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Students jump into river cleanup with both feet

Dexter High School seniors Allie Kangas and Malia Yalisove understand that local actions ripple out globally. Backed by a Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) grant, they’ve put their knowledge to work to clean up the river that runs through their Washtenaw County community.

Dexter High School seniors Allie Kangas (left) and Malia Yalisove organized volunteer cleanups of the Huron River with help from a Michigan Clean Water Corps grant.

Dexter High School seniors Allie Kangas and Malia Yalisove organized volunteer cleanups of the Huron River with help from a MiCorps grant.

The teens, co-captains of their school’s National Ocean Sciences Bowl quiz team, organized two volunteer cleanups of a mile-long stretch of the Huron River in 2022 and produced a video showing what happened when they set their minds on making a positive impact.

“While the Huron River is no ocean, it is a really important body of water that’s directly linked to the ocean,” Malia said. She and Allie were unhappy about trash they saw in the river. Plans started to come together when Allie’s mom found a link to a MiCorps Volunteer Stream Cleanup Program grant – just two weeks before the application deadline.

“(Allie) was like, ‘Look at the impact we could be making. Let’s do it!’” Malia recalled.

The pair quickly secured the City of Dexter as a fiduciary sponsor and proceeded to identify needed materials – sunscreen and insect repellent, waders, T-shirts, etc. – and come up with a budget and a plan to recruit volunteers and gather donations from local businesses and residents.

The cleanups July 6 and Sept. 6 drew about 22 volunteers who pulled about 300 pounds of trash from the river, including oddities such as two cellphones and a children’s play structure.

“People were very excited to help us clean up and help to support our community,” Allie said, noting that many of the volunteers were their classmates. “It was just super awesome to see students so excited about cleaning our rivers and doing something good for our community.”

The grant provided $979 for the cleanup, matched by $2,180 in local funds. Sponsors included Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited, Dexter Creamery, the National Honor Society, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, Dexter Print and Embroidery, MiCorps, Skip’s Huron River Canoe Livery, the Huron River Watershed Council, and Painted Trout sporting goods store.

In all, the Volunteer Stream Cleanup Program awarded cleanup grants of $22,233 to seven governmental entities for projects in 2022. Participants in the following areas collected a total of more than 5,200 pounds of trash:

  • Ann Arbor: 1,500 pounds.
  • Battle Creek, 500 pounds.
  • Benzie Conservation District: 1,050 pounds.
  • Dexter: 300 pounds.
  • Muskegon Conservation District: 760 pounds.
  • Newaygo Conservation District: 400 pounds.
  • Grand Traverse Conservation District: 700 pounds.

2023 Volunteer Stream Cleanup Program applications

Applications are open through March 7 for grants of $500 to $5,000 from a total pool of $25,000 to support local government efforts to clean trash from rivers, streams, and creeks. Find the request for proposals at the MiCorps Stream Monitoring and Cleanup Grants page. Direct questions to Dr. Paul Steen, Huron River Watershed Council, 734-519-0449 or; or EGLE’s Tamara Lipsey, 517-342-4372 or

About MiCorps: The corps was created by executive order in 2003 to help the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) collect and share water quality data for use in water resources management and protection. Michigan State University Extension administers the program under EGLE’s direction and in partnership with the Huron River Watershed Council and Michigan Lakes and Streams Association.

Its mission is networking and expanding volunteer water quality monitoring organizations statewide to collect, share and use reliable data; educate and inform the public about water quality issues; and foster stewardship to preserve and protect Michigan’s water resources. Its three core programs are the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program, the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, and the Volunteer Stream Cleanup Program. MiCorps also provides technical assistance and other support to local units of government, nonprofit entities, and other volunteers.