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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: The Kalamazoo River's History Of Business, Recreation, Flooding And Contamination


For their book on the history of the Kalamazoo River Western Michigan University Geography Professor Lisa DeChano-Cook and the department’s Administrative Assistant Mary Lou Brooks used photos from historical societies and libraries. They also got pictures from people they met along the way who live in towns along the river. 

The book on the Kalamazoo River is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Brooks took a Geography classes from DeChano-Cook. Since they both had an interest in the Kalamazoo River, they started doing research and working on a book. Brooks says they were invited into people’s homes while doing research for the book. She says they traveled with a high resolution scanner. Despite the many sources, DeChano-Cook says it was difficult to find pictures of some towns along the river.

The book moves from the headwaters, the north branch in Jackson County and the south branch in Hillsdale County to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan. Brooks says the original idea was to organize the book by subject such as business, agriculture and tourism. DeChano Cook says those themes are still in the book, as they move geographically along the river.

The book also deals with the disasters such as flooding which at times has been devastating for towns near the river. Brooks says solutions to flooding have sometimes caused other problems. Battle Creek encased the river in concrete to control flooding. Brooks says that has caused more flooding in other towns. DeChano-Cook says more building next to the river adds to the flooding.

Contamination, including the 2010 oil spill on the Kalamazoo River, is also a regular theme of the book. Paper mills have also been a source of contamination. DeChano-Cook says paper brought a lot of jobs to the towns along the Kalamazoo River. She says at the time people didn’t know about the long-term effects of PCB contamination. DeChano-Cook says contamination from PFASes are an emerging problem from dumping during the 1950’s and 60’s. Brooks says paper companies get a bad rap, but she says other companies also contributed to the contamination. DeChano-Cook says the river is in better shape now. She says it will probably never be completely clean, but there is more awareness about the problems and the need to clean it up.

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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