Ferris State University Biology Professor Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck and students from her Nature Study class participated in an educational activity that also served a benefit for the community.
Fitzwilliams-Heck, an instructor in Ferris’ College of Art and Sciences, and her students recently dedicated time to digging holes and planting trees in Big Rapids. Although the students ventured outside of the classroom, Fitzwilliams-Heck coached them on tree species identification and characteristics that they have been studying while in class. Research conducted in the Muskegon River Watershed states that protecting future biological integrity and water quality can be accomplished by decreasing sprawl rates and increasing forest cover. As part of this hands-on educational activity, Fitzwilliams-Heck’s class collaborated with city workers and the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly to plant the trees.
The MRWA has been focusing its attention on increasing forest cover in the priority areas of the watershed. It was recently awarded funding by Haworth, Inc. to purchase the large trees to be planted in the Big Rapids area. Terry Stilson, MRWA program coordinator, worked with Mark Gifford, public works director for the city of Big Rapids, and Roger Schneidt, deputy director, to choose the tree species and location of the planting.
The Muskegon River Watershed is a cool water system, having both cold and warm tributaries. Some animal species can only survive if stream and river temperatures are cool enough. Rain water running off roofs, parking lots and sidewalks is warmed significantly during the summer. In urban areas, this runoff flows directly into storm drains which lead directly to the nearest body of water. According to the Center for Urban Forest Research, a typical medium-sized tree can intercept as much as 2,380 gallons of rainfall per year. Leaves and bark intercept and store rainfall, reducing runoff volumes. Trees also draw moisture from the soil, increasing the soil’s water storage potential.
The MRWA is dedicated to the preservation, protection, restoration and sustainable use of the Muskegon River, the land it drains and the life it supports, through educational, scientific and conservation initiatives. MRWA offices are located on Ferris’ Big Rapids campus.