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‘You can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty’

Working to make waterways clean

Godwin Heights — It is a brisk day in December as four Godwin students make their way through the orange fencing around a bioswale at Wyoming’s Pinery Park.

“Why do you think we put the seeds out now?” asks Betty Kliewer from Calvin College’s Plaster Creek Stewards. “They certainly won’t grow.”

Right on cue, a bird flies down and searches among the plants.

“What is the bird looking for?” Kliewer asks. “Seeds,” the students answer.

Kliewer continues: “If we spread the seeds now, just before a snow, then the snow will act as a blanket helping to prevent the birds from eating the seeds, and hopefully they will have a chance to grow in the spring.”

Building a Bioswale

A bioswale is a long channel or trench that has vegetation such as grasses, flowers, and shrubs; and soil, mulch, or stones to slow down rainwater and filter pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizer.

Sixth-grader Cleo Cassidy spreads seeds in the bioswale at Wyoming’s Pinery Park

“It is to help keep the water clean that is going into the creek,” says sixth-grader Cleo Cassidy. The Pinery Park area is part of the Plaster Creek watershed, with the water draining into Plaster Creek.

For the past several years, The Green Club, Godwin Middle School’s environmental club, helped build the bioswale, which is located on the south end of the park between the baseball fields and the woods. 

“This was a two-year project that became a three-year-project due to COVID,” says William Mull, a middle school math teacher who serves as the group’s adviser. 

The original plan was for the club to do similar watershed work at Hillcroft Park, but it was turned down due to soil contamination issues. Working with the City of Wyoming and Plaster Creek Stewards, the group learned of a project – the bioswale – it could do at Pinery Park. 

The group worked with Grand Valley State University’s Groundswell, a coalition of partners that creates opportunities for hands-on environmental learning in West Michigan. Along with building the bioswale, club members also performed water and soil testing, created videos on keeping watersheds healthy and designed a sign to inform visitors about the bioswale. The sign was installed earlier this year.

Green Club members next to the sign they designed to help identify the bioswale

Now It’s About Upkeep

The work is not done. On this chilly day, club members make a mixture of seeds, sand, soil and water to spread. The seeds are from native plants that it is hoped will grow and reduce the need to hand-weed, Mull says, adding he expects the group will be out this spring to do that work.

“I think it is really cool to be able to help the land and the environment,” says sixth-grader Cleo Cassidy. “I enjoy being part of the group because you have fun, plant plants and you get to venture outside.”

Sixth-grader Nathanel Calderon says he too joined the group because he thought it would be fun, adding “you can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty” as he reaches into his bucket for more seeds.

“I know I am happy to be able to help the community,” says sixth-grader Nadia Zamora. “It just makes it a little better.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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