East Lansing makes strides in environmental sustainability

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Michigan State Spartans are not the only green-loving residents in East Lansing. Over the last several years, the East Lansing City Council, the Public Works Department, and the Parks and Recreation Department have enacted many green initiatives, including the Environmental Stewardship Program.

Members of the Stewardship Program are dedicated to clearing invasive species from area parks. The organization’s goal is to both clean the parks and educate residents about invasive species and how to spot them. The program meets twice a month to remove invasive species including buckthorn and garlic mustard from city parks. 

“I love the connections made from us being there,” said program coordinator Heather Majano. “Not just between me and the community, but between the community and the plants, too.”  

Majano joined the program as a graduate student 10 years ago. She organizes work days and educates volunteers that come to make East Lansing cleaner and healthier. Majano said it always makes her feel good to have volunteers tell her about the things they learned about invasive species. 

Volunteers remove buckthorn from Harrison Meadows
Volunteers remove buckthorn from Harrison Meadows on a snowy work day. East Lansing residents come and volunteer their time to the program once a month

The Stewardship Program began in 2010 when Cathy DeShambo, who is currently the East Lansing parks, recreation, and arts director, noticed a surplus of invasive species in East Lansing parks. The program hosts public work days on the second Saturday of every month and offers the option for separate volunteer groups to book private workdays. With more than 30 park sites in the city, the program has made strides in removing invasive plants and preserving the city’s parks. 

“People view environmental issues differently based on their location,” said Assistant Parks Director Wendy Longpre. “The East Lansing community is very environmentally conscious.” 

Longpre is also the Neighborhood Partnerships Initiative liaison and helps Majano with the community outreach for the Stewardship Program. She likes that not only do residents get to learn and help the community, but they also get to have fun with neighbors and peers.

“During these volunteer days, you can see the impact you have made,” said Longpre. “It’s a very satisfying thing for people to see the work they have done.” 

Along with the Stewardship Program, East Lansing has many ways to help the environment. East Lansing will also be partnering with the county to host Recycle Rama on Saturday, April 22 to give residents an opportunity to recycle. 

East Lansing is also focused on renewable energy. According to Department of Public Works environmental specialist Cliff Walls, the city aims to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030 through solar power. The city’s elementary schools are now using geothermal energy to heat schools, and the city hopes that can be the case for all schools in the district.

Wells acknowledges that the push toward sustainability is “community-driven” and the residents along with the City Council are focused on being environmentally conscious. Whether that focus is on solar panels, removing invasive plants, or recycling, East Lansing continues to show off its green thumb.

“My favorite spot in life is the connection between people and nature,” said Majano. “It’s exciting to see people realize how connected they are to nature.”

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