GV community collaborates on local waterway cleanup

Grace Smith, Staff Writer

GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Grand Valley State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is partnering with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and the Ottawa County Parks Department for the 18th Annual Mayor’s Grand River Cleanup. 

On Sept.13 local Anishinaabe leaders from the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians will perform a traditional water ceremony alongside the banks of the Grand River starting at 4 p.m. Representatives will also deliver an oral history about Owashtanong, meaning far flowing waters, and its significance to the Anishinaabe community. 

“The ceremony is sort of a thank you to the river for bringing sustenance to our community,” said Peter Wampler, a collaborator on the project through the Frederik Meijer Honors College. “We are a part of a bigger world that involves more than just ourselves. We all have our separate lives, however, we are all connected by the benefits received from the river.”

Eventually, Wampler said he hopes to make the river cleanup an annual GVSU event supported by a formation of a new campus club centering around campus waterway sustainability. 

The event is part of the 18th annual Mayors Grand River Clean-up, which is taking place Sept. 11 through Sept. 18. Gloves, trash bags, and other necessary materials will be provided to event participants, as well as means of trash disposal. Kayaks will also be provided by the Ottawa County Parks Department. Event coordinators suggest wearing clothes that can get wet or dirty.

The evening will conclude with light refreshments and closing remarks from the GVSU Groundswell staff and Lin Bardwell of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Those interested in attending are encouraged to fill out a free registration form on the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ website. 

The program brings together individuals from six communities around Grand Rapids for the health benefits of the water systems that are universally valued and depended upon by locals. According to sources, this event has removed approximately 200,000 pounds of trash from the Grand River since 2004, making this event the largest organized river cleanup in Michigan. 

For the safety of others in regards to COVID-19, the WMEAC has opted to continue their deconstructed event model, allowing the event to span over a week for those wishing to participate individually. Beginning  Sept. 11, volunteers are able to participate in the event by cleaning up trash in their neighborhood, focusing on areas such as storm drains, streets, and proximal tributaries. 

Those interested in volunteering outside of the GVSU scheduled events are asked to fill out a free registration form through the city of Grand Rapids on Event Brite. WMEAC also asks participants to download the Clean Swell app to track how much material is collected and disposed of during the event. Site adoption along the Grand River is also available to groups of less than five people.  

Supply hubs will be available to individual participants at the Frederik Meijer Honors College, as well as locations in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood, and Walker. 

At GVSU’s kickoff event on Sept. 11, students and community members alike participated in a four-mile float and river cleanup starting at the Veteran’s Boat Launch and ending at the Grand Lady Rock. Participants brought their own kayaks or other personal floatation devices.  

A second 4.6 mile float is planned for Sept. 13, at 8 a.m. Boats will be launched from the Grand Lady Dock and taken out at the Grand Ravines park. Same materials and shuttles will be provided. Those interested in attending the event are asked to fill out a free registration form on the Making Waves Initiative website.  

For more information on the event or how to get involved, please visit https://wmeac.org/annual-events/mayors-grand-river-clean-up/.