TU partner named Conservationist of Year in Michigan's Kent County

Sue Blackall (left) helps more than 1,000 Sparta students get into the field annually, and enjoys the opportunity to provide hands-on training.

By Jamie Vaughan

Local Sparta, Michigan resident, retired Appleview Elementary teacher, and community leader Sue Blackall has been honored by Kent Conservation District and Trout Unlimited with the Conservationist of the Year award.

Sue is an advocate for Sparta’s local water resources in and out of the classroom. While imparting in her students a sense of respect and wonder for their natural environment, Sue also puts those principles to work in the field. Each year, more than 1,000 Sparta students get the opportunity to go outside to their local creeks and forests through activities that Sue organizes.

But Sue isn’t just helping the students gain knowledge of Sparta’s natural resources – she combines their lessons with hands-on service learning, providing students both the knowledge and experience they need to be good stewards of their environment for the rest of their life.

Since 2016, Sue has planned, secured funding for, and restored 20,000 square feet of Nash Creek stream bank with native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers to help improve water quality and provide habitat for native wildlife. In addition to that, she planted a native plant buffer along a waterway behind Sparta Middle School, a sizable rain garden at Appleview Elementary, and an impressive prairie restoration at Sparta High School. Her hopes are that one day Nash Creek, a degraded trout stream, can once again support healthy populations of the cold water fish in the Rogue River.

The Kent Conservation District and Trout Unlimited are so grateful to work with Sue because of her passion, persistence, and vision for a better Rogue River watershed, and the Sparta community is so lucky to have Sue looking out for their local resources and getting their kids outside.

The Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative Project is funded by the Frey Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Wolverine World Wide Foundation, and the Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.