Washington STEM Academy sixth-graders plant a variety of plants in the new rain garden at Winona Lake Limitless Park Tuesday afternoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Washington STEM Academy sixth-graders plant a variety of plants in the new rain garden at Winona Lake Limitless Park Tuesday afternoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
WINONA LAKE – With the sun shining and not a rain cloud in the sky Tuesday, volunteers and Washington STEM Academy students got their hands dirty to plant thousands of native plants at Winona Lake Limitless Park.

The Watershed Foundation and the Winona Lake Parks Department were reconstructing 500 feet of Winona Lake Limitless Park’s shoreline and putting in a new rain garden between the park and Cherry Creek.

Adult volunteers worked from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and today. Students took part from about noon to 3 p.m. While Washington students took part Tuesday, Jefferson Elementary students were expected to plant native species today.

Lyn Crighton, TWF executive director, said 15 volunteers put in 253 shrubs Tuesday morning. The variety of bushes included spice bush, red osier dogwood and smooth hydrangea.

“All the plants are native to Indiana and northern Indiana. That means they shouldn’t be invasive species. They’re good for bees, birds and butterflies. They’re good for the habitat,” she said.

The old crumbling seawall at the park was a safety hazard for park visitors, according to Crighton. As the remaining shoreline eroded, it diminished water quality by adding sediments and algae-inducing nutrients to the lake, especially with large boat wakes. In addition, the landscape of primarily turf grass had attracted an overpopulation of exotic invasive Canada geese and their numerous droppings.

The best way to combat geese and the erosion along the shoreline is by installing a healthy shoreline with a mix of glacial stones and native plants along the 500 linear feet from the edge of the public swimming beach to Cherry Creek.

The plants Washington sixth-graders put in the ground Tuesday have “super deep roots,” some as deep as 12 feet, Crighton said. Roots like that will keep the soil in place along the shoreline.

The rain garden will collect the water from the parking lot and park. The deep roots will filter the water from the soil and clean it.

Over 5,300 plants are being put around the shoreline and in the rain garden. The garden alone has 900. In the rain garden, plants include irises, mixtures of grasses and flowers like butterfly weed, big-leaf aster and swamp milkweed.

The total project – which has taken years of planning – cost $175,000. Crighton said 15 organizations helped fund the project.

David Burden, Washington STEM instructional coach, said Washington students participated in the rain garden planting because, “We constantly are showing the students how essential it is that they’re part of conservation efforts, and so with what we’re doing today, this puts into practice the things that we’re teaching. It shows a relevance of why we do this because it’s not only important to The Watershed Foundation and the Soil & Water Conservation District, but it’s important for our community. So if we’re going to be able to play here and enjoy living here, we also need to contribute and be good stewards of the community that we’re a part of.”

He said the project was meaningful for sixth grade because those students are at the culminating parts of “doing this for many, many years over, and so now, as we continue to say, ‘As you leave us, go forth and do this kind of good work,’ now they can actually say, ‘I was a part of The Watershed Foundation day where they went through and planted a rain garden and I was kind of able to be a part of it.’”

Burden said Warsaw Community Schools is constantly working for ways to inspire and equip students to enrich the lives of others.

“This is an effort that, when it was pitched to us like, ‘Hey, would you be interested in it?’ For us, it was a slam dunk because it was exactly what we’re teaching our students.”

Learn more about The Watershed Foundation at www.WatershedFoundation.org. Contact Crighton by email at admin@watershedfoundation.org or phone at 574-834-3242.