Keeping Our Rivers Grand
You never know what you’re going to find in a river.
You never know what you’re going to find in a river. All too often, tires and metal scraps are more abundant than fish and water plants.
So when a colleague and I arrived at the Mayors’ Grand River Cleanup — the largest river cleanup event in west Michigan — we weren’t sure what we’d find.
For the last 15 years, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has hosted the event, which attracts volunteers from four cities who come to pick up trash along 30 miles of the Grand River.
Although it was sunny, the morning was brisk, and we were relieved to be greeted with smiling faces, coffee and doughnuts. Alongside 1,200 volunteers, our partners at West Michigan Environmental Action Council, and National River Cleanup® sponsor Cascade Blonde American Whiskey, we spent the morning roaming the banks of the river, depositing trash and recyclables in our big clear and black bags.
A very large cleanup event, like the Major’s Grand River Cleanup, can’t be accomplished without the help of local site leaders, who instructed us on safety and how to avoid plants such as poison ivy. Along the river banks, we took pictures of items too difficult or unsafe to carry out. (Think water-logged child car seats and half-buried pieces of metal.) The City Sanitary Department would come by later to remove them.
On our arrival back at Sixth Street Park, we enjoyed lunch, live music and refreshments courtesy of Founders Brewery and Cascade Blonde American Whiskey, while connecting about our strange river findings. All told, we removed approximately 20,000 pounds of trash and recyclables from the Grand River that day, proving the event’s motto: “Small acts have grand impacts” on the river.
That is not the only event in Grand Rapids that puts recycling first, though.
American Rivers also partnered with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and the city of Grand Rapids to encourage recycling at the famed Art Prize.
For 19 days, artists and spectators from around the world vote on their favorite art, which is exhibited throughout downtown Grand Rapids. The free event attracts more than 500,000 visitors, a thousand works of art and artists from 40 countries. It also accumulates tons of trash. To help cut down on trash, American Rivers staff and friends stood at the trash-sorting stations in downtown, and instructed event attendees on which container their trash, recyclables and food waste could go in.
We also separated our deposit cans out of the recyclables for the homeless that collect them to return to stores for bottle deposits. People from all over the world left Grand Rapids with inspiring pictures of art and — importantly — less trash.
At American Rivers, we help communities protect their rivers — and that includes being an active participant in the cities and towns in which we live. Lucky for us, supporting a local environmental initiative often comes with great perks like music, food and art.