“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” 
― John Donne

Cleaning Up the Thornapple River

Cleaning Up the Thornapple River

The Thornapple River Watershed Council hosted the 22nd Annual Cleanup of the Thornapple River on Saturday morning, Sept. 16. The river runs from Thornapple Lake, which is just east of Hastings, Mich., through the Michigan countryside until it empties into the Grand River in Ada. Fred Steketee, a member of the TRWC and organizer for the cleanup commented that the river was the lowest he'd ever seen it, and clear because there hadn't been any recent rainfall. Both are good conditions for finding garbage in the river. The group that met at Ruehs Park was one of three working to clean up the river this weekend.

The Soil and Water Conservation Society from Grand Valley State University was well represented at the clean-up, too. They're a group of students who volunteer with local environmental organizations to do things like river and roadside cleanups, fight invasive species and other volunteer work days that support conservation efforts. 

Several local citizens also showed up to help do their part to keep the river clean. Joe Mendez and Abby Merrill, both GVSU alumni, live on the river and used their pontoon boats to cleanup downstream from Ruehs Park, which acted as the rendezvous point for the group. Ruehs Park is in a small, unincorporated village called Alaska in Caledonia township. Another group of kayaks and canoes carpooled up to a landing on 84th Street and combed the river back to Ruehs Park from there.

 The group split into two to avoid crossing this area of the river at Ruehs park, where an old mill is supposed to have sat. The worn wood on the bottom right was likely part of the former structure. There is a deceptive deep spot in the river, that caused  a drowning, just last year.  

The group split into two to avoid crossing this area of the river at Ruehs park, where an old mill is supposed to have sat. The worn wood on the bottom right was likely part of the former structure. There is a deceptive deep spot in the river, that caused a drowning, just last year. 

 Fred Steketee passed out shirts to everyone as they arrived, then outlined the day's plan, gave some safety instructions and divided everyone into the groups they'd be working in.

Fred Steketee passed out shirts to everyone as they arrived, then outlined the day's plan, gave some safety instructions and divided everyone into the groups they'd be working in.

 Six canoes and two kayaks launched from the public access by LaBarge Dam, seen in the background of this photo. In the foreground, Bill Sonday and Jenifer Werdon get help launching from Korie Ebenstein. This was Ebenstein's sixth time working with the TRWC, whereas Sonday was on his third year, and Werdon on her first.

Six canoes and two kayaks launched from the public access by LaBarge Dam, seen in the background of this photo. In the foreground, Bill Sonday and Jenifer Werdon get help launching from Korie Ebenstein. This was Ebenstein's sixth time working with the TRWC, whereas Sonday was on his third year, and Werdon on her first.

 Sonday and Werdon fell behind the group before they even crossed under the 84th Street bridge, but had already gathered plenty of refuse, as well. Werdon often held the canoe in place while Sonday jumped ashore, or into the river, to gather cast-off bottles and bags.

Sonday and Werdon fell behind the group before they even crossed under the 84th Street bridge, but had already gathered plenty of refuse, as well. Werdon often held the canoe in place while Sonday jumped ashore, or into the river, to gather cast-off bottles and bags.

 Sydney Kamaloski(right) and Alainna O'Neill led the group. Because of the low level of the river, the canoes would run aground on the rocky bottom of the river frequently. You can see Kamaloski planting the paddle in the river bottom to drag the canoe along.

Sydney Kamaloski(right) and Alainna O'Neill led the group. Because of the low level of the river, the canoes would run aground on the rocky bottom of the river frequently. You can see Kamaloski planting the paddle in the river bottom to drag the canoe along.

 Werdon and Sonday were barely a half-mile down the river when their canoe was weighted down with a tire, an old plastic patio table, and several bags of other garbage.

Werdon and Sonday were barely a half-mile down the river when their canoe was weighted down with a tire, an old plastic patio table, and several bags of other garbage.

 Tony Duong(in red) and Mary Parr, both seniors at GVSU who came to the cleanup with the SWCS, approach the far riverbank looking for garbage. In the foreground you can see some of the spiderwebs that were along the banks. In some spots, people said they saw so many that they wouldn't go in to look for garbage.

Tony Duong(in red) and Mary Parr, both seniors at GVSU who came to the cleanup with the SWCS, approach the far riverbank looking for garbage. In the foreground you can see some of the spiderwebs that were along the banks. In some spots, people said they saw so many that they wouldn't go in to look for garbage.

 Vanessa Foera maneuvers her kayak through the dead-falls and underbrush along the side of the river. In the middle of the iron hoop on her kayak is an old toolbox that she recovered from the river's bottom. She and her sister, Rachel Frantz, grew up near the Thornapple River and like to help keep it free of pollution.

Vanessa Foera maneuvers her kayak through the dead-falls and underbrush along the side of the river. In the middle of the iron hoop on her kayak is an old toolbox that she recovered from the river's bottom. She and her sister, Rachel Frantz, grew up near the Thornapple River and like to help keep it free of pollution.

 Alex and Korie Ebenstein inspect the riverbank as they pass. Both of them graduated from GVSU, Alex in Natural Resources Management and Korie in Biology. They've been cleaning up the river together for a total of six years.

Alex and Korie Ebenstein inspect the riverbank as they pass. Both of them graduated from GVSU, Alex in Natural Resources Management and Korie in Biology. They've been cleaning up the river together for a total of six years.

 Foera and her sister continue down the river while GVSU freshmen Matthew Silverhart and Avery Duarte push upstream to get around a shallow spot in the river and avoid running aground. Between them on their canoe is the top of a car. Steketee thought perhaps it was part of an old  Studebaker .

Foera and her sister continue down the river while GVSU freshmen Matthew Silverhart and Avery Duarte push upstream to get around a shallow spot in the river and avoid running aground. Between them on their canoe is the top of a car. Steketee thought perhaps it was part of an old Studebaker.

 By the time Kamaloski and O'Neill reached Ruehs park again, they had collected several bags of garbage and a plastic Adirondack chair. Once the garbage was removed, the volunteers rinsed out each canoe, which were on loan from Camp O'Malley.

By the time Kamaloski and O'Neill reached Ruehs park again, they had collected several bags of garbage and a plastic Adirondack chair. Once the garbage was removed, the volunteers rinsed out each canoe, which were on loan from Camp O'Malley.

 Hana Christoffersen(left) and Khoi Nguyen unload their collection of cast-offs and litter. They both came because of the SWCS, too. The child's life jacket they found(in the grass on the right) was the focus of some bemused concern.

Hana Christoffersen(left) and Khoi Nguyen unload their collection of cast-offs and litter. They both came because of the SWCS, too. The child's life jacket they found(in the grass on the right) was the focus of some bemused concern.

 Silverhart(in red) looking at their other big find, an electric log-splitter. It was so heavy that he had to drag it down the riverbank to a place where Duarte, his canoe partner, could maneuver close to load it in underneath the car rooftop they had already recovered.

Silverhart(in red) looking at their other big find, an electric log-splitter. It was so heavy that he had to drag it down the riverbank to a place where Duarte, his canoe partner, could maneuver close to load it in underneath the car rooftop they had already recovered.

 Parr and Duong dragging their canoe out of the water. Once they were unloaded and washed, both garbage and canoes had to be carried about 300 ft uphill to the parking lot. Blake de Jong(not pictured), from Camp O'Malley, helped load the canoes.

Parr and Duong dragging their canoe out of the water. Once they were unloaded and washed, both garbage and canoes had to be carried about 300 ft uphill to the parking lot. Blake de Jong(not pictured), from Camp O'Malley, helped load the canoes.

 According to Steketee, the group finds less and less garbage each year, which is great. This year they found a bit more than last year, but it was attributed to the low water-level and clear water making the trash easier to find. After the clean-up, the group tucked into a free lunch provided by local businesses who appreciate the group's work.

According to Steketee, the group finds less and less garbage each year, which is great. This year they found a bit more than last year, but it was attributed to the low water-level and clear water making the trash easier to find. After the clean-up, the group tucked into a free lunch provided by local businesses who appreciate the group's work.

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