RCE Grand Rapids-2015

1. Project Title: 
Plaster Creek Stewards - Update
2. Thematic area/s addressed by the project
Other (please clarify) : 
Water Quality/Storm Water Management
3. Project partner contact information : 
Calvin College
Main Contact: 
Dr. Gail Gunst Heffner at gheffner@calvin.edu
4. Project type
Select the relevant type for your project: 
5. Project description
Provide a short description of the project including strategies, regional challenges, aims and specific project activities.: 

Plaster Creek is the most degraded stream in West Michigan, so contaminated that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) deems it unfit for even partial human body contact. Plaster Creek drains into Michigan’s largest river, the Grand River, which drains into Lake Michigan, one of five major lakes in the Great Lakes, in the northern United States which comprise 21% of the fresh water in the world. When local watersheds have been damaged by neglect, this has huge implications not just for this region but for the North American continent and for the world. Calvin College has made a long term commitment to help restore Plaster Creek and its highly damaged watershed. Plaster Creek Stewards is a collaboration of Calvin College faculty, staff, and students working with local schools, churches, and community partners to restore health and beauty to the Plaster Creek Watershed. We have the expertise needed, the community partners in place, and a clear strategy to make a significant positive difference in West Michigan and the whole Great Lakes region.

Plaster Creek Stewards focuses on three areas—education, research, and on-the-ground restoration. Our goal is to educate the community about watershed ecology, and to develop a growing group of people who understand the strengths, needs, and problems affecting the Plaster Creek Watershed. Our educational events are always combined with opportunities to take action and we work to equip people with the knowledge and skills needed to restore health to the watershed. For more information, see http://www.calvin.edu/go/plastercreekstewards

In the last year we have completed our first major grant (more than $500,000) from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) which focused on community education efforts, faculty and student research, and the installation of three large green infrastructure projects to reduce storm water reaching the creek, which is a critical factor in its restoration. We know from our historical research that it has taken more than 100 years for the watershed to become this degraded and it will take several decades of concerted effort to see significant improvement in this damaged urban waterway. In the spring of 2015 we began work on our second grant from MDEQ ($1.1 million) to continue this important watershed restoration project.

6. Project status
On Going
We have also come to realize the importance of reaching the next generation of environmental leaders and helping them develop knowledge and particular skills to foster watershed restoration. This is the third year for the Plaster Creek Stewards Green Team, an initiative for at-risk urban youth to provide them with research experience in watershed restoration, job skill development in green infrastructure, and mentoring by college faculty and student research assistants. Plaster Creek Stewards received funding to expand the Green Team for 2015 and 2016 through a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Urban Waters grant. In addition to the eight students for Plaster Creek Stewards Green Team, we added eight students to the Rogue River Green Team. The selected members of these Green Teams increased their awareness of ecological problems occurring within their own communities and developed a deeper understanding of the environmental justice issues created by lack of awareness between upstream and downstream. Specifically, they learned about watershed restoration and the importance of low impact development; they gained research experience in green infrastructure job skills; they learned about the propagation of native plants, as well as designing, installing and maintaining rain gardens and bio-swales.
For more information, contact Dr. Gail Gunst Heffner at gheffner@calvin.edu
8. Tagging