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16-Year-Old Restores Fairfax Rain Garden

Bystanders became part of the team as several community members worked to upgrade a rain garden near Fairfax Town Hall.

 

When Fairfax’s Savannah Michels needed a project for the Girl Scout Gold Award (which requires a sustainable act benefiting community) she thought about all the problems her town can have with flooding.

After thinking about rain gardens, she approached Sustainable Fairfax and learned about a rain garden the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN) and Sustainable Fairfax planted a few years ago near Fairfax Town Hall. The rain garden, part of SPAWN and the Marin Municipal Water District’s 10,000 Rain Gardens Project, had fallen into disorder. 

Michels, a junior at volunteered to restore the garden. “It was completely dead,” she said. 

She worked with Sustainable Fairfax board members, learned rain garden basics, solicited free plants from Sunnyside Nursery and rallied volunteers to get their hands dirty and help with the planting in November, according to Sustainable Fairfax Executive Director Chelsea Donovan. 

The garden installation was on a rainy day, but the dreary weather didn’t prevent passerby from stopping to ask about the project and thank the team. “It was obvious how much it meant to people,” said Sustainable Fairfax Board Secretary and volunteer board member Merrell Maschino, who helped with the garden installation.

“We were digging and a few people walking about stopped and said ‘I’m so happy you’re doing this’,” Michels said. “They are all really friendly in Fairfax.” 

She said two bystanders mentioned that they never saw water in the rain garden.

The workers decided to investigate why the rain garden hadn’t been fulfilling its purpose. They dug through the earth to discover some of the pipes weren’t connected. “We had to redesign it, get more pipe and glue it together,” Michels said. 

“I was especially impressed by [Savannah’s] ability to organize her team of volunteers and keep them active and engaged on the plan,” Maschino said. “When we hit some unexpected bumps with the irrigation pipes, she was able to keep people working while we strategized as a team on how to resolve the issues.”

One couple helped the team troubleshoot the water inflow issue and brought tools from their nearby home to help with the fix, Maschino said. “I loved that moment when the folks looking on became part of the team,” she said. 

Last weekend, Sustainable Fairfax Board Member Jen Jones created and installed a new sign highlighting Michels’ accomplishment. (See a photo of the sign in the slideshow.) 

Michels plans to monitor the garden over the next year to make sure it flourishes, Donovan said. 

“I’m really happy that it’s there for the community. I wanted it to be a place people could just sit around and admire it and hang out, but I also want to inform people about what’s possible,” Michels said. “We built the garden in only one day. It took some planning, and that’s because all the plants were donated, but if somebody wanted to do this in their spare time it wouldn’t be that hard.

Michels said if anyone is interested in making a rain garden she is willing to share her design plans and guide anyone through the process. “The plants are accessible and it’s really easy for people to do this kind of thing at their house,” she said. 

She can be contacted at savannahmariemichels@gmail.com.

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