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Students, Community Team Up to Protect Nash Creek


Calvin College junior Stephanie Praamsma was part of the planting brigade

Students from throughout the area and Sparta community members recently worked together to protect Nash Creek from erosion and pollution, culminating a long-term project to keep the creek flowing clean and shore up its banks.

Students in the Sparta community have been crusading to protect Nash Creek for years, planting trees, restoring prairies, and installing rain gardens and native plants to reduce polluted stormwater runoff on Sparta Schools’ property. Last year, they took their work into the community to restore the banks of Nash Creek near the library.

Rockford senior Hailey Powers gets her feet muddy while planting along the riverbed

Led by Appleview Elementary teacher Sue Blackall and supported by Groundswell, nearly 800 students from third grade through high school visited the creek throughout the year to plant a “stream buffer.” The new buffer is not only beautiful, but features deep-rooted native plants that can withstand extremes of moisture and concentrations of nutrients and other contaminants typical of stormwater runoff — the major source of water pollution in West Michigan. The polluted water gets filtered by the plants and recharges the groundwater rather than entering Nash Creek and contributing to erosion. Native plants also provide habitat for ecologically important native birds and butterflies.

Calvin College sophomore Araceli Eikenberry spreads mulch

The Village of Sparta and Downtown Development Authority were so pleased with the success of the project that they wanted to expand the native stream buffer into Rogers Park. Elementary students returned to the creek this spring and removed non-native vegetation to make room for the native plants.

This summer, community members came together to bring the project to fruition by planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers along Nash Creek in the park to further improve water quality downstream. The Green Team, made up of high school students from throughout the Rogue River and Plaster Creek watershed, led by Trout Unlimited and Plaster Creek Stewards, along with That ONE Team, a local robotics crew with a passion for water conservation, worked with volunteers to get their hands dirty and do their part to protect this important tributary of the Rogue River.

Eli Hart, left, a freshman at The Potter’s House Christian school, and Rockford senior Hailey Powers pour mulch

Green Team Supervisor Georgia Donovan reads about native plants to Kent City sixth-grader Madison Puite and second-grader Lily Hammerstrom

Madison Puite, left, a sixth-grader at Kent City Middle, helps plant native plants along with Lily Hammerstrom, a second-grader from Kent City, and Georgia Donovan, supervisor for the Rogue River Green Team

Rockford sophomore Meghan Gault, center right, and other students dig holes to place native plants on the riverbank

Jacob Postema, left, a senior at Forest Hills Eastern, holds a tray of native plants for Sparta science teacher Sue Blackall

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Dianne Carroll Burdick
Dianne Carroll Burdick has worked as a photojournalist in the West Michigan area since 1991. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she has photographed for The Grand Rapids Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Detroit Free Press, Advance Newspapers, Grand Rapids Magazine, BLUE Magazine and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting and thought provoking stories of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2016.

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