MOUNTAIN LAKES — A rain garden project at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church designed to ease flooding, soil erosion, and polluting runoff, has been honored with a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award at a ceremony today at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.
Brian and Susan Marshall of Mountain Lakes, who are the owners of Garden Magic garden design company, received one of just 10 statewide awards presented by state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe for their “Next Generation Rain Garden.’’
The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards, which are the state’s premier environmental honors, recognizes outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects that offer significant contributions to environmental protection in New Jersey.
“We offer congratulations to Brian and Susan Marshall and the project team at St. Peter’s for this remarkable project,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Stephen Shaw, who attended the awards ceremony. “On behalf of all county residents, the Board of Freeholders commends them for their commitment to their church, community and the environment.’’
“This is a great example of the excellent environmental work done by so many of our county residents, who treasure and respect our natural spaces,’’ added Freeholder Director Doug Cabana.
The DEP considered more than 50 applications for this year’s awards. A panel of judges reviewed and scored the nominations on criteria including documented environmental benefit, contributions to meeting the state’s environment needs, replicability by others, leadership and innovation, and education and outreach undertaken as part of the effort.
Brian Marshall said he applied for the state award after seeing a message in August from the Freeholder Board, encouraging county residents to participate in the statewide contest.
He explained that the St. Peter’s rain garden is a landscaping solution to manage the negative impacts of stormwater runoff – flooding, erosion, and contamination of water resources.
Prior to installing the rain garden, during heavy rains runoff from the church and rectory roofs, driveway, and hill behind the church would cascade down the hill, running so hard it would many times jump the storm drain and carry eroded sediment and various pollutants down to The Boulevard and eventually into Mountain Lake.
Also, the water was eroding the soil and undermining tree root systems, and caused church basement flooding.
Marshall, a gardener and water resources engineer, said planning for the project began in late 2018, but not before he called on other experts from Rutgers University, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service, and the Whippany River Watershed Action Committee to take a look at the site.
A final layout for the rain garden was ready by early 2019, planting of native plants occurred in the spring, and the rain garden was completed in the summer.
The St. Peter’s Church rain garden consists of a rock-lined berm, a shallow stormwater basin, and a new garden planted with native shrubs and perennials. The basin slows the flow of water as it starts to race down the hill, easing erosion and downstream flooding.
Water caught in the basin infiltrates the ground over several hours, recharging groundwater and filtering out pollutants. The native plants in the rain garden keep the soil porous, soak up some water, and remove some of the chemical impurities from the runoff.
“From the beginning, it has been a huge success,’’ said Brian Marshall, who noted that a side benefit of the project has been to attracting birds, butterflies and other creatures to the garden, which has become a natural learning center for young students attending the Academy for Children pre-school housed at St. Peter’s.