Massive Annual Effort Keeps Rouge River Clean and Flowing Nicely

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISEDMassive Schrock2015_ad_twocitiesAnnual Effort Keeps Rouge River Clean and Flowing Nicely

(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 1, 2016)

Southfield, MI – The Rouge River has come a long way since organized community cleanups began 46 years ago.  Cyndi Ross was one of about 300 people who came out to the annual Friends of the Rouge clean up day.  The effort took place in 19 locations through the Rouge River Watershed which drains 466 square miles of land in three counties: Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw.   “Back in the early days the cleanups were about coming in and hauling out junk,” she said.

The Rouge was once one of the most polluted rivers in the country, if not the world.  Ross said cleanup efforts started with the hauling away of rusting old vehicles, mountains of tires, and dump sites full of garbage.  In 1932 and 1969 the river caught on fire. The first river cleanup effort was in 1970.  In 1986 the lisa schmidt lawFriends of the Rouge organized and began hosting the annual cleanup.  In 1989 estimates showed that 7.8 billion gallons of combined sewage was being discharged into the Rouge each year.  In 1991 a fish survey was unable to detect any fish.

Over the years, Friends of the Rouge has gradually added on new programs that have made a huge impact on the river and the watershed.  Among them were frog and toad monitoring, teaching people with property along the Rouge to care for their part of the river, legislation for funding and protection efforts, bringing back recreation to the river and it’s banks, and training volunteers on how to clear log jams.

Clearing woody debris was part of the March 21 2016 cleanup.  “We no longer rip out log jams like we used to in the past.  We’ve learned that log jams are an important part of the ecosystem of the river we are managing them,” Ross royal_servicessaid.  As branches and trees fall naturally into the river, they provide habitat for wildlife.  Friends of the Rouge teaches volunteers to seek out a balance of flow and habitat.  Looking over an area that had been partially cleared, Ross explained that the clear area was wide enough to canoe through.  Opening up the flow also helps reduce erosion.

While some volunteers got in the water to cut and guide large logs, others on shore used team work to hoist the logs up from the river and put them in a pile out of the way.

Groups in other areas along the Rouge pulled out invasive species and picked up debris.

“Sometimes this doesn’t seem like much compared to the days of removing cars, but you can see improvements every year,” Ross said.

Learn more about Friends of the Rouge at

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