Friends of the Rouge reflect on 30th anniversary

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 22, 2016

 Volunteers catch fish in a net.

Volunteers catch fish in a net.

Photo provided by Friends of the Rouge

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FARMINGTON HILLS  — Times are a changin’ at the Rouge River — and the Friends of the Rouge in Dearborn have been there to see it.

The organization has 30 years under its belt, enhancing the quality of life at the Rouge River watershed since 1986.

FOTR Board President Michael Darga said the community is more aware of the Rouge River and has become interested in taking proactive efforts.

“The residents of the watershed have become much more involved in their watershed,” he said in an email statement. “What was once not seen or valued is now seen as a resource and asset to be valued, protected and restored. More and more residents are viewing themselves as stewards of the river and the Rouge watershed.”

Darga’s right about community concern. Two years ago, cleanup efforts for the Rouge River produced 57 tires, two shopping carts, two mattresses, two large pieces of furniture and two bicycles — 133 cubic yards of trash.

River Restoration Program Manager Cyndi Ross said that in the 1980s, the garbage problem was far worse. 

“The river has come a long way,” she said, adding that since 1980, 47,000 cubic yards of trash have been removed from the Rouge River. “That would fill a whole lot of trucks.”

Sixty-four vehicles, 1,800 tires, over 500 shopping carts and 245 large household appliances, like refrigerators, have been thrown in the river’s watershed. 

“You’ll often hear me say, ‘I can’t imagine what the river would look like without the Rouge Rescue.”

 The Rouge Rescue is the largest event of the year for the group and is one of the largest river cleanups in the nation. 

The Rouge River, whose upper branch runs through Heritage Park, has four main branches — the main, the upper, the middle and the lower — that comprise 126 river miles.

The Rouge River drains through 467 miles in three counties and 48 municipalities in metro Detroit. The watershed communities are also home to nearly 1.35 million people, according to www.therouge.org.

Waste Management sponsored the Friends of the Rouge’s 30th anniversary and has been a sponsor for FOTR since 1986. 

Waste Management, based in Houston, provides waste management services and is the largest waste and recycling company in North America. 

Through its subsidiaries, the company provides collection, transfer, recycling and resource recovery, and disposal services, according to a press release. 

In recent years, Waste Management has given more than $11,600 to FOTR, according to a press release.

Darga said in a press release that Waste Management is a “wonderful partner and sponsor,” providing financial and in-kind sponsorship, along with connectivity to the community and other partners.  

“We are grateful for their continued generosity and support,” Darga said.

Kathleen Klein, community affairs representative for Waste Management, agreed.

“Waste Management supports the concept that no matter where you live, we all live in a watershed, and connecting individuals to this fact helps create awareness around human impact on this important recreational asset and environmental resource,” Klein said, adding that FOTR is “a wonderful grass-roots effort supported by volunteerism and local memberships and business sponsors, all working in collaboration to make the most of local, state and federal funding to educate and promote a healthy Rouge River.” 

Ross said the FOTR is headed in the right direction.

“We’re happy to be celebrating 30 years working to restore the river,” Ross said. “We like to think we have played a major role in all the work done to help clean up the river. We don’t do it alone. We have a lot of partners that help to keep sewage out of the river. … A lot of great work has been done.”

Bill Craig, an FOTR member and a volunteer for 28 years, said he became involved with the Wayne County-based Holliday Nature Preserve, which encouraged members to help FOTR with Rouge Rescue events.

“We adopted that program as an annual event,” Craig said. “So each year after that, we sponsored one of their cleanup sites.”

Craig said the FOTR was part of his “awakening” on environmental issues.

“That got me interested in watershed issues; that brought me closer than just picking up garbage and making it look nice,” he added. “It led to an education. There is more than just fish in the river. There is insects — there is life in that river, and we should do more to protect it.” 

The Livonia resident added that FOTR is a group of good people doing good work.

“They do a good job of educating the public, and things are getting better,” he said.

For more information, go to www.therouge.org.

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