Blooming Bioswales for a Better River

This is the third installment in a four part series, written by Peter, a Drummers, Ursids, and Gobblers alumni.  He is writing about four environmental-based projects he designed and worked on as part of his his journey towards applying for the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal Award, through the Boy Scouts.

Peter L.

This was the second conservation project I completed this summer in my quest for the Boy Scout William T. Hornaday Silver Medal Award. This project took place in the town of Ohiopyle in Southwestern Pennsylvania.


Everyone’s heard of a bioswale before, right? Well, maybe not. Up to about 4 months ago, I could not have told you (or anyone) what a bioswale was and how it worked. So, let’s get down to the definition: A bioswale is a man-made landscape design element that is designed to capture and filter street run-off water to remove road pollutants such as salt and gasoline.


Bioswales provide a natural method of storm water conveyance that is superior to the standard storm drains and storm sewers. A bioswale works like this: envision a flower garden contained within a concrete curb along a city street. When it rains, run-off water from impermeable surfaces (parking lots, streets, etc.) flows along the side of the roadway. There are sloped inlets cut into curbs that channel the water into a bioswale. Once the water has entered the bioswale, it percolates down through the mulch, plants, and soil of the bioswale, effectively filtering and cleaning the water. The water then flows into a perforated pipe at the bottom of the bioswales, and the water is conveyed away.

A newly restored Bioswale working hard during a rainstorm.

So, how did I get so well versed in the science of bioswales?  I took on the renovation of 4,000 square feet of bioswale area in the Borough of Ohiopyle as my Eagle Scout/William T. Hornaday Silver Medal Award Project. The bioswales in Ohiopyle were constructed in 2010. There was no regular maintenance performed on the bioswales for a period of 7 years, which resulted in the bioswales becoming overrun by invasive plants and weeds, and the inlets in the street curbs became clogged with leaves and debris, preventing water from entering the bioswales (which makes them useless). My project restored the bioswales to full functionality, making them both beautiful (with flowers and mulch) and useful in keeping the Youghiogheny River clean.

The state of the Bioswales before my renovation project.

Through my project, “Blooming Bioswales for a Better River”, over 1,700 hours of community service were recorded (myself and my work crew combined). Now you might see this number and think that I am surely a madman. Why would anyone do that much work? Well actually, community service really doesn’t seem like work. It has a different, happier feel about it. Now, whenever I go into the town of Ohiopyle, I can see the results of my project and how much of a difference it makes for the tourists, the residents, and the Youghiogheny River.

A renovated “Blooming Bioswale” in front of the Ohiopyle Playground.

I understand that some folks may not have the time, resources, or desire to take on so large a community service project as I did. Don’t worry. You don’t have to. Anything and everything you do to give back to your community will be rewarding in a special way. Don’t believe me? Try it and find out! I promise you that it will be worth your effort. And if you ever come to Ohiopyle, be sure to take notice of… “the blooming bioswales”.