On first glance, it may seem like the only new additions to Liberty Park this summer are a slew of trees and plants and some informational signs scattered around the Liberty Township green space.
But look closer at those signs and they'll give insight into the recent changes that have taken place all around -- including underground. The township is putting the final touches on a project that's been a year in the making to improve the stormwater runoff into Wildcat Run, the nearby stream.
Nine improvements were made throughout the park as part of the project, including the addition of a rain garden and a rainwater harvesting barrel that collects water to nourish the nearby plants.
New porous pavement was laid in the parking lots, and concrete and plastic paver grids were placed in the lawn to ensure the ground doesn't become compacted when tractors or cars drive on the grass.
Bio-retention basins and infiltration trenches have been dug in the parking lots and near playing fields and courts to reroute storm water.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. July 26 will feature an introduction from the director of the Ohio EPA and formally unveil the nine projects that are identified on the informational signs.
"You don't know what's going on underground and it's not obvious that all these things exist," said Amy Dutt, owner of Urban Wild Limited, who helped design the green features in Liberty Park. "That's why we have signs, because otherwise you would have to imagine the business end of it underground, which is pretty impressive."
The goal of the project was to decrease stormwater runoff into the stream by 20 percent, and the township already has achieved that mark. According to preliminary testing, 24 percent of water is being collected and filtered. That adds up to more than 3 million gallons of water each year, Dutt said.
By giving water the ability to seep into the ground instead of running off into the stream, the water will be of a higher quality and continue moving as it should, Dutt said.
When land becomes compacted during development of buildings, homes and parking lots, water can't soak into the ground, where it's filtered. Instead, the water -- along with anything it picks up along the way -- is dumped into nearby waterways.
"We're developing so rapidly here that this is a great opportunity to show developers and residents how to control stormwater runoff with more natural features," said Township Administrator Dave Anderson. "A natural stream does a lot better than a pipe in a lot of ways."
Such an emphasis has been placed on Liberty Township's stormwater runoff because it heads into a portion of the Olentangy River that is considered a sectional warm-water habitat, home to an exceptionally diverse population of fish and insects.
"Of the area where the water is considered outstanding (in the Olentangy River), 70 percent is in Liberty Township," Dutt said. "What Liberty Township does with its land is going to greatly impact the health of streams and rivers."
In addition to protecting the waterways, the projects are intended to serve as an educational tool for other municipalities and for residents. Already, three groups have taken tours of the park, and self-guided tours can be taken at any time thanks to the informational plaques that stand next to each type of green infrastructure.
"This is going to have a tremendous impact on the environment and we've got examples to show developers and homeowners how to do this more efficiently, effectively and less costly," Anderson said.
Each plaque also has a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone and leads to a website maintained by the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed that explains more about the system and how it works.
Also added throughout the park are more than 100 native trees and bushes that will aid in the water filtration process by evaporating runoff water after a storm.
All of the park additions were funded by a $133,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which was matched by more than $80,000 from the township. Half of the township's share covered personnel time for the park staffers who worked to plant and install a majority of the nine features.
The project complements work that wrapped up on Wildcat Run in December. A $109,000 Surface Water Improvement Fund grant allowed the township to restore the stream so it could once again flow into the Olentangy.