SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — New Jersey American Water announced May 23 that South Orange is one of four communities to receive a 2017 Environmental Grant Program grant. South Orange will receive $10,000 to build a rain park based on the premise of a rain garden that will capture stormwater runoff that normally flows directly into the East Branch of the Rahway River. Rain parks use native plants, infiltration and innovative design to reduce large amounts of rainwater, and to create play spaces for children, relaxing destinations for friends and examples of sustainability.
“The rain park idea came out of our Environmental Commission and Green Team, specifically Neil Chambers, who is a landscape architect, in coordination with the Recreation and Public Works departments,” Trustee Walter Clarke told the News-Record last week via email. “The town did have to apply for the grant though New Jersey American Water, and we were grateful to win it.
“The idea of rain park is that it has all the stormwater management benefits of a rain garden but it is also specifically meant to be an active place occupied by the public, as opposed to a garden, which is really just to be observed. This makes it a sustainability two-for-one win because you are helping to manage stormwater runoff without losing — perhaps even enhancing — open space, which is always a concern in our densely settled, first ring suburb.”
According to Clarke, the village is fortunate to have Chambers, a South Orange resident with experience in creating such spaces, which he helped do recently at the South Mountain Annex School. Chambers, who is providing his services free of charge, will use the NJAW grant to create a 15-by-55-foot space; Clarke pointed out that although the space is compact, the numbers show that it will be an effective use of the area, using “native plants, organic soil amendments, reclaimed items and locally sourced materials.”
“The location was chosen because the high pedestrian and bike traffic flow around the pool entrance will expose many people to the idea of a rain park and give many access to take advantage of it,” Clarke said. “The design is still in the planning stages but we hope to have the finished park installed by late August/early September, so there is a some chance that pool-goers may get to enjoy it this year.”
And Chambers expressed great enthusiasm for the project, which he thinks will help keep South Orange sustainable, modern and enjoyable.
“We believe that rain parks are the next generation of urban stormwater management that creates unique, beautiful natural spaces in cities and suburbs,” Chambers wrote in a blog, which he sent to the News-Record. “In densely developed areas, there’s a shortage of large open spaces (where) big green infrastructure projects can be constructed. At the same time, city dwellers need and want outdoor amenities that connect them to nature. Our concept sees an opportunity to do both in small pockets through the existing fabric of urbanscapes.”
According to Clarke, the rain park is just the next step in a long migration the village is undertaking to move forward in a sustainable manner that is appropriate for South Orange.
“Partnering with New Jersey American Water has given the village not just a willing partner in water system management but also a partner interested in developing roots within our community,” Clarke said. “NJAW was also at River Day because they recognize that link between water quality and a public who appreciates and protects it. I’m very proud of our Environmental Commission for developing this project and grateful to NJAW, who shares our commitment to community and sustainability, for helping to carry it forward.”
And NJAW is similarly pleased with the partnership, acknowledging that South Orange won the grant because of the town’s continued dedication to sustainability and smart management of resources.
“Our goal for the environmental grant program is to help improve, restore and protect our valuable natural resources through partnerships,” NJAW Director of Water Quality and Environmental Compliance Anthony Matarazzo told the News-Record last week via email. “We applaud South Orange’s commitment to make a difference within the community and to lend the water supply and watershed a helping hand. The rain park is a wonderful project and we look forward to a rewarding partnership.”
In addition to South Orange, Bridgewater’s environmental commission received a $6,500 grant to install a demonstrative native plant garden with a bee-friendly habitat and a bee-friendly water bath at the town’s library; the Manasquan Board Riders Club received a $2,500 grant to establish a year-round project aimed at enhancing environmental awareness and stewardship on keeping beaches, parks, coastal waterways and estuaries litter free; and Stockton University American Association of University Women has been awarded $10,000 to enhance a summer camp course, “Our Water,” located at New Jersey’s only TechTrek Camp.
“Now in its ninth year, our environmental grant program has provided more than $254,000 of needed support for 32 projects to help improve, restore and protect our valuable natural resources through partnerships,” Matarazzo said in a press release. “Each of these organizations has made a commitment to make a difference within the communities we serve and we are proud to support these projects and the people behind them.”
Photos Courtesy of Neil Chambers