South Dakota Mines Students Help Create a Living Laboratory at Eco Prayer Park

The Trinity Eco Prayer Park in downtown Rapid City is going through some renovations to create a living laboratory for hands-on learning and research.

The West Dakota Water Development District and a group of Rapid City area businesses are funding upgrades recommended by a team of South Dakota Mines students at the Trinity Eco Prayer Park in downtown Rapid City. The upgrades will increase the water flow capacity and provide easier maintenance at the park. This will help maintain the original intent of the park, which is to slow, spread, infiltrate, and naturally filter the stormwater that runs off part of downtown before it enters Rapid Creek. Most importantly, the project also creates opportunity for a living laboratory where future students can study urban runoff, associated water quality issues, and sustainable stormwater management practices. 

Urban runoff is a major contributor to pollution in waterways around the world. In general, precipitation falls onto a rooftop, runs across a parking lot and into a curb and gutter where it drops into a storm sewer making its way to a local water body. During this process the water never comes into contact with soil, which is our natural filter. Hence, the runoff is untreated. To deal with this problem, many cities have installed natural treatment systems, known as green infrastructure or low impact development practices. This allows runoff that is shed by city streets, parking lots and sidewalks to be filtered before entering into local streams and rivers. 

Trinity Eco Prayer Park, which is owned by the Trinity Lutheran Church Foundation, operates as a public park with over a dozen sustainability features. Some of those help protect water in Rapid Creek, which is known for excellent trout fishing. Renovations at the park are now underway thanks to public-private partnerships that include funding and donations from a number of entities. The West Dakota Water Development District is granting $24,500 in funding for the project that comes on top of $15,000 from the Trinity Lutheran Church Endowment Foundation. Other donors who are helping to make this project a reality include TerraSite Design, a Rapid City-based landscape architecture and engineering firm and a Mines alumni-owned business that pledged $5,000 in in-kind services; RCS Construction, an alumni-owned business that donated $3,000; Doyle Concrete, which pledged $3,000 in in-kind services; Hanson Mapping and Survey, which offered in-kind services totaling $2,000; and Pike at Play Excavation, an alumni-owned business, which is doing the demo and dirt work at cost. Several more donors are needed to cover the entire cost of the $66,010 in improvements.

“These funders are visionaries who understand this park is something unique that is turning the otherwise unsightly problem of urban runoff into a community asset,” says Park Director Ken Steinken, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church and one of the visionaries for the park itself.  

Eirik Heikes, president of TerraSite Design, was the original landscape architect on the project that helped to make the park a reality with best practices and the appropriate types of vegetation for the different biomes. “TerraSite is honored to be able to continue with the upgrades to this great example of bio-diversity and sustainability in our community,” says Heikes. “We hope it will inspire others to do the same. Good science, like design, is in a constant process of refinement.” 

“This project not only helps reduce pollution into Rapid Creek, it will help us better understand, study and design sustainable stormwater management solutions for future projects,” says Jason Phillips, a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at South Dakota Mines and staff member of TerraSite Design. “This living laboratory allows local students, from Mines, Western Dakota Tech, or area high schools to get valuable hands-on-experience and research/monitor the performance of this park. During their studies some may even come up with new ideas to tackle this global challenge.”

The idea for infrastructure upgrades to increase the water flow and filtration capacity at the park began in 2017. Mines student Andrea Vargas was undertaking a study on pollinators in urban areas when a major rainstorm hit the park. During the storm, Vargas noted that the infrastructure was not adequate to handle larger storms as water overflowed onto sidewalks before filling up the main pond and channel. The next year she and a team of Mines students, including Ben Holkeboer and Danielle Tourtillott, undertook the senior design project to study and recommend infrastructure upgrades for the park. In early 2020, TerraSite Design in collaboration with Steinken further developed and enhanced design concepts to increase water flow capacity, increase sediment removal and improve the ability to research and monitor the park’s performance. These concepts were developed into a grant proposal by Steinken and Phillips and presented to the Western Dakota Water Development District board. The board funded the project to implement the upgrades. The multiple contributions and collaboration between South Dakota Mines and project design professionals are measurable and a working model for continued improvement of the park.

“We are very honored that our project contributed to the upgrade of the Trinity Eco Prayer Park,” says Vargas. “We hope that with this upgrade the City of Rapid City gets to see and learn all the amazing benefits stormwater rain gardens can bring to both the community and the environment.”

The upgrades include a sediment catchment basin where water flows in from the surrounding block. This basin will increase flow time and thus increases the settling of larger sediment. It also allows water and sediment inflows to be measured. Upgrades are also being made to the sidewalk crossings and to increase the channel capacity.

“The park is designed to be a model for stewardship,” says Steinken. “This is really exciting for us to see this happen. We hope this can be an inspiration for others to design ecofriendly and cost-effective solutions.” 


Last edited 12/8/2020 3:22:08 PM

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