Photo: Chris Meehan
Volunteers move mulch in front of CRC office.
Photo by Chris Meehan

The “Green Team” organized an effort on Friday to spread tons of mulch and dig a two-foot-deep rain garden outside the Christian Reformed Church’s office in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Comprised of John Bolt, the CRC’s director of finance and administration, and four other denominational leaders, the Green Team has come up with a variety of ways to make the Grand Rapids office and grounds more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

In this latest effort, the team asked the Plaster Creek Stewards at Calvin College to join the CRC in trying to stem the amount of groundwater run-off that gets into the nearby Plaster Creek.

With the help of volunteers from the CRC office, the Plaster Creek Stewards spent the morning and afternoon moving dirt, hauling sod and dumping wheelbarrows of mulch onto the prepared ground.

“This is a big project for us,” said David Warners, a Calvin biology professor and a founder of the Plaster Creek Stewards, as he took a break from digging the rain garden.

“When we are finished and have planted the rain garden, this will be a real showcase for us,” said Warners. “We hope to motivate people of faith from churches and schools to come here and see what can be done.”

Bolt said the CRC has committed itself to address and carry out the mandate by Synod 2012 to be better stewards of God’s creation.

“While we have been able to make great strides with the energy and water conservation efforts inside the building, we wanted to see what we could accomplish outside that would not only significantly improve our carbon footprint but do so in a very visible way,” said Bolt.

First, he said, was the addition of more trees and a berm on the east side of the building at 1700 28th St. SE.

“For step two, we will see a significantly reduced area of manicured lawn on the north and west side of the building.”

These areas are being converted to include more trees and additional rain gardens.

“This will not only reduce the carbon emissions from the lawn equipment and the water required from our sprinkler system, but will also improve our management of the rainwater run-off from our paved areas,” said Bolt.

Warners said water run-off over the last several decades has significantly polluted Plaster Creek, which runs from farmland east of Grand Rapids through several communities, including the area behind the CRC, before reaching downtown Grand Rapids and dumping into the Grand River.

“Right now, four CRC churches that are located along the watershed work closely with us,” said Warners.

The Plaster Creek Stewards are dedicated to cleaning up the creek, largely through creation of rain gardens, which are retention ponds into whose sandy soil water can percolate down into the water table.

The Plaster Creek Stewards also plant Michigan grasses and other plants into the gardens to help to manage the runoff.

“We have collected all of the seeds ourselves. They are adapted to this climate,” said Warners. “We will plant between 40 and 50 species here to see which ones will take over the next couple of years.”

Warners said a curb cut will eventually be made and water funneled from the pavement along the side of the CRC building and make its way into the rain garden.

Kyle Schaap, a policy analyst for the Office of Social Justice, helped to move large chunks of sod from the rain garden on Friday morning.

He said creation of the rain garden — and all of the other work — is a direct result of the Creation Stewardship Task Force report whose recommendations went to and were adopted by Synod 2012.

“We are seeing the recommendations of that task force enfleshed by what we are doing here today,” he said. “It’s good to know that the administration is willing to lead the way like it is.”

Shelly Smit was working along the front of the building, plunging a pitchfork into a pile of mulch. She works on the second floor of the CRC office for ACCESS of West Michigan, a non-profit group that rents space from the CRC.

“I have the privilege of working in the building every day and decided to volunteer for this so that I can help to give myself something pretty to look at,” she said.