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'Adopt-a-Forest' Program Encourages Citizens To Clean Up Public Lands

closeup of a person wearing gloves and picking up trash outside. They are holding a trashbag

Every year, tons of trash is illegally dumped in Michigan’s public properties, but a state program has been running for 3 decades to help mitigate the problem.

The Adopt-a-Forest program is volunteer-driven and helps people engage with the outdoors and encourages them to keep public lands clean.

The state Department of Natural Resources conducts outreach to find volunteers and then connects them with a site in need of a cleanup.

Rachel Coale is a communications representative for the DNR. She says the work done in the past year has been fantastic and is excited to see what’s to come.

“So, last year we conducted a '100 cleanups in 100 days' campaign, which despite the pandemic, we blew past our goal which was really exciting," she said. "So, this year we haven’t run any specific campaigns, but we’re definitely seeing more and more people get out in the woods.”

Nature enthusiasts surpassed the goal set by the 2020 challenge by cleaning 151 forest sites as well as removing 459 cubic yards of trash.

The challenge was also a part of celebrating 100 years of the National Association of State Foresters and its effort to promote thriving forests.

Individuals or groups that volunteer are recognized with a certificate. If they adopt and clean over 640 acres of land, they can request a sign in recognition of their work. 

Coale says volunteers have found everything from paper waste to mattresses out in the woods.

“It really helps to have those eyes in the woods because we can’t have a conservation officer everywhere, all the time. But you know, we have a great group of volunteers who can say what’s happening out there and let people know.”

Through the Adopt-a-Forest program, half of the trash taken off public lands has been successfully recycled.

McKoy's story is brought to you as part of  a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

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