Flint River Environmental Leaders

Young people making a difference in the Flint River and its watershed.

Youth and adults on the bank of a river looking at items from the river.
Youth engaging in water quality monitoring. Photo by Leyla Sanker.

A new recent program, the Flint River Environmental Leaders Program, helped a group of young people to make a difference in the Flint River. Through the program, youth were engaged across the Flint River watershed around local issues and opportunities. In addition, youth explored, discovered and participated in stewardship activities, and carried out youth-led community action projects designed to address issues and opportunities they had identified. The program is a joint initiative of the Flint River Watershed Coalition, Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative-Discovering Place, Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission and Michigan State University Extension, who partnered to secure a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Great Lakes Bay Watershed Education and Training.

The Flint River Environmental Leaders began in September 2022 with 14 youth and continued over the next 18 months. Youth began by learning about benthic macroinvertebrates and their potential as water quality indicators. Youth then attended a session about environmental justice and recreational opportunities in the Flint River Watershed. The group met with Mona Munroe-Younis from Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint and participated in biking, kayaking and fishing on Thread Lake.

Youth kayaking on the River
Kayaking on Thread Lake. Photo by Leyla Sanker.

Later in 2022, in chilly November weather, youth engaged in erosion control by removing log jams in the Flint River near Lapeer and helped with a streamside tree planting to encourage bank stabilization.

In stream log removal
In stream log removal. Photo by Leyla Sanker.

In February 2023, students met with teachers to provide insight on how to better incorporate youth voice in their classrooms. The discussion was followed by a tour of the Bioworks Energy facility, which was turning food waste into electricity.

In April 2023, youth decided to implement one of their stewardship projects, to educate their fellow classmates on the impacts of litter. They also helped with another streamside tree planting project, where they planted hundreds of trees in a few short hours.

Students doing trash pickup.
Students doing trash pickup. Photo by Leyla Sanker.

In May, the youth members of the Flint River Environmental Leaders presented to their fellow classmates on the impacts of litter on our environment. Some youth then conducted a trash pickup on school grounds.

In June, members gathered for an evaluation and celebration of the program.

At the Michigan Place-Based Education Conference in November 2023, the youth presented on what they did as Flint River Environmental Leaders and shared their plans for the next school year, including new stewardship projects.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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