News - McHenry County

Garden project aims to improve Crystal Lake one raindrop at a time

A rain garden being grown and constructed at Pine Street and Oriole Trail in Crystal Lake will be the largest such garden in the area and will be an important solution to stormwater management, city engineer Kevin Lill, pictured here, said on Friday, July 22, 2022.

As long as raindrops keep falling on Crystal Lake’s head, a new rain garden being constructed at Pine Street and Oriole Trail will thwart pollution, stall flooding and bring climate science to a whole generation of students.

That’s the scope of the project described by Nancy Gonsiorek, a volunteer with the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee in McHenry County.

The garden will include a display garden, pond and a dry stream bed running down to a retention area where native vegetation has been planted. Five homes were razed in early spring in order to facilitate the garden, Gonsiorek said.

Rain gardens are gardens that are specifically designed to absorb water during a storm and help avoid flooding or pollution runoff into nearby waterways. The low-lying site at Oriole and Pine had been plagued for years with significant flooding issues, which prompted the city to buy the five homes last December, said Kevin Lill, a city engineer who has been involved in stormwater management projects.

“At least every other year there would be times those backyards were under a foot of water, which led to a lot of finger-pointing at the city,” said Lill who called the project at Pine and Oriole “his baby.”

He said he provided the specs and design for the project.

The construction of the dry bed was done by Crystal Lake engineering firm Baxter and Woodman.

When it’s completed, the garden will be open for educational opportunities and be an outdoor classroom space, Gonsiorek said.

“The magnitude of this thing is huge,” Gonsiorek said. “This will help with the health of Crystal Lake and all of our water resources.”

The site already includes a display garden, and 400 plants were donated for the project courtesy of the WPPC, Gonsiorek said.

WPPC’s Outdoor Classroom Program members, which include Gonsiorek, Wanda Naylor and Patti Fialek, have been working with the city on the project, Gonsiorek said.

The plants on the site – both in the display garden and the species that will grow in the detention area – have deep roots of 15 feet or more that take up water when it rains, which will help with flooding during storms and can put water back in the ecosystem, Gonsiorek said.

The site of a rain garden being constructed by the city of Crystal Lake and the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee, is a major flood-prone site, as shown here in a photo from this past winter, taken by city engineer Kevin Lill.

The garden at Oriole and Pine is the third rain garden in Crystal Lake that was grown with assistance from the Wildflower committee, after one at City Hall planted in 2011 and a bioswale south of Grant Street in 2012, Gonsiorek said, adding that a detention area and garden at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake was a joint project between the school and the city.

Although the homes were occupied at the time of the purchase last year, Lill said the residents got “fair prices” and the decision was completely voluntary.

“If the neighborhood were to be built today, that area would have just been where the storm basin would have been located,” Lill said.

In addition to the display garden, 3 acres of wetland prairie native seed mix were laid at the site, and city staff and volunteers will need to monitor the area for the first three years to make sure the plants develop solid root structures and aren’t obstructed by invasive species and weeds, Lill said.

The garden is part of a larger effort by Crystal Lake city staff to find ways of recharging groundwater resources and improving the sustainability of the overall system, Lill said.

“We’re hoping to naturalize more and more areas of the city,” Lill said, adding that two more rain gardens are being discussed for the west side of Crystal Lake.