Caring for our watershed

Whetstone Brook Clean-up draws many volunteers Saturday

Whetstone Brook is pictured near its outlet into Lake Superior. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — Tires. Plastic bags. Sheet metal. Styrofoam. Metal pipes. A drill bit.

These are just a few of the items that volunteers picked up during Saturday’s Whetstone Brook Clean-up event.

Despite record-breaking rainfall for the date, many people came together Saturday to help care for their local watershed by participating in the clean-up event, which was held by the Marquette County Conservation District and Megan McConville, assistant professor at Northern Michigan University’s Earth, Environmental, and Geographical Sciences Department. The event was funded by the Michigan Volunteer River, Stream and Creek Cleanup Grant Program, which provided a $2,400 grant for the project.

McConville, who helped organize the event as a way to connect the community with the brook while helping to clean up local waters, “was just so impressed by everyone,” who attended, she said, adding that people of all ages and interests came to help with the clean-up; even a high school student who was set to attend the prom later that day.

“There are just numerous ways that people are showing their support and their appreciation for this watershed,” she said.

Marquette County Conservation District Manager Jaimi Cawley prepares to award a prize during Saturday’s Whetstone Brook Clean-up. Attendees had a chance to win a variety of prizes at the clean-up event, in categories ranging from “most interesting item” to “most litter collected.” (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Volunteers met at the mouth of the brook at Founders Landing Saturday, and then split into several groups to head upstream toward the intersection of McClellan Avenue and West Washington Street and pick up litter found along the brook.

Despite the rainy weather, organizers and attendees remained positive; McConville said the day’s rain even served as an important reminder of how litter can be carried downstream by rain.

“It really is the rain that will flush this into the lake, so it’s a reminder that if we get it now, maybe the next storm does not flush it into the lake,” she said.

After picking up litter around the brook for several hours, attendees returned to Founders Landing to enjoy a lunch provided by the Burger Bus and share stories about the brook and their litter pick-up experiences.

Volunteers even won prizes for categories such as “most enthusiastic participant,” “longest distance walked,” “biggest piece of litter collected,” “most interesting item” and more.

Some of the notable items collected included large pieces of pipe, tires and numerous auto parts, a shard of an antique beer bottle reading “Upper Peninsula Brewing Company,” a car stereo, two pairs of scissors tied together and much more, volunteers said.

In addition to these less common items, a great deal of Styrofoam and “just so much plastic,” were found during the clean-up, attendees told organizers.

Beyond cleaning up the brook, the event gave organizers and volunteers a chance to connect with each other and discuss the importance of the oft-overlooked brook, which empties into Lake Superior at Founders Landing after flowing through Marquette Township and the city of Marquette, organizers said.

The brook is largely unseen in some areas, as some sections of it are routed through a pipe underground in urbanized areas, flowing beneath parking lots and other areas in the city and township.

One volunteer said that although she had ridden her bike on the portion of the bike path behind McDonald’s, she “never realized there was such a stream flowing past.”

“Once you start seeing it, you can’t unsee it,” Marquette County Conservation District Manager Jaimi Cawley told attendees. “As you’re going down the highway, you see how it moves and you see it go underneath and around. And it’s the heart of Marquette, it’s right there. And I don’t think people really realize that.”

After the lunch and discussion portion of the event, volunteers dropped off the litter collected to Waste Management, which “volunteered to open their doors for us and provided all of these bags for free,” McConville said.

With it being the first time the clean-up event was held, organizers were grateful for all who attended and all the businesses that donated to make the event possible.

“Everyone was participating and everyone’s really passionate about it,” Cawley said. “And I think it just says a lot about our community and how lucky we are. Not a lot of communities have this kind of commitment to the environment.”

Organizers hope this is the first of many clean-up events, they said, noting that they hope to hold the event again in the future.

“We appreciate everyone who came. I can’t believe how many people came with the weather today; that’s amazing. It’s just great to see how many people love Marquette and want to do their part,” said Lynnae Branham, who is an NMU student working with McConville and president of the NMU Conservation Crew. “And hopefully we can all continue to do so and keep coming together.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.