F&S staff and RORG Team stand near garden with design drawing

Red Oak Rain Garden

Located between Allen Hall and McKinley Health Center, the Red Oak Rain Garden (RORG) was constructed to overcome flooded sidewalks and lawn near Dorner Drive at the University of Illinois campus. In 2006-2007, RORG was designed and built by NRES students (Restoration Ecology) in three semesters under the supervision of Eliana Brown (while working at F&S) and Professor Anton Endress. In 2019, Eliana led a renovation team for a re-design and construction of the rain garden. The new update aims to "improve the garden ability to handle stormwater with aesthetic and educational consideration. In our cities we create more impervious surfaces, we end-up with more water that our streams can’t handle and creates a problem with water quality, Rain Gardens are a great way to combat that and make things better," said Eliana Brown, Water Quality Specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Illinois Extension.

The benefits of RORG project extend beyond its primary goal and include broader vision and other major goals. The project new mission lines-up with U of I sustainability commitments, plays an important educational role to various audiences, and serves as a living/learning laboratory for student experiments and academic collaboration, notwithstanding enhancing community and campus aesthetics aspects. For example, the 10,000 square foot garden was a venue for learning and teaching processes and academic collaboration in various courses and disciplines in the University of Illinois, such as horticulture, landscape architecture, and civil and environmental engineering. The civil engineering department is conducting water research on the impact of this project on stormwater and the purity of groundwater. The project also acquired an educational mission as a real-life example for students. Moreover, entomology department is utilizing the rain garden as a field of researches to conduct studies on pollinators and insects.

RORG was recognized and awarded with many certifications such as Native Plant Butterfly Garden (Wild Ones), Butterfly Garden (North American Butterfly Association), Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary (Illinois Audubon Society), Pollinator Pocket (Illinois Extension), Monarch Waystation, (Monarch Watch), Plants for Birds (National Audubon Society), and Certified Wildlife Habitat (National Wildlife Federation).

F&S collaborated with the RORG team through most of the project phases and played a significant role in bringing this project to life. F&S contributed letters of support for the RORG Team in finding funds for the recent renovation project through Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) and Champaign County Design and Conservation (CCDC) Foundation. Brent Lewis, University Landscape Architect at F&S, worked with the team to improve the rain garden design and planning from the management, maintenance, and constructability perspective. The U of I Extension and F&S Grounds Department had undertaken the removal of stones, cleaning, and weeding and preparing the site for planting. Furthermore, F&S coordinated with East Central Illinois Master Naturalists (ECIMN) and Champaign County Master Gardeners (CCMG) for a maintenance and management agreement. In the agreement, the F&S role is to provide monetary assistance when needed to replace plants, obtain mulch, landscape fabric, and rocks. As well as the removal of trash and accumulated sediments from the garden and provide repairs for the structural features when required. Due to this collaborative effort and great teamwork, the Red Oak Rain Garden in the U of I celebrated its 100 birthday in 2019 with a new look and a new mission to the campus.