The Al Gustafson Memorial rain garden

 Click here or on the web link for this week's program.

Sometimes paths cross; the point at which they intersect can create
conflict but often the meeting is the start of something great. Paths
crossed when the rain garden was installed at the Ralph Engelstad
Arena in Thief River Falls, Minnesota- and something great started.If you walk the winter sidewalks near the Ralph you know they used to
build up with ice. It was the run-off from the roof as the sun melted
the snow. The ice was a hazard and a source of possible liability.Summer rain events would flood the area around the Ralph Engelstad
Arena and make travel hazardous. Large rains would also flush garbage
from the street and parking lots into the storm sewer and back into
the Red Lake River.
People talk about farm fertilizer run-off as a source of fresh water
contamination. Truth is, a fair amount of the contamination comes
from the run-off that occurs in town. The Ralph had run-off that was
unfiltered as it headed directly for the storm sewers.The needs of many created paths that crossed in an idea which has
seen little use in this area; a rain garden- for the Ralph Engelstad
Arena. The rain garden absorbs the run-off from two separate parking
lots through curb cuts. The run-off is then filtered through wood
chips and sand prior to its underground trip to the storm sewers. The
snow that melts from the roof of the Ralph follows down-spouts to
catch basins which follow underground tiling to the rain garden for
the same filtration process. The run-off from the green space around
the Ralph also eventually runs through the rain garden and is
filtered too. A one inch rain event should be filtered and drained
within 48 hours which will leave the street in front of the Ralph dry
and safe for traffic.

The rain garden at the Ralph is an answer to many problems but has an
even greater story. It is a collection of techniques and practices
used in agriculture today. The rain garden mirrors the filtration
that occurs in grassy buffer strips that run along waterways. The
underground tiling is a practice that is relatively new to this area
but increased greatly with recent higher commodity and land prices.
The concrete which covers the tiling at the Ralph is colored blue to
represent the passage of water. There are also 13 different native
flowers and grasses planted in the rain garden. These plants perform
the same function as they do in the wild in that they hold the soil
in place. They are a nice nod to the history of this area too.

Bailey Devine worked as an intern at the Pennington Soil and Water
Conservation District during the summer of 2014. Bailey’s mother was
a farm girl and that sort of work ethic showed in how Bailey
performed tasks at the rain garden. One of Bailey’s most noticeable
efforts was the metal display signs that will describe the rain garden and
the man for which it is named, Al Gustafson.

Al Gustafson was a devoted conservationist and a hockey enthusiast.
Al worked over four decades for the Natural Resources Conservation
Service and was a hockey icon in Northwest Minnesota. It seems more
than just acknowledgement of his work that this rain garden will soon
be dedicated as the “Al Gustafson Memorial Rain Garden.” It is
acknowledgement of a life that has inspired others and led to this
project in this place.

Official dedication if the Al Gustafson rain garden will be held
later this summer. Until then, I encourage you to stop by and take
the time to understand the form and function of this installation. I
think you will like it.

(Grant is a supervisor with the Pennington Soil and Water Conservation district in Thief River Falls, Mn.)

Al Gustafson obituary is at

A brief description of the Rain Garden is found in paragraph four from the city of Thief River Falls website is found here


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