Rain pounds Lumpkin Street as umbrella-less students run for shelter. Within minutes, an SUV pulls to the curb to rescue the dripping students from the downpour. They don't realize that the shallow ditch camouflaged by inconspicuous plants on the side of the road saved them from being stranded at the Student Learning Center, possibly until the rain subsided.
Thousands of students pass the Lumpkin Street Rain Gardens every day, yet few understand the extent of their effects on the environment. In the summer of 2002 flooding on Lumpkin Street was a big traffic concern. Athens-Clarke County suggested installing more pipes in the area. But some UGA students, including Nancy Aten (MLA '03) and Laura England (MS '03) saw rain gardens as a way to alleviate traffic and improve the water quality of Tanyard Creek.
The rain gardens came together after members of the UGA Students and Educators for Ecological Design and Sustainability (SEEDS) and University architects created a plan for "the longest street edge storm water quality project in the country," says Kevin Kirsche (BLA '98), a UGA architect who was then also a master's student in the College of Environment and Design.
The gardens act as a natural filtration system. When rain hits the street, it picks up toxins and pollutants from the pavement. Now instead of going directly into Tanyard Creek-and the Oconee River-the rainwater flows into a ditch lined with rocks and plants that live off of the water. The plants use some of the water; the rocks strain the rest and keep it moving at a slower pace to minimize erosion.
While Athens-Clarke County paid for the construction of the rain gardens on campus, UGA is responsible for maintenance, making this project a model for town-gown relations.
"The gardens are now being used as a teaching tool for the whole UGA community," Kirsche says.
Students often are the driving force for environmental efforts. The Go Green Alliance, created by professor Lynne Sallot's public relations students, promotes environmental issues on campus. It is now a part of UGA's Physical Plant Sustainability Initiative.
During the Alliance's 8 Days To Go Green last year, seven organizations held a recycling competition among the three freshman high-rise dorms. Now though April 5, the organization has partnered with Physical Plant to compete against other universities in a recycling contest called RecycleMania.
"Currently UGA is ranked third for the Gorilla Prize and ranked fourth in the targeted paper material contest," said Stephanie Nguyen, a student member of the Alliance. "The contest isn't over yet! So between now and April 5 - Go Green Alliance and Physical Plant are encouraging the entire campus to gather those old notes, tests, plans and articles and take them to the nearest recycling bin on campus. Continue to clean out those files and give UGA that final push to win RecycleMania."