Program helps raise awareness of stormwater runoff

If you see painted storm drains as you drive down Bomber Boulevard, it’s not graffiti. The drains are part of an ongoing cooperative art project to get citizens to think about what happens to the city’s stormwater runoff.

The latest drains to be painted can be found along the west end of Bomber Boulevard and feature a fly-eating frog, a beaver relaxing on a log and a depiction of several animals posed in front of an outline of the Natural State.

The artwork is part of the “Paint the Drain” project involving Mountain Home High School art students, the Mountain Home Street Department, the Mountain Home Education Foundation and the Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers.

“The project helps build public awareness to what happens to Mountain Home’s stormwater,” said Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers president Steve Blumreich, whose group furnished the funds for the project as a grant through the MHEF. “It opens up conversations, both individually and as a community.”

Mountain Home’s stormwater is discharged mostly into Big Creek, Dodd Creek, and Hicks Creek, with all that water eventually flowing into the White River. Fall Creek, located southeast of town, empties into Norfork Lake.

Mountain Home art students were challenged to come up with artwork for the drains that would make people think about what flowed into them. The three winning artists and their painting partners completed the work on the latest set of drains in late November.

Senior Gracie Todd designed an image of a large frog using its tongue to catch a fly. A thought balloon to left of the frog reads, “Don’t litter,” and the words, “Drains to Dodd Creek” can be found around the mouth of the storm drain. Junior Lakeisha Ponce helped Todd with the painting the actual artwork.

The image of a beaver reclining against a log in Dodd Creek was designed by senior Saidi Villalvoso and painted with the assistance of senior Amberly Schaffer and junior Kaitlyn Miller. Villalvoso’s design also includes a plastic bottle and aluminum can floating in the water with the words, “Keep Dodd Creek clean” stretching across the mouth of the storm drain.

Junior Bria Digiandomenico’s design shows five different types of animals — butterflies, bees, a deer, a bear and bird — in front of a rendering of the state that shows its major waterways. The phrase, “Please don’t litter” runs the length of the Arkansas-Missouri border in the image. Juniors Kaylee Anderson, Heaven Wooten, Lauren Nelson and Isabelle Schmuecker painted the artwork for Digiandomenico.

Prior to being painted last month, the Mountain Home Street Department applied a base coat to the storm drains to make the surface easier to paint on. After the drain was painted, Street Department workers applied a clear overcoat to help protect the artwork from the elements. The Street Department also furnished the paint the students used and provided a traffic flagger to help keep students safe while they worked.

The three recently painted storm drains join six other decorated drains along Bomber Boulevard that were painted last year.

“Everyone that has seen the drains have had something positive to say about them,” Blumreich said. “All the art, colors and slogans have all been very catchy and on point.”

Compared to last season’s storm drains, this year’s artwork appears larger in size and uses more of each storm drain’s acreage, with each design spilling over the sidewalk onto the curb surrounding the mouth of the drain.

“The kids saw everyone’s designs last year, and they had more time to think about what they wanted to do this time,” said Mountain Home High School art instructor Beth Ivens. “I told them they were free to paint wherever (the Street Department) put the base coat down. It let them know that everything was fair game.”

The Paint the Drain project is similar to projects in Springfield, Mo., Fayetteville and Little Rock that use art to help raise awareness about storm drains. Mountain Home has about 1,500 storm drains across the city, Street Department Director Arnold Knox said.

“A lot of people in town, if it disappears into the ground, it’s gone,” Knox said. “They don’t realize that’s just the beginning of its life as it hits those creeks.”

Blumreich said anything that you see on the ground that can be washed away may eventually find its way into local storm drains, and from there into the local waterways.

“It’s everything from cigarette butts to fast-food wrappers,” he said. “Some of it is runoff from parking lots. If you see litter in a parking lot, a lot of that is going to get washed into the storm drains. Some of the things that are in there — but aren’t seen — are excess fertilizer from lawns and motor oil. Some people think they can change their oil and dispose of it down the storm drain, but you can’t.”

Both Ivens and Blumreich expressed hope that Paint the Drain program would expand to the Mountain Home Junior High and Pinkston Middle School in the coming years. High school art students could help mentor and work with the younger students on the project, they suggested.

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