Watermark Art Center plants pollinator gardens to filter stormwater runoff

On September 22-23, volunteers planted four native pollinator gardens by both the north and south entrances of Watermark Art Center. This initiative was begun by Birds Bees Butterflies Bemidji (BBBB), an organization promoting a city-wide beautification effort by planting small gardens of native plants throughout downtown to encourage the habitat of local endangered pollinators.

“When the Birds, Bees, Butterflies Bemidji group first approached us, it was very serendipitous,” explained Watermark Executive Director Lori Forshee-Donnay. “Watermark was in the middle of researching ways to improve the visual and safety conditions of our stormwater retention pond. The idea of filling it with native vegetation was immediately appealing.”

By the north entrance, just off Watermark’s parking lot, is a 73 x 28 foot hole which collects water from the parking lot. This stormwater filtration retention pond was required by the city during the art center’s renovations. Though ecologically important, this resulted in an eight foot deep hole with steep sides right along the art center’s sidewalks and ADA-accessible main entrance.

“The pollinator garden was a great solution for beautifying our retention pond,” said Forshee-Donnay. “It allows us to grow shrubs and tall grasses to help disguise the hole while still allowing the water to drain through the soil. But as we continued to discuss this solution, we realized that this could be carried through to other parts of our property, as well.”

In addition to the retention pond, Watermark has a second garden plot by the main north entrance, plus an entire —-sq ft green space on the south side of the property. The art center wanted to find a way for the pollinator gardens to tie the entire property together, instead of focusing on one isolated area. BBBB provides a percentage of funding, but the art center’s expanded landscaping goals were far greater than that gift could provide.

Watermark began seeking additional funding for their landscaping budget. They partnered with Bemidji State University’s sustainability department and received a percentage of funds from the silent auction at the 2018 Art Earth Day event. They also began pursuing grants that were specific to landscaping, environmental sustainability and outdoor projects. In August, Watermark was awarded a generous Community Partners Storm Water grant from the Beltrami County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The increase in financing streams allowed the art center to create a total of four gardens. Two spots in the south green space are designed to receive water runoff from the roof, with plans for additional landscaping to be completed next summer. On the north side is the original stormwater filtration retention pond that receives water from the parking lot, plus a pollinator teaching garden by the front entrance that Watermark can incorporate into their art education programming. The gardens were all designed by two local volunteers, Chris Towers and Nancy DeKray-Glenn.

The planting took place over two days with 1,500 plants. The work was done by several local volunteers, as well as students from BSU – People of the Environment, and Americorps team members.

“We are so grateful for the diligence and generosity of all the individuals who made this possible,” said Forshee-Donnay. “Their gifts and hard work will make the exterior of Watermark as much a work of art as the pieces displayed inside. We can’t wait to see everything come to bloom in the spring!