Discover Maple River: A Look Back

Sarah Himes
Office Manager Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

2022 was the year that my career and parenting took a total turn for the better. I went from being a stressed-out associate news producer and freelance videographer to an environmentalist-in-training and an advocate for a river that so many of us hold near and dear to our hearts. My life became happier and I received a much-needed dose of mother nature all thanks to the awesome team at MRWA. One of the many highlights with the new job: meeting the wonderful people that call the Muskegon River Watershed their home – especially those living in the Maple River area. In this edition of Riverside Rearing, I am showcasing my most favorite event of 2022 and a preview of our 2023 Discover Maple River.

Discover Maple River – Learning More About the Community

My new career was kickstarted with a big initiative that MRWA was undertaking – Maple River Restoration Project. Located in the lower third of the Muskegon River watershed, the Maple River was once a bountiful anabranch of the Muskegon River that completed the water border around what was then a distinct island- Maple Island. Since its closure in the late-1800s, these man-made hydraulic barriers have periodically contributed to increased flooding in the area – particularly in 1986, 2011, and 2014. This resulted in farmland and roads completely submerged in water. The flooding delayed the start of the growing season, reduced crops, and damaged and eroded property for those affected by these disasters.

In March 2022, MRWA and Cedar Creek Township hosted a public meeting involving stakeholders in the area. This was a moment for Maple River citizens to share their thoughts and concerns over the proposed removal of the barriers at the closed-off anabranch.

As a Muskegon River stakeholder myself, I was pleased to see that farmers, residents, and business owners were given a stage to tell their stories. But, I was most impressed by the incredible dedication and care that MRWA Executive Director Scott Faulkner and Principal Watershed Scientist Marty Holtgren had for these people. They genuinely and constantly carry out MRWA’s mission.

Community members continued to share their stories with Marty and Scott during and after the meeting. It was evident that MRWA needed to do even more for the people of Maple River.

Discover Maple River – Field Trip

After a Spring full of Maple River stakeholder and property visits and Maple River committee meetings, Scott developed the idea for a Summertime BBQ and get-together for all of those involved and affected by this project. But, he also wanted to have a generational impact. To fit both of those needs, Discover Maple River was created – a day dedicated to the past, present and future of the Maple River.

Education was the big theme for this event. The morning focused on nearly 100 middle-schoolers from Holton and Grant Public Schools. Led by highly qualified instructors, they traversed the Maple River territory learning about wildlife, plants, macroinvertebrates and wild rice (Manoomin) that inhabit the area. In addition to those hands-on learning activities, the field trip featured a second stop, where the students visited an agricultural/residential spot near the Maple River where they explored bank erosion, water testing, and soil.

Overall, the students had a great time, and so did our team of educators. “I really enjoyed the river field trip,” said a student from Holton Middle School. “My favorite part was learning about the wild rice. But, I also liked looking at all of the animals, plants and ecosystems.”

“My favorite part from the Whippleville site was bank erosion because it was cool and I learned that the river bank decreases about a foot a year,” a Grant Middle School student mentioned.
We have hopes that the education that these students receive will stick with them for life, and they can share it with the next generation to come.

Discover Maple River – Grand Finale

We had envisioned that the day would end with a big BBQ with people from all over the area, including stakeholders, sharing Maple River conversation and a beer. These are the folks with whom we have built relationships since the beginning of the proposed project, This is what we had intended to happen and this is exactly what we got.

Thrilled with the chatter happening underneath the outdoor tents at 7 Mile Inn’s back patio, Scott, who was also our LIVE entertainment for the event, made the executive decision to hold off on performing his set. “The vibe is just so great,” he said to me while smiling. “I don’t want to kill this conversation with loud music, let’s let them talk – this is the Maple River community coming together”.

The evening included not only conversation and great food, but education for the adults as well.

Discover Maple River’s inaugural year was also exciting from a planning standpoint. We connected with valuable partners like Ice Mountain (Blue Triton Brands) and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. I was able to meet other passionate people and professionals who shared a love for the environment. We worked with amazing educators like Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck (FSU), Melanie Manion (Ottawa County Parks), Alison Smart (LRBOI) – and Arlene Anderson-Vincent, Amanda Robinson and Paul Weissborn from Blue Triton Brands. Lastly, I was able to connect with residents on how we could make Discover Maple River even bigger and better in the future.

Discover Maple River – Looking Ahead

Now that we have successfully hosted our first Discover Maple River event, MRWA is excitingly gearing up for it’s return in 2023. We still intend to host it mid-September at 7 Mile Inn in Fremont and the DNR State Game Area, with a field trip for not only students but adults as well. Our MRWA Education Committee will also be planning for more in-class prep activities in addition to the hands-on lessons.

More info to come! Stay updated by joining our mailing list.