Grand River - River City Water Festival

Teaching students & families to protect the Grand River & Great Lakes

From learning about eco-friendly practices to fertilizer, the 2017 River City Water Festival held at the Grand Rapids Public Museum educated both school groups and the West Michigan public on the importance of protecting the Great Lakes and Grand River from nonpoint source pollution and how to do it.

What began in 2015 as a one day experience organized by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), Groundswell, and Grand Valley State University’s College of Education with around 600 attendees expanded to three days of interactive education for students, families and over 2000 attendees learning about the importance of clean water.

“I definitely think the festival has been successful, it’s been a great way to get the community, all ages, involved in thinking about how we can protect the Grand River,” said Joanna Allerhand, Assistant Director at the Center for Educational Partnerships at Grand Valley State University.

This year, school groups were invited to attend Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24, and rotated through several hands-on learning stations featuring lessons on, among other things, water cycles and aquatic ecosystems. The public was invited to the festival Saturday, March 25, where families could learn about nonpoint source pollution problems in, and solutions for, our waterways.

This year, presenters included Blandford Nature Center, John Ball Zoo, Plaster Creek Stewards of Calvin College, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department, Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, Kent Conservation District, and Macatawa Area Coordinating Council.

Entering its third year attending the festival, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) focused its education activity on informative, action-based solutions. LGROW paired interactive, visual presentations with questions for students to answer about nonpoint source pollution.

Bonnie Broadwater, Stormwater Program Coordinator at the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, said LGROW focused on three pollutant sources: pet waste, snow removal, and lawn care.

“Little things like picking up after your pet, shoveling before you salt, and keeping the grass a little longer really do make a difference,” she said. “We had a great time talking with all the students and of course, we brought along a few friends to help.”

To demonstrate their knowledge after visiting each station, children and their families could fill out a “Raindrop Reflection” on small wooden raindrops personalized with a call-to-action in preventing nonpoint source pollution. The raindrops were then added to a visual art display in the entrance of the museum.

“Nonpoint source pollution comes from everywhere and is contributed by everyone, so it blends itself really well in the festival to pull the community in,” Allerhand said. “There are a lot of little things that everybody can do to make a difference.”

In addition, one of the goals of the festival is to empower others to take action and direct them to that next step, which often can be difficult to pinpoint. Allerhand said this allows for a more positive experience.

Though the River City Water Festival has entered its third year, the coordinators are still planning and organizing for a possible fourth year. For 2018, Allerhand is hopeful the festival will continue.

“I certainly hope the festival continues,” she said. “It has been well received by the community and school groups are expecting a lot of demand for these types of activities.”


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