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Un-trashing The Kalamazoo River

Leona Larson

Mattresses, furniture, pop bottles, and more. Volunteers fished over a ton of trash out of the Kalamazoo River during the June 2021 Kalamazoo River Cleanup.

More than 70 volunteers, working in boats and on foot, collected about 3,000 pounds of waste from the river and along the Kalamazoo Valley River Trail.

Organizer Ryan Baker said he’d rather be catching smallmouth bass on the river.

“I love to fish. This river has been known for decades for being a great smallmouth fishery,” Baker said. “Two years, three years ago, fishing was great and now that we have this Morrow Dam junk, it’s gone downhill real fast, real quick.”

Baker referred to damage caused by silt that flowed for months from Morrow Lake in 2020, decimating fish and wildlife habitat for several miles along the Kalamazoo River. The problem occured when the Canadian company that owns the Morrow Dam near Comstock drew down water levels behind it to do repairs.

Credit Leona Larson / WMUK
Volunteers and canine friends pick up trash in and around the Kalamazoo River

In response to the spill, Baker helped form the Kalamazoo River Alliance and organized the cleanup. Baker said the group can’t do anything about the sludge, but it can clean up trash.

“What can we do to help this river? Let’s do a pick-up event and let’s see how many people we can get out here.”

This was the group's first cleanup event. But it won’t be the last. Baker plans to be back in 2022. In the meantime, he said everyone can help.

“One thing we like to tell people is when you are out on the water, try and pick up a couple of things. You don’t have to fill your boat with junk but you know when you are out on the water pick up three or four pop cans. Pick up some garbage out of the water. If everyone did that, and just picked up a couple of things every time you are out on the water, you know we should be in a lot better shape than we are right now.”

River clean-up volunteer Dennis Martin added a warning. He wants the public to know that silt from the Morrow Dam has created a dangerously soft riverbank.

“Almost like quicksand. So, if you are going to enjoy the river, don’t go close to it where you could get stuck. Keep your animals out of that area as well,” Martin said.

Baker recommends that people stick to the trail and only use graveled areas to access the river.

“The most dangerous part this whole stuff, is it’s really deceiving. Especially now that it’s had time to settle, it’s starting to grow grass on it, so it’s a real danger,” said Baker as he raised his silt covered anchor before taking off on another run to the dumpster.

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