Monday, June 16, 2014

ACA Instructor Earns River Heroes Award for Inspiring Stewardship Work in Illinois

Captain Mike at this year's Calumet River Clean-Up. (Photo by Erik Sprenne.)
The following guest blog post was written by ACA Coastal Kayaking Instructor, Michael Taylor (a.k.a. Captain Mike), about his June 7th clean-up on the Little Calumet River in Chicago, IL. Mike is President of the Calumet Waterway Stewards, an organization supported by the Illinois Water TrailKeepers and the ACA. On June 2nd, 2014, Mike received a prestigious River Heroes Award at the River Rally Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. He recently published a book, "City Paddler," which is available on Amazon here

Volunteers carrying trash out of the Little Calumet River. (Photo by Erik Sprenne.)
On the North side of the river bank I spotted something unusual; I didn't know what it was, but I knew it did not belong there. It looked like a plastic barrel of some sort and it was buried deep. I jumped out of my kayak to wrestle the unnamed object out of the mud. I soon realized it was not a barrel, but a base for a basketball hoop. In fact, it wasn't just a base, but the entire hoop of the steel rim and plastic base. I've cleaned out my fair share of marine debris, but this was my first basketball hoop. 

The weather was perfect and the current was slow this past Saturday. It made for a perfect day of paddling and an even better day for a river clean-up. This year we split our annual clean-up into two groups to cover the entire 7 miles of the targeted parts of the water trail. 

There was more junk in the river than we could accommodate in our boats. Two shopping carts, lodged deep in the mud, were irretrievable despite our best efforts digging with shovels. We recorded their GPS location so we could return better equipped to pull out the carts--they would not stay in the river.

The event was an introduction to the river as much as it was a river clean-up. Most of the participants had never paddled this river before, so it was exciting to open their eyes to a nice slow moving river, the ideal environment for beginner paddlers. On this particular day, we were fortunate enough to see turtles, herons, and other unique birds and wildlife that populate the waterway. It is my hope that the more people we can get on the water, the more they will appreciate and try to protect the Little Calumet River from pollution and other threats. 

This year, one of my goals was to increase local community involvement in the clean-up. However, most of the participants still came from out of town. Out of about 70 participants, only about 20% were from the local area. Tom Eckles joined us from Northwest Lake County, and Erik Sprenne came from Indiana. My challenge for next year will be to better engage the African American communities on the south-side of Chicago and in the southern suburbs in this community-focused clean-up effort. These folks all share a stake in the success and use of this river that flows through their communities. 

I plan to begin my outreach now in order to increase local participation next year. I'm working hard to garner the support of local goverment, churches, and other organizations to get the word out. Next year's clean-up will again be held on the first Saturday in June. Mark your calendars!

The ACA admires Mike for his work as a devoted river steward and recently certified ACA Instructor. On June 10, Mike received a letter from Illinois Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly. She congratulated him on the publication of his ebook and recent ACA certification, saying, "As one of the very few African Americans with such a certification, you offer a positive role model for minority youth who are interested in environmental causes, careers or pursuits." We couldn't agree more. Congratulations, Captain Mike. We're proud to call you a member of the ACA Instructor family. 

No comments:

Post a Comment