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A conservation retro-fit: Pine Haven Christian Assembly installs pavers, rain gardens to reduce stormwater erosion

Workers install specialized, permeable pavers to capture and treat stormwater runoff at Pine Haven Christian Assembly. A Community Partners Grant, funded by Minnesota's Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, helped pay for the conservation project. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 5
The concrete blocks are uniquely designed to absorb, store, filter and convey water, minimizing the environmental impact runoff.2 / 5
This is the larger of two newly established rain gardens, which will capture and filter stormwater at the camp.3 / 5
Before laying pavers, crews dug a three-foot pit. Smaller rocks, seen in the foreground, are layered over larger rocks. At right is the foundation for an addition to the dining hall.4 / 5
Dirt taken from the dining hall area was used to build up a berm on a roadway at the highest point of camp. This small rain garden will collect and treat water before it can continue downhill.5 / 5

Stormwater runoff has been wreaking havoc at Pine Haven Christian Assembly.

Thanks to two grants, the camp was able to complete a conservation project this month.

"We want to be good stewards of this lake and good neighbors," said Joe Cachiaras, chairman of the property and grounds committee and vice chairman of the board of directors. "We wanted to fix a problem that's been a problem here for a long, long, long time."

Pine Haven Christian Assembly is a bustling Christian camp from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend.

Located on the southwestern shores of Long Lake, the facility draws Church of Christ members of all ages from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. It held its first official week of camp in July 1941.

"Over those 76 years, the camp has nearly doubled in size just from land acquisitions. We have close to 13 acres here at the camp," said Cachiaras. "My point being, the campground gets a lot of traffic."

During the past 15 years or so, the camp created terracing and blacktop pathways to keep traffic off the grass.

"At the same time, we have physics working against us. The low spot is going to get the water," he explained.

High ground begins at Beach Haven Road. A steady, natural grade from that end of camp directs rainwater toward Long Lake.

"Down by the main dock for years and years and years, you always see after a big rain event the water is always cloudy. There's a little more sand," said Cachiaras.

Those blacktop walkways and driveways proved to be "a double-edged sword," he said. "It does keep the foot traffic from wrecking all the grass and prevents ruts, but it also provides water a nice runway to really get a head of steam going and it's impervious."

Meanwhile, stormwater steadily washed out the camp road.

"Every time it gets a little bit worse, the ruts get a little bit deeper. More roots might be exposed," Cachiaras said.

The camp kept adding Class 5 gravel every five years or so to repair the road.

When Pine Haven Christian Assembly decided to expand dining hall for more seating, they realized the addition was in the direct path of stormwater.

They discussed the problem with their contractor, Jody Yliniemi of Racer Construction.

"We're creating this bottleneck here. We have to control this water and how can we do that? We don't want the floor of the new dining hall to be flooded," Cachiaras recalled.

Yliniemi knew there might be some grant money available, so they contacted Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The Community Partners Grant — funded through the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment — can be used to implement structural and vegetative practices that reduce stormwater runoff and retain water on the land to reduce the movement of sediment, nutrients and pollutants.

The Hubbard County SWCD, the primary grant applicant, provides sub-grants to community partners who are implementing practices to protect and improve water quality in lakes, rivers and streams or to protect groundwater and drinking water.

Unused grant money was about to sunset. It was either use it or lose it.

Pine Haven Christian Assembly Camp applied for the grant.

"This was just made for it. It's a perfect fit," said Julie Kingsley, Hubbard County SWCD District Manager.

"Long Lake is one of our priority lakes for the local water plan," she said. The lake is mainly groundwater-fed and the DNR has noted its phosphorus sensitivity, "so these kind of projects help protect lake water quality."

Hubbard County SWCD created an erosion map showing the camp's contours and resulting water flow. The average slope is 3.7 feet. Hypothetically, if the entire area were impervious, a half-inch rainfall would result in about 10,000 gallons of water flowing through the camp.

A SWCD engineer designed a two-phase project. First, the project incorporated a special, pervious paver system to collect and re-direct stormwater runoff into a grassy area of state land where the grade is minor.

"There's a wetland complex over there, too," explained Kingsley, so rainwater can be filtered before reaching Long Lake.

The pavers, produced by PaveDrain, are permeable, articulating concrete blocks.

"Pervious pavers have not been used much in this area at all," Kingsley said. "We're trying to get some different, newer products."

"It's not your everyday, driveway paver. They're designed 12-by-12-by-6 inches. They have a big hollow spot. They're designed to lock together," agreed Cachiaras.

Before placing the new paver system next to the dining hall, Racer Construction crew dug down three feet and removed dirt. Large rocks were placed in the pit, with smaller rocks on top, then the pavers.

"It acts kind of like a sink. It holds and absorbs the water," Kingsley explained.

"It's going to be in a much more controlled fashion. This is like a holding tank or a bladder, if you will," said Cachiaras.

The low-maintenance pavers can handle foot and vehicle traffic, all while reducing first-flush pollutants and filtering out suspended sediments.

"Another thing was the gutters and directing the rain where we want it to go instead of where it wants to go," added Kingsley.

Rainwater off the 72-foot dining hall will be collected and channeled through underground piping into the new paver system.

The second phase of the project focused on the camp's higher ground.

"The idea here is to lift up or tip up this side of the road to create a swale or small ditch so that, as water runs, instead of whooshing across the road, now it has to contend with this high side," Cachiaras said, adding "the fun part" of phase two is "let's capture that into a rain garden."

Rain gardens are shallow depressions that collect stormwater from impervious surfaces, such as driveways and roofs.

According to "Living Landscapes in Minnesota: A Guide to Native Plantscaping" by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, rain gardens trap sediments, nutrients and pollutants and provide soil/biological water treatment.

They are typically planted with a diverse mix of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, making an attractive, low-maintenance addition to the landscape.

"It's dug up and layered with amended soil and smaller and smaller and smaller rock. You plant water-loving plants in it. It can be shrubs, grasses, flowers," Kingsley said. "Water should only stay in a rain garden for 24 to 48 hours, then the plants should soak it up. Mulch on top also soaks up water. It won't be sitting water, like a mosquito haven. People don't really understand how they function."

There's a "safety valve" in case there's an overflow of water. An underground, 12-inch pipe feeds excess water down the slope where it can be treated through rock and concrete.

Pine Haven Assembly Camp applied for a second grant, an Enbridge Ecofootprint Grant, which helped cover the project's remaining expenses.

The Ecofootprint Grant Program supports environmental restoration and improvement efforts in the communities crossed by the proposed Line 3 Replacement project.

"That Enbridge money really bridged it so we could do all of this," Cachiaras said. "It's that private money and public money along with our sweat equity that's really making this work. We've all got skin in the game."

Pine Haven Christian Assembly staff are assisting with the project, providing in-kind labor.

"We're forever grateful to Julie and Soil and Water Conservation, their whole team and engineers. This is all new to us. This is old hat to them," said Cachiaras.

"This is what we like to do. This is what we're here for," Kingsley said.

Both admit the project took a lot of planning and patience.

"Now we can feel good that we've solved some of these problems. It's going to be better for the lake, better for everything," Cachiaras said.