direct water to these ponds in place of catch basins and piping. Many sites can be enhanced by adding these natural water movement systems. Where possible, create rain gardens to enhance the on-site stormwater system prior to entering detention areas or create detention areas that act as rain gardens.




Sandholm Woods: At Sandholm Woods, Upland Design assisted the Geneva Park District in creating

environmental footprint is a great way to showcase green leadership in our communities. By adding bio-swales and rain gardens to our park development, we can enhance sites aesthetic, improve water quality, reduce pollution into our streams and lakes, and create a learning element that enhance park visitors' experience.

Upland Design LTD. staff of landscape architects develops and renovates forest preserves, community parks and public open spaces to compliment each site and meet client expectations. We believe that incorporating green practices into all aspects of park planning makes a better world and enhances the quality of life. Through our work, we strive to create great places for people to play where communities can find value in open spaces and natural areas. For more information see our web site at:

Copyright 2009 Upland Design LTD