By planting perennials and low‑maintenance ornamental grasses, MSA has been able to reduce seasonal replacements while limiting costs and reducing resource requirements.
Colorful, low‑maintenance perennials replace grass in sensitive areas around M&T Bank Stadium. (1) on a steep bank they stem runoff (2) in a wetland, they absorb rainwater and prevent erosion.
In 2011, the Stadium Authority installed a 7000 gallon underground reservoir to collect rain from the Warehouse roof and prevent runoff. This stormwater management device is pumped for irrigation and power washing, significantly reducing potable water use.
"Those irises are so pretty!" we hear frequently in the spring.
Yes, they're very pretty. Also very Ravens purple, making an attractive entrance on the south side of the complex. But that's only part of the reason why they're there.
These hard-working irises, and their less flashy neighbors, the tough ornamental grasses, have an important job to do. One they are very good at.
Spring always brings heavy thunderstorms. Real gullywashers, as the farmers used to say. When those torrents hit the acres of asphalt around us, the runoff drains into perimeter areas with tremendous velocity.
This particular outfall, below Lot D, was a real problem. It eroded after every downpour, leaving trash and parking lot detritus in the crevices. In addition to being an unsightly mess where nothing could grow, it was also the landfill for beverage bottles discarded by the locals.
A few years ago, MSA applied some environmental engineering to the problem. The soil was regraded, heavy rocks were placed below the drain, and the entire area replanted as a rain garden. Those beautiful irises are the second line of defense against runoff, after the rock breakwater. Their thatched tubors are firmly anchored so they won't wash away. And unlike many species, they can handle damp as well as dry beds. They flourish in watershed areas.
What you can't see in this picture is the three inches of water they are sitting in. In another hour so, most of that will be absorbed instead of polluting the Middle Branch just below our complex. The soil on the banks won't become silt in the river, because it is held in place by those grasses and their extensive root system.
At the same time this problem was addressed, another unattractive environmental challenge was met. The steep slope between the stadium and train tracks, home to a colony of groundhogs who kept the surface unstable, was cleared of scrub invasives and rodents. It was replanted with low maintenance, drought tolerant shrubs and grasses. Within a year, purple butterfly bushes covered the area below the pedestrian bridge and the grasses anchored the problem area below the retaining wall.
(Yes, they're pretty, too. And they smell wonderful in the late summer, when they're covered with migrating monarch butterflies. But that isn't as important as their full time job, which is holding the bank in place.)
We haven't been able to do as much of this environmental planting as we'd like, because of the budget challenges. But thanks to the Ravens and their home playoff appearance this year, we're able to do a little bit more this spring. In a few weeks, there will be more perennials (purple, of course) on the hill, and new ornamental grasses to correct the failing swale along Ostend Street. The irises, which have multiplied over the past three years, will be divided and replanted into a larger spread.
So admire the beautiful flowers. We all do. But also appreciate them for the job they do so well.
Yes, it's tough to top Ray Lewis & Co. when the subject is hardworking defenses. But they are not the only line protecting our valuable assets here.
As mentioned earlier, MSA is committed to making our 85 acre complex, located on the headwaters of the Middle Branch, a watershed protector through environmentally sensitive practices. One of them involves landscaping.
This one-time problem area parallels Ostend Street on the south side of M&T. In addition to being one of the main pedestrian approaches to the stadium on game days, it is also part of the westbound Gwynns Falls Trail.
The grate you see in the picture drains directly into the Middle Branch -- no filters, no stormwater pond. After a heavy rain, a lot of nasty stuff ran off the asphalt and directly into the tributory.
This is what that section looked like before it was regraded and replanted. Yes, turf looks nice. But after an inch of rain, it saturates and becomes impervious, turning this swale into a flume. The velocity of runoff from the lots caused the area around the drain to erode, making it as unsafe as it was unsightly.
Grass also requires regular irrigation, mowing and seasonal fertilizing -- all unfriendly practices in a watershed like ours.
Those ornamental grasses may not look up to the task of stopping the erosion and filtering the runnoff, but don't be fooled. By the end of the summer they will have doubled or tripled in size. More importantly, they will develop a vigorous root system to hold them in place and slow the flow into the drain.
The regraded swale is softer and more absorbent, capturing the nasty stuff the rainwater washes into the channel before it has a chance to pollute the Middle Branch. Fragile as they look, these grasses and their growing medium are no shrinking violets when it comes to tackling petroleum products.