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Stormwater Camp? Yes please!

August 26th, 2019 by

5th through 7th grade students from Hampton and Newton work with the SCMUA-WRWMG to make observations about the differences between the McKeown School rain garden installed in 2016 and the Halsted Middle School rain garden installed in 2019.

Touring a sewage treatment plant might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think “summer camp fun.” Stormwater campers at Marian E. McKeown Elementary School thought it was pretty cool, though. They built water filters, got their hands dirty in rain gardens, built a section of permeable sidewalk, and watched with fascination as construction workers began to install porous asphalt in the school parking lot.

McKeown School students construct a multi-layer water filter to simulate how rain gardens help to filter pollution out of stormwater runoff.

Stormwater Camp, coordinated by Wallkill River Watershed Management Group and funded by New Jersey Future, is filled with field trips and hands-on activities designed to help campers understand the connection between rainfall, runoff, the rivers and lakes they love, the wildlife that surrounds them, and the water flowing into and out of their homes.  Fourteen students (grades 5 – 7) participated in this six-day camp, alternating between the school grounds, the neighboring Town of Newton, nearby fields and woods, and ultimately the top of Sunrise Mountain in Stokes State Forest. Although the planned excursion onto Lake Hopatcong had to be canceled due to the widely-publicized harmful algal bloom, the lake’s troubles presented an important teachable moment. And the hole in the curriculum was quickly plugged with other outdoor experiences designed to entertain and further enlighten.

McKeown School Stormwater Campers play a game to learn about the movement of a droplet of water through the water cycle.

The McKeown School in Hampton Township, Sussex County, has become a showcase for green infrastructure practices that capture stormwater onsite and protect the fragile Paulinskill floodplain located right across the street. One of the largest rain gardens in the state collects runoff from the school’s roof and adjacent pavement, and its parking lot was repaired this summer using permeable pavement to solve a runoff problem that led to unsightly scouring and polluted runoff elsewhere.  The school district, school board, and McKeown School teachers have led by example, and in so doing have helped students and their families become more aware of what each of us can do to protect and conserve our most precious resource.


McKeown students, Joey and Brenna, display their homemade water filters that were constructed using water bottles, coffee filters, cotton balls, charcoal, sand, gauze, and gravel.

Could you launch a stormwater program at your local school or camp?  Take a look at the curriculum and think of ways it might be adapted to your community and your watershed.

To the school leaders and teachers, especially to Nathaniel Sajdak and Kristine Rogers from the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (Sussex County MUA), whose seed of an idea has borne such rich fruit, we say, “Thank you! Job well done.” 

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