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‘Rain Garden’ approach to stormwater management wins 2020 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

Honor Issued to Mountain Lakes Project Created by Whippany River Watershed Action Committee and Garden Magic LLC

MOUNTAIN LAKES, NJ (Morris County) – A woodlands restoration project, combined with what is known as a “rain garden” stormwater management solution to prevent erosion, pollution and habitat destruction in Mountain Lakes was honored with a 2020 Governors Environmental Excellence Award today in the category of Healthy Ecosystems & Habitats.

The advanced “rain garden” concept, installed along a steep embankment on West Shore Road, improves water quality and enhances biodiversity by applying natural systems to reduce the negative impacts of stormwater runoff. The project was created by the Whippany River Watershed Action Committee and Garden Magic LLC, and it redirected rapidly flowing rainwater rushing off a Birchwood Lake parking lot every time it rained.

The design allows the water to be captured in a natural basin, and by reconstructing the natural terrain in that location, water now is free to filter into the ground instead of rushing over the embankment, eroding the steep terrain and washing pollutants into the adjacent Crystal Lake.

“Whippany River Watershed Action Committee (WRWAC) and Garden Magic LLC have won this award by creating the Birchwood Woodland Restoration Rain Garden. WRWAC and Garden Magic have served the Mountain Lakes area by creating a rain garden that combines woodland restorations practices with advance rain garden concepts within a single rain garden project,” said David Zimmer, Executive Director of the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, who presided over the virtual award ceremony today on a YouTube feed.

The concept behind a woodland restoration rain garden involves properly managing the ability of a natural area to soak up and filter rain water, while additionally preserving natural habitat, removing invasive plant species, restoring the growth of native plants and minimizing tree root disruption through soil management. Proper management  of stormwater run-off prevents chemicals and nutrients from rushing into lakes and streams, damaging the ecosystem, while also preventing the rushing water from destroying forested areas adjacent to developments.

“This is a tremendous honor being recognized with the most prestigious environmental award in the New Jersey. This rain garden drains approximately 9,000 square feet of pavement and the primary basin is designed to handle a 1.25 inch rainfall over a 2 hour period. During construction it withstood two tropical storms,” states Len Cipkins, 2020 Chair of the Whippany River Watershed Action Committee. “Our organization has installed many rain gardens throughout the watershed to manage stormwater runoff and ultimately recharge underground aquifers.”

After 12 years with WRWAC, Cipkins retired in October. He said the project began just as the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns in New Jersey, but everyone involved remained committed and saw the project through fruition.

The project was made possible with funding, support and assistance by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Borough of Mountain Lakes, the Environmental Commission of Mountain lakes, the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, Menard Construction, the Mountain Lakes High School Environmental Club and the Mountain Lakes Boy Scouts Troop 41.

“This is much more than a basic rain garden. It incorporates Next Generation Rain Garden design principles, addressing all aspects of function, appearance and maintenance,” said Brian Marshall of Garden Magic, LLC, who designed and installed the rain garden.

According to WRWAC, more than 125 native plant species may be found in the rain garden.

Responsibility for maintenance of the Birchwood Lake rain garden has been assigned to members of the Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission and the Mountain Lakes High School Environmental Club. A rain garden maintenance schedule and inspection checklist was created by Garden Magic LLC to instruct and guide.

The Whippany River Watershed Action Committee is a non-profit, grassroots organization based in Morris County, representing thirteen municipal governments, the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and other stakeholders. For more information, click here.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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