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Hundreds unite for mayors’ Grand River cleanup

File photo.
File photo.

Hundreds of West Michigan residents gathered in approximately 20 locations last Saturday for the 10th annual Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up.

Led by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and West Michigan mayors, volunteers donated their time by gathering trash along 30 miles of the Grand River and its tributaries.

What began as a small event in 2003, with a few dozen WMEAC volunteers and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, has grown into a popular annual event that attracts hundreds of volunteers and local businesses.

This year, Heartwell, Walker Mayor Barbara Holt, Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll and Grandville Mayor James Buck hosted the event.

Last year, 670 volunteers gathered 20,000 pounds of trash. This year, more than 800 volunteers were expected to participate.

Volunteers of all ages and walks of life took part in this year’s clean up, including Cub Scout troops, families, public servants and students.

According to Becky Brown, the water programs outreach coordinator for WMEAC, college students are key participants in the clean up.

Calvin College participated by leading clean up teams along Plaster Creek. Approximately 30 students participated in the event, including senior Tina Geelhoed.

“I felt so proud to call Calvin my home,” Geelhoed said. “There are some awesome groups at Calvin that focus on environmental stewardship, and many of us decided to practice what we preach.”

Geelhoed said she was impressed that Calvin students were able to work alongside secular groups toward a common goal of cleaning the Grand River. She and her team collected 30 bags of debris.

Volunteers spent the morning filling trash bags with items such as Styrofoam cups, candy wrappers, bottles and clothing, all while raising awareness for environmental issues in West Michigan.

Every year, however, WMEAC faces challenges in organizing the Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up.

“The Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up is a tremendous logistical challenge, from identifying the clean up sites to busing volunteers out to those sites,” Brown said. “The outpouring of enthusiasm for this event from the community is incredible, and while we certainly don’t want to turn people away, the biggest challenge is adapting the event to try and let everyone be involved.”

Despite these challenges, an increasing number of individuals and businesses has participated in the Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up each year. This year, more than 50 organizations and businesses partnered with the event, including Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids Young Professionals, Dean Transportation and the Great Lakes Commission.

“The Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up is not possible without the tremendous generosity of our sponsors, many of whom contribute year after year,” Brown said. “As the event continues to grow and become more ambitious, the support of sponsors is crucial.”

Organizers are still calculating the amount of trash collected, but it is expected to top last year’s grand total.

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