A Lasting Impression

By Tom Neppl and Peter Biegel

A 2009 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program supports what many have recently experienced--rainfall and flooding are on the rise. There is a clear trend toward heavier precipitation in the U.S. as a whole, and particularly in the Midwest and Northeast.

Since 1958, Midwesterners have experienced a 31-percent increase in the heaviest precipitation events, while those in the Northeast have experienced a staggering 67-percent increase.

If this trend continues, flooding and stormwater-related issues will continue to affect the development, function and outdoor programming of camps.

In addition to the direct effect on camp facilities--the flooding of buildings, play fields and program areas--the future development of camps will certainly be affected as land-use regulations and stormwater-management requirements become increasingly strict.

Therefore, it is essential that camps begin to understand how best to address these issues on their properties today, and plan for them in the future.

The following are ways in which a camp can address stormwater management as well as educate campers.

Importance Of Managing Stormwater
Many camps are situated on or associated with a body of water, which is typically the geographic low point of elevation and thus is the collection point for rainwater and snowmelt that falls on the camp and surrounding areas.

As a natural resource, these bodies of water are a critical asset to the camp’s outdoor program, providing swimming and boating (two of the most popular camp activities), and are likewise an important selling point to prospective campers. Therefore, protection of this resource is critical to a camp’s long-term success.

As rain falls and snow melts and runs across the ground surface, it is referred to as stormwater runoff. This runoff has the potential to pick up and carry along small particles of sediment and phosphorus from bare soil areas, petroleum products and sand or grit from paved drives and parking lots, and fertilizer components from lawn areas and ball fields.

The runoff then carries these impurities to nearby receiving waters, such as a stream, river, pond or lake, thus degrading the quality of the water. Over time, these impurities will destroy fish habitat, create algae blooms, lead to mucky swimming areas, and increase maintenance costs.

To minimize the negative effects, camps should address stormwater runoff as close to the source as possible where they can be more readily treated. Also, a successful stormwater-management program must utilize several small solutions throughout a property, rather than one “catch-all” solution for the entire property.

The following list provides several easy steps camps can take to minimize stormwater runoff concerns:

  • Maintain a tree canopy wherever possible. A tree’s leaves or needles intercept raindrops, and thus prevent heavy rains from pounding the ground surface and washing the vegetation out or eroding the soil.
  • Make sure all ground surfaces are covered with understory vegetation or mulch (bark mulch, wood chips, pine needles, etc.) so there are no bare soil areas. Sloped areas with trails and paths are particularly prone to erosion, and therefore need to be protected.
  • Understory vegetation needs sunlight too, so in heavily wooded areas, selectively remove some trees to allow sunlight to reach the ground. Consult a local forester or conservation agent for assistance on which trees should be removed.
  • Clearly delineate walks and paths, and make them wide enough to serve the campers in order to avoid their trampling--and ultimately killing--the vegetation along the edges.
  • Install permeable pavement to allow stormwater to infiltrate the ground’s surface rather than run off the site.
  • Construct rain gardens, vegetated swales and bio-retention areas to collect and filter the stormwater that runs off roofs, driveways and parking areas. These stormwater-treatment areas can serve as excellent educational tools. They may be planted in a variety of ways from a colorful rain garden to a bio-retention area planted to mimic a native-plant community.
  • Construct stone drip edges along the sides of paved surfaces to slow stormwater as it runs off these surfaces, such as from tennis courts onto the surrounding ground.
  • Diligently perform routine maintenance on areas where stormwater has begun to channelize and erosion has started to occur.
  • Construct stone inlets and outlets on culverts to trap any sediment and dissipate the energy of the stormwater flowing through the pipes, preventing erosion.

Environmental-Education Opportunities
If the camp runs an environmental-education program, consider including lessons on stormwater management in the curriculum. Many resources are available to camps and outdoor centers to promote this idea.

Activities may range from simple lessons that teach campers about water pollution to complex programs that address larger-scale and regional issues. A simple online search for “stormwater education for children” will provide a multitude of possibilities for both indoor and outdoor activities.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Involve campers in the construction or development of a stormwater-management project, such as a rain garden or vegetated swale. This “hands-on” approach will not only give them a sense of ownership in the project, but also will foster a greater awareness of stormwater-management concerns.
  • With the staff’s assistance, have campers draw watershed boundaries on a topographic map of the camp property. Then, lead campers outside to locate these boundaries in the landscape (boundaries can be marked with signs, stakes or stone cairns). An alternative to this approach is to visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Surf Your Watershed” Web site that helps identify the watershed on which the camp is located.
  • Lead campers on a walk along a ridgeline, and talk about the directions rainfall runoff will flow depending on what side of the ridge the rain falls.
  • Go on a rainy-day hike--what better way to observe a watershed than when rainfall runoff is actually flowing along the ground? Point out locations where the camp is dealing with stormwater effectively, such as a rain garden, bioswale or sedimentation basin. Talk with campers about how these systems improve the quality of stormwater runoff. Likewise, lead them to areas where stormwater problems remain, such as an eroding streambank or a wet depression near a camp building, and talk to them about possible solutions (such as a willow/cedar revetment for the streambank or a rain garden near the building).
  • Find a topographic map of the camp’s region that shows the surrounding neighbors’ property, rivers, streams and lakes. Help campers locate the camp on the map, and then identify the neighbors, towns, cities and natural areas located downstream of the camp. Talk with campers about how their actions affect the people and natural areas, and how everyone who lives within a given watershed contributes to the water quality downstream.

Tom Neppl is a landscape architect and owner of Neppl Landscape Architecture and Planning, LLC, an environmental design firm that serves clients with interests in the outdoors and the natural environment. He can be reached at (515) 232-6530 or via e-mail at Tom@neppllandscapearchitecture.com.

Peter Biegel is a landscape architect in Southern Maine and founding principal of Land Design Solutions, a site-planning, land-planning and landscape architectural firm. Peter can be reached at (207) 939-1717 or via e-mail at pbiegel@landdesignsolutions.com.