A little less stormwater will flow into the Rogue River this summer, and hopefully less litter and pollutants too, thanks to a joint project of East Rockford Middle School sixth-graders, Trout Unlimited and the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW).
Shortly before school let out, one group of students planted about 2,000 native Michigan flowers, grasses and sedges near the Rogue along the White Pine Trail. The bioswale aims to reduce stormwater runoff into the river and regulate water temperature to protect the coldwater trout stream. The students, an East Middle magnet team known as Earth Keepers, had previously pulled out aggressive grasses called phragmites that had displaced the native plants.
The Earth Keepers have been working on community projects with Trout Unlimited for about six years and with the city of Rockford for the past three, said their teacher, Barbara Altizer.
“The whole idea is not just to slow the water down, but eliminate a lot of the water that goes (into the river) because the plants will soak it up,” Altizer said. “It will follow the roots into the ground instead of sitting on top and ending up in the drain.”
It is the third restoration garden students have planted in more than 8,000 square-feet downtown. Students also have put in rain gardens around East Rockford Middle School to reduce runoff into Bostwick Lake.
Another team of students, called the Community and Service magnet, stenciled messages on storm drains downtown. They read “No Dumping, Drains to Waterway,” to let residents know any trash or pollutants put in the drains go straight into the river. The hope is people will think twice about cleaning off paint brushes or putting dog waste into the drains.
“So many people think it just flows to a facility for treatment,” Altizer said. “They didn’t realize it flows directly into our waterways.”
The project was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program proposed for elimination by President Trump.
The school’s environmental efforts are part of Groundswell, an initiative of Grand Valley State University, and tied to science and social studies learning standards. Projects will continue in future years as part of a lasting legacy students are leaving, Altizer added. “We have a limited amount of fresh water, which needs good stewards in order to be there for future generations.”