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Nonprofit makes kits available for waterway cleanups
May 17, 2023
Want to clean up a Michigan river and don’t know where to start? Michigan Waterways Stewards (MWS) has your back. The Lansing-based nonprofit has launched a first-of-its-kind “kit” to loan out for waterway cleanups, featuring everything from boats to grappling hooks to first-aid supplies.
Michigan Waterways Stewards founder Mike Stout working on cleaning and clearing a Grand River river-wide obstruction in north Lansing.
The centerpiece of the Michigan Waterways Rescue Unit (MiWRU) is an electric-powered inflatable catamaran for conducting waterways assessments and cleanups. It can navigate nearly all areas of a river or comb a large inland lake. Additional items include a flat-bottomed jon boat, canoes, a rack system, paddles, lifejackets, first-aid kits, an enclosed cargo trailer, a 4x4 all-terrain vehicle, rope and cable, a winch and grappling hook, and cleanup supplies such as bags and trash grabbers.
The unit is meant to equip any group to conduct a cleanup in a practical, efficient, and safe way. MWS unveiled it last month at the 28th Annual Quiet Adventures Symposium at Michigan State University. The group plans to produce more kits over time, funded by donations.
“The cost for direct materials alone for each Michigan Waterways Rescue Unit is approximately $45,000,” said MWS founder and President Mike Stout. “We will procure them as funding becomes available and seek the generous support of individuals, clubs, businesses, government, or any other person or group that considers protection and improving our waterways is important.”
Stout graduated from MSU in 1983 and moved back to Lansing from out of state last summer. A long-distance adventure kayaker who has paddled across lakes Huron and Superior, he has competed in extreme races across the country and crossed Lake Michigan a record six times.
Training on the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers, Stout was shocked by unsightly and dangerous conditions due to debris and obstructions. The worst was an old-style railroad bridge where logs and vegetation had collected unchecked for as long as 10 years, trapping large pools of trash, litter, and other urban debris.
His calls for authorities or the public to address the problem reached the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), who contacted him to discuss some of the challenges to solving the problem.
Eventually, Stout met with President Chris Bagwell of the Adrian and Blissfield Railroad Co. and came up with to a plan to remove the obstruction and litter within a week, with volunteer help.
“Within a short period of time, we transformed a longstanding, terribly unsightly, dangerous, river-wide obstruction into one of the most scenic rivers stretches in urban Lansing,” Stout said.
The success left him feeling empowered to found MWS, knowing much more work was needed.
“We are thrilled to help, whether it be to independently lead, partner, or promote waterways stewardship,” he said.
While the group plans to eventually offer resources statewide, Stout said this year’s focus is on the Grand River from Eaton Rapids to Portland, and the navigable portion of the Red Cedar River, beginning east of Williamston.
Groups interested in using the MiWRU free of charge can reach it on the MWS website.
About Michigan Waterways Stewards
MWS’ mission is to protect and improve Michigan’s treasured and vulnerable waterways for the benefit of fish and wildlife, recreation, and sport. Through its work, the group aims to inspire current and future generations to protect and care for our prized waterways, and to make Michigan’s waterways the envy of U.S. industrial states.
The group’s Michigan Waterways Rescue Unit allows for ongoing, scalable, and sustainable waterways stewardship.
Individuals and organizations are invited to help by becoming volunteer River Angels or joining MWS as a member, sponsor, or partner. Learn more at the MWS website, and follow the group on Facebook.