MRWA 2019 Year in Review

If you want to know what kind of year we had in 2019 ask MRWA Office Manager, Patricia Jarrett, who takes ownership of our annual activities calendar. She is involved to some degree with everything we do as an organization.

Looking back at the 2019 calendar, she felt it was an exceptional year for community involvement and volunteer activities. Our Citizen Scientist programs have been successful and very rewarding. We are fortunate to find people who want to be personally involved and are willing to take responsibility for protecting their local environment. The programs take a scientific approach and deliver real environmental impact.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of generous partners who believe in our work. We are sincerely grateful to the Fremont Area Community Foundation, The Community Foundation of Muskegon County, the DTE Energy Foundation and the Cargill Cares Committee for their ongoing financial support.

The MiCorps Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program is a great example of an effective volunteer activity. Trained volunteers analyze insect populations and habitat in designated streams throughout the watershed. The information they collect contributes to a statewide database maintained by EGLE as an aid to water resource planning. Last year Pat managed two successful events, one in May and one in September. In total, over seventy citizen scientists monitored sites in Mecosta, Muskegon, Montcalm and Newaygo Counties. MRWA board member and Ferris Biology professor Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck, Ph.D. played an active role as usual, working closely with students from the Ferris Outdoor Club. Professor Workman’s Biology class also participated in volunteer stream monitoring a new site on Mitchell Creek.

Although this program has been a fixture on our calendar for over a decade, the final grant has expired. Fortunately, two of our most supportive partners, The Fremont Area Community Foundation and the DTE Energy Foundation have stepped up to offer funding to continue the effort.

September was the busiest month with three separate projects in addition to the stream monitoring activity.
In week one, MRWA Executive Director Marty Holtgren led a team of citizen scientists out on the Muskegon River with dip nets and searchlights in the middle of the night for six consecutive nights. Supported by partners from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan DNR, the goal was to capture young sturgeon prior to a scheduled sea lamprey treatment. Despite their best efforts, the volunteers only observed one lake sturgeon which was captured on the last night, but that hardly dampened the enthusiasm of volunteer Colton Isenhart.

On Saturday, the 21st, nine teams totaling sixty-six participants conducted the most extensive river clean up in our history. Covering over fifty miles of river from Muskegon all the way up stream to Evart. The 2019 Muskegon River Trash Bash was the result of months of logistical planning led by Pat Jarrett. Judging by the piles of trash pulled from the river the event was a huge success and promises to be even bigger next year.

At the end of the month, we may have set the unofficial MRWA record for total participation when over 100 community volunteers gathered to address an eroding riverbank at Northend Riverside Park. The native plant prairie garden they installed measures over 2,750 square feet and anchors the bank in place. Our relationship with DTE continues to bear fruit as a DTE work crew led by area supervisor Tyler Gage planted native shrubs and trees in strategic locations along the river. MRWA staff was out in force and board members, Ken Johnson and Nancy Burmeister played major roles as well.

It is quite easy to know where Marty’s passions lie. Just take note of the projects he champions. No one spends six long cold nights in the dark in a boat on the river trying hard to capture at least one young sturgeon unless he really cares.

Consider as well, The Newaygo County Conservation Collaborative, a volunteer organization that continues to flourish. The founding members in addition to the MRWA include Newaygo County Parks, Newaygo Conservation District, Newaygo Drain Commission, and Newaygo Invasive Plant Project (NIPP) and MSU Extension.

Marty has led this group and has established a very clear direction. “The idea is to immerse all age groups of people in natural adventure in the local environment in all seasons of the year. We introduce them to swimming, snorkeling, ice fishing, tree planting, raingarden installation and more. We work with disadvantaged and at-risk kids and their response is very overwhelming and rewarding. They understand the need to take personal responsibility in protecting the local environment.”

The Newaygo County Conservation Collaborative executed two successful events last year: The Freezin’ Season Winter Carnival in March and the Snorkel Event on Diamond Lake in July. There are already two events in the works for 2020.

Under the leadership of Nancy Burmeister, the MRWA Education Committee was well represented on Pat’s calendar last year. The Twin Lake Water Fair has become an MRWA tradition, an annual event for second graders at Twin Lake Elementary School. The kids are excited to be outside and eager to learn about the natural world. This year Lorrie Murray from the education committee thrilled her audience with a presentation on “Turtles of the Watershed” featuring real live turtles.

In July, the committee supported Rebecca Sandee, an elementary school teacher who delighted her first and second grade students with a party to celebrate the planting of a new rain garden at Reeths-Puffer Central Elementary School. Special appreciation to H&H Landscape Supply for the technical expertise and hard work required to get all of the plants safely in the ground.

In an important development in house, we welcomed Mary Hansen to our staff as the full-time project coordinator focused on aquatic invasive species (AIS) through a program partnership with the North Country Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. She has done great work on this project already and as she completes her responsibilities, she will stay on to manage a two-year tree-planting project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). We are very fortunate to have her on our team.

Finally, we offer our congratulations and a reluctant farewell to Sydnie Harding who graduated cum laude from Ferris State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in August. Sydnie, as a freshman, joined our office as a clerical assistant in 2016 and established herself as an essential member of our team. We will miss her enthusiasm and quiet competence. Best wishes!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to another productive year for the MRWA.