Girl Scouts design and build rain garden in Johnston County.

pseligson@newsobserver.comMay 5, 2014 

Girl Scouts in Johnston County are cleaning rainwater before it reaches their lake.

Late last month, scouts finished building a rain garden that sits at the runoff pipe feeding into the lake at Camp Mary Atkinson, the Girl Scout camp off of N.C. 42 East in Johnston County.

The garden catches rainwater as it flows toward the lake and filters it by using special plants and soil. The set-up filters out sediment, nitrogen, heavy metals, oil, grease, phosphorous and other pollutants. Girl Scouts from across Eastern North Carolina come to Camp Mary Atkinson every year.

“It was amazing an experience,” said Girl Scout Sadhana Anantha, a sophomore at Enloe High School in Raleigh. About 20 girls designed and built the rain garden with help from professional engineers.

Anantha’s favorite part of the project was going to Grounded Engineering in Raleigh, where scouts got to use professional equipment to make 3D maps of the rain garden and Camp Mary Atkinson. “We went onto a computer and we literally plugged in points and everything,” Anantha said. “We could virtually see the garden and virtually see how the water would affect and go into the ground and what kind of chemicals we would use to filter this water.”

The engineers set up lab space for the girls. Anantha said it was amazing to watch grape soda poured through sand come out clear.

The rain garden was a leadership and STEM opportunity for the girl scouts, said Tracy Sternberg, chief development officer for Girl Scouts of the North Carolina Coastal Pines. STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Sternberg was at a leadership conference last year when she ran into Sean Dolle, the owner of Grounded Engineering, who suggested the rain garden as a way to teach scouts about engineering and environmental science. From there, the two called on a friend from at Duke Progress Energy, which donated $15,000 to the project, covering most of the cost.

Sternberg said the project focused on two lessons. “For the older girls that designed the garden, we wanted to show them different STEM career opportunities that could be available to them,” she said.

The other lesson was environmental stewardship. “Taking care of our planet and leaving it better than you found it,” Sternberg said.

Girl Scouts will be maintaining the rain garden for years to come, she said.

Girl Scout Hannah Przelomski, a senior at Rocky Mount Prep School, plans to study environmental science at Catawba College. She said she learned a lot about teamwork and soil science.

“It feels like we accomplished something really great,” Przelomski said. “It was a neat project to do and ... it’s nice to have an impact that’s going to last a really, really long time.”

The rain garden has 19 kinds of plants with 140 plants total. The garden is in the shape of the Girl Scout logo, with a sash running through the center as a walking path.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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