Beautifying Big Rapids

How ASL projects can make a big difference

Casey and other ASL members found a sink and toilet in Clay Cliffs Nature Area while hiking. Photo provided by: Casey Conley

When going for a walk on hiking trails in the woods, you would expect to see trees and plants… Not a rusting sink.

Casey Conley, a junior majoring in political science, said when participating in his groups environmental care project, he had found a sink and toilet among piles of garbage found behind a cluster of houses on the north hillside of Clay Cliffs Nature Area.

“There was a bunch of really old stuff that, I would say, sat there for more than 20 or 30 years,” Conley said, “I, myself, gathered at least six or seven trash bags full of broken glass, old metal and ceramics. There were a lot of old items and garbage in just one place.”

Clay Cliffs Nature Area spans about a half of a mile in length with trails going in multiple directions, some leading up to neighborhoods. It was on these trails with pockets of litter and a hillside of garbage, emanating from the homes, that grabbed Conley and his group’s attention when deciding where to hold their clean-up expedition.

Conley’s group, six students in total, were the creators of the Environmental Care Project, an Academic Service Learning (ASL) project intended to benefit students and the community through volunteer service.

“ASL is just learning projects affiliated with the school. They give you a lot more hands-on experience and a lot of insight as to how working on projects would be like in a professional setting,” Conley said

This particular environment ASL project was prompted by the group’s communications public advocacy class. Professor Stephanie Thomson, who teaches the course, said this experience was “part of the advocacy events that they are required to complete” for the course.

The group came up with the idea of a hands-on clean up in the city of Big Rapids since their original idea was spoiled due to the pandemic.

Getting in contact with the city, it was discussed what kind of contribution the students and other volunteers could do to best help beautify the area. After back-and-forth conversations with city recreation coordinator Josh Pyles, it was decided the group would host four days of cleanups at Clay Cliffs Nature Area and Northend Riverside Park.

Since both locations attract a lot of attention heading into the warmer weather, along with giving ample of opportunity for students to volunteer, these locations were the perfect spots for the project.

Pyles said the initiative the students had in this project and the extent of what they wanted to cover surprised him.

“[The city] just provided them some of the tools to help out, but, for the most part, they really knew where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do,” Pyles said

The initiative of the students was a great help in not only getting the parks clean but also for the city, as they have their own crew that goes out to clean up the sites as the seasons change. Pyles said that because this event took place it was a “huge help to have them on hand,” as it made the process of reopening the parks faster for public use.

With a total of 16 volunteers over the course of four days, the group was able to make a great impact on the city and help individuals have a sense of a relationship with the environment. As they took part in getting rid of the litter, many were recognizing how their waste can begin to affect the small bits of nature around them, especially after seeing the rusting sink and toilet set.

“With cleanups like this, it doesn’t take much to go out there for a couple of hours and make a difference,” Conley said. “You can make a really big difference quickly, and you can notice that in how the area looks after you’ve cleaned it and also by the smiles on peoples faces as they walk by.”

With Ferris’ ASL program, students are able to make a great impact on the community around them simply through a few hours of volunteering.