Work under way to conserve Plaster Creek

As proud residents of the state of Michigan, we all know our state is home to a diverse array of forests, waters and wildlife, but how can we ensure that these natural resources will be preserved for future generations to enjoy? The Michigan Wildlife Council is dedicated to increasing public awareness about wildlife conservation efforts in the state of Michigan through their Here. For Generations. campaign. As a part of the campaign, they have highlighted several conservation efforts taking place right here in the West Michigan region.

Recently we learned about the work being done by Plaster Creek Stewards, a collaboration of Calvin College faculty, staff, and students working with local schools, churches, and community partners to restore the health and beauty of our very own Plaster Creek Watershed.

Today, we are speaking with Deanna Geelhoed of the Plaster Creek Stewards.

There has been a lot of emphasis lately on the restoration of the Grand River, especially in the downtown Grand Rapids area. But many people may not realize just how important our creeks and tributaries are to the health of our rivers and lakes, according to Deanna Geelhoed with the Plaster Creek Stewards.

Plaster creek has been neglected for more than 100 years, beginning when the white settlers came to Grand Rapids, putting in the plaster mills and things like that so it will take a really long time for us to bring the creek back to equilibrium.

Today, Plaster Creek is considered one of the most polluted waterways in West Michigan, flowing into the Grand River and then into Lake Michigan.  The creek faces a lot of impairments, most expedited by storm water run off; therefore, when it rains on urban surfaces, the rain water washes off the land into the creek bringing lots of contaminants including sediments, fertilizers, animal waste, heat from our paved surfaces and parking lots as well as road salt and other things. All of these things make the quality of the water very stressful and unsafe for the aquatic life.

Plaster Creek Stewards focuses on three things our restoration, research and education. For education, there are lots of [presentations at local schools, faith communities, different public groups and teaching people the issues of Plaster Creek and trying to invoke a sense of stewardship to care for our watersheds and local waterways. The hope is that in the end, people will understand that our actions on land always affect our local watersheds and our local waterways. Some of the research being done includes testing the water quality in Plaster Creek and abnormal hydrologies in the watershed. This is through biology and chemistry and engineering classes at Calvin College, as well as citizen science and volunteers. So with research and education, there are a lot of underground restoration projects. The goal is to capture the storm water,let it soak into the ground to slow it down and soak it up to capture the rain water. In time, researchers can capture rain water and let it soak up in the ground, keeping it from going down the storm drain so it doesn't go directly into the creek.

How is this all done? This is done mainly through rain gardens. Rain gardens are shaped like a bowl that captures rain water. They are planted with native plants and these plants are native to Michigan,  so they have very deep root systems to help them survive the winters and the hot summers. These deep roots help the water to go to the ground and absorb lots of water which is perfect for rain gardens. A really awesome thing about a rain garden, is because they include plants that are naturally found in Michigan, they attract pollinators in nature like bees and butterflies, so these gardens are a way to welcome nature back into our urban spaces within our urban settings.

Plaster Creek Stewards has a lot of volunteer opportunities throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the spring time, Stewards are transplanting little seedlings from the seeds they've collected in local areas and growing the plants up through projects during the summers. There are various evening and day times for volunteers to take part.  You are invited to come to the greenhouse and can transplant those wildflowers and grasses for the projects.

It will take a lot of years of hard work to turn that shift around, for Plaster Creek to become healthy again. The hope is that with improving habitats and improving the quality of water, brook trout and other fish species can get back into the creek. Not to mention, a fun, healthy creek for families to enjoy.


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