South Orange rain park is big help during these wet weeks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange duck pond is surrounded by mounds of green vegetation that will soon bloom into a variety of plants — Queen Anne’s lace, coneflowers, lobelias and achillea are all part of the stormwater management project installed in fall 2017. The system, an alternative to a sump pump, uses native plants to catch and filter rainwater in an effort to keep the pond clean and flooding in the park to a minimum. It was made possible by a $10,000 grant from New Jersey American Water and designed by landscape designer Neil Chambers.

“The roots of those plants catch the water,” Chambers, a South Orange resident, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 2. “The ones we selected have root systems that will aerate the dirt. Water can filter down and go deeper than it normally would, so there’s more water per cubic foot. That allows more water to be contained.”

Chambers said the area in Meadowland Park containing the rain park was ideal because of the slope of the land. When there is an excessive amount of rain, the plants will slow the water and hold onto it in their root systems, preventing flooding.

“It acts as a catch, and that’s important to slow the water down,” he said. “And it’s surrounded by roads, so water would keep moving across the land. Lawn grass doesn’t have the retention that longer grasses do; it doesn’t filter out a lot. That water is then cleaner, and helps sediment the pond and keep it cleaner.”

The rain park has come in handy this summer. New Jersey was soaked in July, with 5.84 inches of rain falling in Newark since July 15, according to AccuWeather. The average precipitation in Newark in July is 4.72 inches, according to U.S. Climate Data.

“The roots catch the water, and the stormwater management has been working well,” Chambers said.

“I wish we had installed this many years ago,” South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 1. “The wildflowers will help when they’re established and we’ll reseed in the fall. The mound shapes are there to help catch that water, and it has been catching stuff coming off the hillside.”

Clarke, the South Orange Village Board of Trustees liaison to the South Orange Environmental Commission, said that the rain park fits into other projects the commission has completed around town.

“It’s a project that people can see and take advantage of,” Clarke said. “Things ties together in a larger vision, and it’s an aesthetically pleasing way to help as well.”

Chambers also said that the rain park saves water, because the landscaping and plants do not require a high level of maintenance. Eventually, he said, the wildlife in the park will be attracted to them and will increase.

“They don’t need to be irrigated,” he said of the plants. “So they can grow in the summer from seeds and that saves water,” he said. “It also increases the biodiversity of the area — different species of birds and insects will be introduced to the area, so the environment will be changed. You’ll see them mature and increase the biodiversity and that’s another way to conserve, by bringing nature back to into a smaller space. That’s really encouraging to see.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic