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Saving a sunken garden

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FLOODWATERS: Eli Barret, a summer worker with the Parks and Recreation Department, checks on a pump which is drawing water from the flooded west end pond at Sunken Gardens on Aug. 14.
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by James Ehle - jehle@chronicle-tribune.com

The ponds in Sunken Gardens have been rising for months, and despite efforts to combat rising waters, they have yet to be fully contained.

The Huntington Parks and Recreation Department is working double-duty to find the source of a drainage issue which has caused the excess buildup of water as workers continuously pump water to prevent the levels from going any higher.

“There’s only one drain that comes out of Sunken Gardens and there’s always a spring feeding into Sunken Gardens,” said Huntington Parks and Recreation Superintendent Steven Yoder. Right now we are pumping water out every day to keep up with that and any groundwater that is circulating down.”

The drain leads to an area behind the railroad tracks across from the park. Yoder says they are working backward to pinpoint where the drainage issue lies.

“The city’s working with Norfolk Southern because it’s technically their property,” Yoder said.

The department capped off the drain leading from Sunken Gardens, which has helped prevent some of the floodwaters from rushing back into the lower elevation areas during rainstorms. With the drain capped, the department is pumping the water that has built up in the lower levels.

Sunken Gardens is susceptible to flooding due to its geography. In addition to a spring which is constantly filling up the west end of the garden, rainwater falls straight down, pours in from the sides, and enters through cracks in the walls.

“Right now we are pumping water out every day to keep up with that and any groundwater that is circulating down,” Yoder said.

Despite one year which faced flooding due to extreme rainfall, Yoder says this is the first time in his 15 years with the department that he’s seen this specific type of flooding issue.

“This year the problem just kind of crept up on us,” he said. “In previous years it has not been a problem.”

Growing concern over the flooded area becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes has been voiced to the department, according to Yoder. Aside from one area which was found with a few mosquitoes, there have been no signs of abnormal mosquito population.

“We’ve had it tested a couple times,” Yoder said. “We’re treating the area for mosquitoes so mosquitoes aren’t a problem down here either.”

Previous attempts to combat the floodwaters involved the department pumping water in and out of the old limestone quarry. Workers also attempted to save the fish displaced by the flooding.

“At one point all of the fish were out so we had to catch all of the fish and try to put them back into the ponds,” said Emma Gordon, a summer worker. “There was a stork that came in and was eating the fish.”

Up until the floodwaters took over, Yoder says it was one of the best years Sunken Gardens has seen. The flowers were blooming more than normal and four new fountains were installed in the ponds.

Now, areas which were once covered in grass are areas of exposed dirt, revealed by receding floodwaters. The gazebo which stands in the middle of the lower level has begun to rot. And electricity remains shut off, leaving the fountains dormant.

“It was quite sad once this started happening,” Yoder said. “They were looking awesome, now it’s just very frustrating at this point.”

Sunken Gardens is a frequently sought after outdoor wedding destination during the summer. Yoder says they’ve unfortunately had to turn down 10 weddings that tried to book due to flooding.

The lower area remains closed off to the public, but the upper section of the gardens is still open, although Yoder says it doesn’t benefit anybody to be down there at this point. Despite the unusually quiet summer season, the Parks and Recreation Department has their sights on improvements for next summer.

“The gazebo down there, it’s probably gotten some rotting around the bottom, so our plans are to replace that next year,” Yoder said. “We had always wanted to redo some things down there anyway, so once this problem’s fixed it kind of gives us a chance to reboot.”

Further enhancements include replacing some of the current trees with new ones with more depth, and replanting the flower beds.

Overall, progress is being made in the effort to combat floodwaters, according to Yoder. The department will continue to work with different sources to solve the drainage issue.