By Jamie Vaughan
While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted many programs this summer, Trout Unlimited staff in Michigan are pleased to continue the Green Team program for its sixth year, employing high school students from across the Rogue River watershed to learn about and take part in watershed restoration projects.
The Trout Unlimited Green Team was established in 2015 and grew out of a partnership with Plaster Creek Stewards, a group that originated the program in their downstream watershed.
Now, students from upstream and downstream communities are connected through hands-on restoration projects as they begin to understand the important relationships between their home watersheds.
This summer’s Green Team is made up of six students from different communities across the watershed. Green Team alumni Niyah Banfill and Morgan Anderson, who are both now pursuing college degrees in the environmental field, are mentoring the students and helping to demystify the college experience for them.
“I am excited to be a mentor for the Green Team because the opportunity I had as a high school student helped me begin pursuing a career in the environmental field,” Banfill said. “My passion for the outdoors began in sixth grade when I was placed in the Earth Keepers magnet at East Rockford Middle School. My experiences with Trout Unlimited have fulfilled my passion for the outdoors, and I am very excited for the opportunity to work with them again.”
Though the pandemic presents its challenges, the students are still making a huge impact. They spend most of their workdays caring for native gardens and tree plantings in Rockford, Cedar Springs, and Sparta in public spaces, at schools, and at private residences.
These native tree and planting projects are types of “green infrastructure” that helps soak up and filter warm, polluted stormwater runoff before it enters the Rogue River and other trout streams.
The Green Team students are also meeting with professionals in the environmental field, including Dana Strouse, Technical Assistance staff from the Nonpoint Source Program in the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
By meeting a variety of professionals, the students are getting exposed to the diverse career opportunities for those who hope to effect change in their environment as an adult.
Trout Unlimited is grateful to the supporters of the Green Team program so they can continue to inspire and empower the next generation of environmental stewards.
Jamie Vaughan is Trout Unlimited’s Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative project manager.