Skagway: The Rain Garden City


A relatively new concept in Southeast Alaska, rain gardens are becoming a popular method for treatment of storm water across the country.

Storm water is the excess rain and snow melt that runs off impermeable surfaces such as rooftops, pavement roads, and parking lots. As water runs off these surfaces it can pick up and carry pollutants like oil, fertilizers, soil, and trash that may ultimately flow directly into a nearby stream or harbor. Or, it may go into a storm drain and continue through storm pipes until it is released untreated into a local waterway.

Rain gardens are designed to capture runoff from impermeable surfaces like roads and sidewalks, allowing the water to filtrate down through the soil and sediment rather than running into storm drains, which lead directly to rivers and creeks. Specific native plants such as grasses with deep fibrous roots are chosen to provide added water retention, cleaning and filtration benefits to the garden. Above the soil surface these gardens provide habitat for birds and insects. In Southeast Alaska, rain gardens can help to keep pollutants out of our salmon streams.

Rain garden diagram from

Through the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation ACWA Grant Program the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council (TIWC) received funds to design and construct a rain garden in Skagway to treat storm water flowing into Pullen Creek an urban salmon stream listed on the DEC’s list of impaired water bodies.

In 1996 the Skagway Traditional Council tested Pullen Creek sediments for heavy metals and found levels of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc elevated enough to affect aquatic life in the creek. The DEC has recommended reducing storm water inputs as a means to improve the impaired status of Pullen Creek. The Taiya Inlet Watershed Council has worked the past five years educating and informing the Skagway community on actions to reduce stormwater pollution. This rain garden will be the first on-the-ground stormwater reduction project implemented in the community of Skagway.

skagway rain garden2

The project has introduced the concept of rain gardens to the Skagway community through design meetings, workdays, and a spring rain garden workshop. This week TIWC will build the rain garden with help from community volunteers and plant the garden with help from Skagway Elementary School students.

skagway rain garden3

The garden site is at 11th and Broadway, right near the site of what will be Skagway’s new senior center. The garden will be highly visible with the goal of educating and inspiring community members to build more rain gardens. The completed garden will lessen impacts on water quality in Pullen Creek, improving habitat for resident aquatic insects and fish populations, while providing terrestrial insect and bird habitat, as well as aesthetic value and a means to educate community members on responsible storm water management.

skagway rain garden

This project is funded by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Alaska Clean Water Actions Program.

Partners and contributors include the Municipality of Skagway, Hunz and Hunz Enterprises, Hamilton Construction, Skagway Volunteer Fire Department, Skagway School District, Skagway Recreation Center, and the Skagway Brewing Company

For more information on this project please contact:

Rachel Ford

Project Coordinator

Taiya Inlet Watershed Council