Years ago the Rouge River was synonymous with a dump.
The 126-mile long river that stretches through 48 metro municipalities was not known for its superb nature scenes or rapids for kayaking. Instead, people spoke about the Rouge fire fueled by pollution in 1969 and that it was full of trash.
Things have changed mostly because of the efforts of the Dearborn-based nonprofit , which has spent a quarter century working toward making the Rouge a clean, sustainable habitat for wildlife and natural resource for Michiganders.
This Saturday marks the 25th annual Thousands of volunteers will gather at 30 sites in the watershed to collect trash, plant native flowers and other greenery, and learn about why helping preserve the Rouge River is so important.
River Restoration Program Manager Cyndi Ross said that the goals of the Rouge Rescue have changed greatly over the years.
“Things have improved in many cases because volunteers have gone to these sites year after year to clean up trash,” Ross said. “So aesthetically, I think the river is much more attractive because people have learned that it is a valuable natural resource in the community, so they’re not dumping trash like they used to do.
“A lot of the work now is more of the restoration work that we’re doing, and trying to educate people about what they can do at home to try to protect water flowing into the river.”
These include simple things like not draining car fluids or lawn chemicals into sewers, as well as picking up pet waste.
Efforts to save the Rouge are year-round for FOTR. But the Rouge Rescue provides a one-day chance to make a big impact.
“We have had as many as 3,000 volunteers and we average around 2,000 volunteers for the Rouge Rescue each year, so that’s a lot of hands,” Ross said. “It could not happen without that many people out there cleaning up the river. It makes a big difference.”
The Rouge Rescue will occur Saturday in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Detroit, Plymouth, Plymouth Township, Canton, Northville, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Livonia, Novi, Wayne, Westland, Southfield and Ypsilanti. A separate Redford event will take place June 11.
“Each site across the communities engages people in different ways across the watershed,” Ross said. “Years ago some of the headwater communities didn’t realize that the river they were working on was part of the Rouge. So I think the more we’re involving people in the communities, we’re creating awareness that it is part of the Rouge.”
Everything should go well if water levels continue to drop after last week’s massive flooding of almost every area of the Rouge.
“Water levels are dropping, so as long as we don’t get hit with anything else, we should be okay for Saturday,” Ross said. “It does alter some of the work plans for some of the sites just because that sheer force of water that comes through there has really carried some of that debris downstream.”
It’s nothing like the whole cars or pounds of trash groups used to pull out of the Rouge. As the look of the river changes, so do attitudes toward it.
“I think 24 years of Rouge Rescue has helped shift (the stigma),” Ross said. “Some people still think of it as that open sewer, but more people now think of it as a natural resource, a place for recreation, a green space.
“When you change the appearance, you can change people’s attitudes.”
Rouge River Rescue sites in Birmingham and surrounding cities
- Date: June 4
- Time: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Location: Between Lincoln and Maple roads. Park in substation off Shirley Road.
- Family friendly: No
- Volunteer projects: Removal of trash and pulling of invasive plant species
- Volunteers needed: 50
- Coordinator: Carrie Laird and Connie Folk
- Sponsoring organization: City of Birmingham
- Phone: 248-530-1642
- Email: email@example.com
Douglas Evans Nature Preserve in Beverly Hills
- Date: June 4
- Time: 10 a.m.-noon
- Location: Evergreen Road, between 13 Mile and 14 Mile roads. Entrance is on the west side of Evergreen near Beverly Road.
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Volunteer projects: Focus on invasive plant removal and refuse removal as necessary. Nature walk and environmental education program.
- Volunteers needed: 10
- Coordinator: Erin Wilks
- Sponsoring organization: Village of Beverly Hills
- Phone: 248-646-6404, ext. 229
- Email: ewilks@VillageBeverlyHills.com
For a complete list of Rouge Rescue sites, click here.
Friends of the Rouge is holding a "25 Years, 25 Photos" contest, and accepting photo submissions until July 29. People are also encouraged to send in their stories about the Rouge.