East Lansing Park’s Environmental Stewardship Program improves plant diversity in community

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Azaadiikaa Park, located off Abbot Road in East Lansing, Michigan, will be home to the Environmental Stewardship Program's volunteer work days for the rest of the year.

EAST LANSING, Mich.—The East Lansing Parks, Recreation and Arts Environmental Stewardship Program has been up and running for almost 15 years. Art festivals and initiatives coordinator Heather Majano has been with the program for about 11 years and has seen firsthand the positive impacts the once-a-month volunteer Stewardship Program has on the community and park ecosystems. 

“There’s a couple goals for the Stewardship Program, one is getting information into the community,” Majano said. “And then the other goal is to restore the park to a more native plant life.”

Majano has seen both of those goals come to fruition over the years. A lot of work has been done in Henry Fine Park, and while there has been a decent amount of buckthorn sprouts in the park, according to Majano, the park has been improving. 

Many volunteers have also brought what they see out in the field back to their own homes. 

 “I see a lot of returning volunteers and they always tell me, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize this was an invasive plant,” Majano said.

Buckthorn as an invasive plant species has a distinct advantage because it grows earlier than most, leading to issues with plant diversity which has caused concern that has now turned into action with the volunteer project.

“When we remove the buckthorn, it allows the seeds that have been laying dormant in the soil to see the sunshine and grow,” Majano said. “With the removal of buckthorn, being just a tree with nothing under it, it allows anywhere from 10 to 30 different types of plants to take its place in that same area.”

Cathy DeShambo, director of parks, recreation and arts, has seen tremendous growth with volunteers during her many years and two positions with the department.

“We get such a wide variety of people interested in doing this work,” DeShambo said. “Sometimes it’s a group of folks who have some commonality. Maybe they work together and want to volunteer together for a special day.”

The program isn’t just for adult volunteers in the area. Oftentimes, DeShambo and Majano work with sororities and fraternities at Michigan State University, as well as the general student body.

“It’s also for people who want to just go out and say, ‘I want to try this and see more of the parks,’” DeShambo said. “They want to be part of the solution.”

While some may not be sure what to bring to a workday, DeShambo said that all volunteers need to bring clothes that can handle the weather and the dirt, along with a hard-working attitude. 

“We try to make things very easy for folks,” DeShambo said. “We provide work gloves, tools and some refreshments on site.”

The next workday is scheduled for October 14 from 9–11 a.m. at Azaadiikaa Park, with a focus on the removal of buckthorn. For more information on how to get involved, visit the East Lansing Parks, Recreation and Arts website, or call Majano at (517) 319-6804.

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