> Plaster Creek Stewards Spring 2014 Newsletter


Plaster Creek Stewards

Plaster Creek Stewards is a collaboration of Calvin College faculty, staff, and students working with local schools, churches, and community partners to restore the health and beauty of the watershed.

Join us June 9 and 10 for our summer workshop:
State of the Stream: The Stormwater Trigger in the Plaster Creek Watershed

In This Issue

  • A Healthy Watershed--
    Magnet for Birds and Butterflies
  • Research Findings from Spring 2014
  • Finally Digging!


             How can you help?
     Volunteer or DONATE NOW!


Contact Us

There are many opportunities to volunteer with Plaster Creek Stewards. Thursdays this summer, volunteers will be working in the greenhouse. If you are interested in learning more about this, please contact Mike Ryskamp at mpr2@calvin.edu.


butterflyA Healthy Watershed--Magnet for Birds and Butterflies
by Gail Gunst Heffner

Much has been written about the damage that’s been done to the Plaster Creek Watershed over the past 80 years, yet it still offers signs of resilience, strength, and beauty. Over the past two years, Plaster Creek Stewards has been conducting an oral history project with residents, young and old, who have memories and experiences with Plaster Creek. One interviewee gave rich descriptions of what he’s observed since moving back to Grand Rapids:

Some of these ‘natural’ places, like Ken-O-Sha Park, still exist as remnants in our city. Unfortunately they represent isolated islands and the contrast between these natural places and our residential neighborhoods is usually stark. However, even in the most urban and industrialized areas, gardening with native plants induces butterflies to appear (as if by magic) and birds in abundance. Because nature is knit together by so many coexisting interactions (to borrow a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you plant it (a native garden) they will come (native creatures).” When native plants are incorporated into our cities, parks, and yards, numerous benefits are realized, The Rapidian, Apr. 15, 2014.

At the spring work day hosted by Plaster Creek Stewards on April 26, we talked about ways to creatively design urban green spaces to restore health to the watershed and create areas that are magnets for birds and butterflies in our yards, parks, and school and church grounds even in highly urbanized settings. These areas increase biodiversity as well as contribute to managing stormwater runoff and improving the quality of urban streams such as Plaster Creek. Following the presentation, volunteers worked in two areas to contribute to the restoration of the Plaster Creek watershed. One group planted native plants, shrubs, and trees to help capture stormwater and reduce pollution to Plaster Creek. Another group of volunteers worked hard to remove invasive buckthorn in preparation for the installation of a bio-swale which will capture stormwater draining from a large parking lot.


Research Findingspcs 1
from Spring 2014

by Dave Warners

Every spring semester, students enrolled in Biology 250 (Research Methods) learn how to design and conduct research. The ‘laboratory’ in which students do their research for this class is the entire Plaster Creek Watershed. The first half of the class is spent learning some fundamentals of scientific research and also practicing data collection using a variety of different field and laboratory techniques. For the second half of the class students assemble into groups with similar interests and conduct an experiment in which they collect data, process the data and write up their reports. These research projects help to inform Plaster Creek Stewards as we continue to work at restoring health and beauty to the creek and its watershed.

Some of the more noteworthy findings from this spring included the following:

  • Strong negative effects of Buckthorn leaves (Buckthorn is a non-native invasive shrub) on the germination of native seeds
  • Confirmation of the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Plaster Creek; Resistance was especially high with regards to penicillin; in fact bacteria resistant to penicillin were found to be more abundant than bacteria that were susceptible to penicillin.
  • An initial assessment of the influence of Indian Trails Golf Course on a tributary to Plaster Creek did not reveal any significant findings (for early spring), although a drainage pipe coming from a nearby development and emptying into this tributary was discovered to be contributing extremely contaminated runoff. We will be following through on addressing this new problem and will continue working on an environmentally-friendly ‘makeover’ of Indian Trails.
  • Some of the highest E. coli levels we have ever recorded - 13,000 pcs 2 colonies per 100ml (300 colonies per 100ml is the maximum for safe partial body contact) - were found at one site in the upper reaches of the watershed, although curiously just upstream from this site levels were much lower. We will be investigating this area for possible septic system leakage or overflow.
  • Relatively low levels of cadmium but high levels of lead were discovered in waters and soil of the Silver Creek sub-basin.
  • The threatened native grass, Diarrhena americana (Beak grass) was found to grow very poorly in soil collected from underneath Buckthorn plants (when compared to other types of soils).

Our hope is to make at least the abstracts from these projects available on our Plaster Creek Stewards website for anyone to read through. This may take a couple weeks, but keep checking or if you are especially interested, feel free to contact Dave Warners (dwarners@calvin.edu).

Finally Digging!
by Michael Ryskamp

After many months of planning, designing, and coordinating, we finally began excavating a large stormwater detention project here on Calvin’s campus. After just three days of excavation in early May, the long horse-shoe shaped trench that makes up the length of this bio-swale was complete (a bio-swale is an excavated trench/depression used for treating stormwater and trapping pollutants like dirt, oil, etc.). We will take the rest of the summer to plant and maintain a native habitat of pcs 3deeply-rooted grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers that will suck up storm water and help filter the stormwater that flows off of the two acre parking lot next to the swale.

This project is one of three “on-the-ground” restoration projects funded by a 2012 grant we received from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). We are in the post-planting maintenance phase (weeding and re-planting) at Kreiser Pond, a retention basin near Hall and Plymouth. The last of the three projects, a large bio-swale at Mel Trotter Auto Sales on 28th Street, will be installed this summer. The Mel Trotter bio-swale will treat stormwater drainage from a five acre parking lot; currently, this stormwater is piped directly into Plaster Creek. We’re looking forward to a busy summer of more excavation, planting, and bio-swaling!

Excavators work on installing the outlet pipe at the end of the bio-swale.