Nurturing the roots of conservancy on Coffee Creek

Tracey Moerman, and daughters Claire and Evelyn, help care for the watershed as part of Stewardship Saturdays.

Innovative program in Indiana teaches public about water stewardship

In the verdant Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, just a few miles from the southern tip of Lake Michigan, positive change is taking root.

Every second Saturday throughout the summer, volunteers gather in this lush, 157-acre preserve in Porter County, Indiana to nurture this fragile ecosystem and their connection to the environment.

These events, called Stewardship Saturdays, see up to 80 volunteers planting trees, monitoring water quality, maintaining riverbanks, and planning pathways while they learn about the watershed. It’s a connection that Katie Rizer, Executive Director of the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy, has fostered with support from Enbridge’s Line 6B and Line 79 environmental stewardship grant program.

This program provides grants for natural resource protection and enhancement to townships and municipalities along Enbridge’s Line 6B and Line 79 pipeline projects corridor in Michigan and Indiana. To date, the program has distributed 49 grants – and approximately $1-million – in those two states.

(IN THE NEWS: Click here to read an article on the Enbridge-supported Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy in the NWI Times.)

“Enbridge recognizes the construction activities have temporary impacts along the pipeline right-of-way,” says Jennifer Smith, an Indiana-based Community Relations Manager with Enbridge. “One of the ways that we wanted to give back and support communities that are impacted by our project was by developing the environmental stewardship program.”

At the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, Enbridge’s environmental stewardship dollars went towards the purchase of 418 trees, which were planted during the Stewardship Saturdays initiative.

Throughout the preserve, an invasive species of beetle – the emerald ash borer – is killing off the ash trees that have shaded the landscape and filtered the water in Coffee Creek for centuries. This change has potential for significant impact beyond the borders of the preserve.

“We are a Lake Michigan tributary, so what we do on our watershed affects the drinking water of millions of people,” Rizer explains.

For Rizer, the broader environmental impact of the Stewardship Saturday tree planting is key, but what really excites her about the project is its impact on the volunteers.

“Through the Enbridge grant and the ability to reach out to the community, we really have created stewards. Families come back to check on their tree and enjoy the park, and not just on Stewardship Saturdays,” says Rizer. “Environmentally, I know those trees are going to help our ecosystem, and I know there are people who will watch them and care for them forever.”

It’s a relationship between the volunteers and the land that Rizer believes will feed into the broader community, much like the way Coffee Creek delivers clear water into massive Lake Michigan.

“That’s where it starts,” she says. “It’s just one family, one tree, and that begins to make an impact in the world.”