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Impact on the water
Area organizations getting together to teach public about watershed problems

Sports editor - Holland Sentinel

  Where does all the water go when you sprinkle your lawn?

Or how about when you wash you car? Or when you have some leftover something that you just rinse down the storm drain?

If you live in Holland, or its immediate surrounding areas, the chances are very good that water ends up in Lake Macatawa.

And eventually in Lake Michigan.

It's called watershed, and it has been, and continues to be, a big problem for the area's waterways.

In an effort to educate the public on the dangers of pollutants in the watershed, five area groups, all with interests in keeping the waterways clean, are teaming up to sponsor Water Festival 2002. The Outdoor Discovery Center, owned and operated by Wildlife Unlimited, is the host site for the July 13 event. ODC has teamed up with Ottawa County Parks and Recreation, Macatawa Greenway Partnership, DeGraaf Nature Center and the Macatawa Watershed Project for the educational festival.

"It's geared toward watershed education," said Travis Williams, executive director of Outdoor Discovery Center. "The idea is to get a bunch of things going on so the kids can get an up-close view of what is going on in the water, and why it is important to keep it clean."

Currently, Lake Macatawa is anything but clean. From 1993 to 1997, the water of Lake Macatawa was tested more than 60 times and in all but five tests the lake received a grade of E.

Like in school, E is a failing grade. In fact, it is the worst score possible, indicating the water in Lake Macatawa is of "poorest water quality."

The contaminant most responsible for the terrible water quality in the once-pristine lake is phosphorous. And much of the contamination comes from seemingly benign things around the house, such as fertilizer and car wash soap, said Ruth Cronk, chairman of the Macatawa Watershed Project educational committee.

"Until I was on this committee, I didn't realize the impact of things we do right around our houses," said Cronk, a retired elementary school teacher. "We want to educate the children (and their parents) as to ways in which they can help in terms of residential care. The little issues people don't think about."

Water Festival 2002 will begin at 11 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. Those four hours will be filled with a variety of hands-on educational activities for children of all ages, ranging from a duck float for prizes in a kiddie pool, to fishing in one of the many ponds at ODC, to building and floating scale model boats.

There will be art projects, wetland investigations and a watershed nature walk on the boardwalks at ODC, and also a series of educational booths on a variety of environmental issues, from composting to soil sampling to invasive species education.

One of the most popular attractions of the day promises to be the Watershed Project's enviroscape models. Using the enviroscapes, the children can get a first-hand look at the effects of contaminants in the watershed.

In the 3-foot by 3-foot models, the demonstrator uses cocoa and Kool-Aid to show how the soil traps things and how it erodes down into the watershed. They can also use water tinted with red food coloring to represent pesticides, and show how the contaminants can easily make their way through the watershed to the lake.

"These are phenomenal models," Cronk said. "You show them what happens, then you show them what people are working on to clean it up.

"We try to make it as interactive as possible, so the kids are involved."

The entire Water Festival 2002 is designed to be interactive, particularly for the children, but for the parents as well. The object is to spark an interest in the youth, which will hopefully be carried over to the home in much the same way that children have helped lead parents down the path of recycling.

"It's just trying to bring awareness of water being our most precious natural resource and that we have to protect it. And it starts with the watershed system," Williams said. "We've got to build awareness of those issues, or Lake Mac is going to look good now, compared to what it will look like in 10 years."

To get to the Outdoor Discovery Center from Holland, go south on Lincoln Ave., which turns into 56th St. Stay on 56th St. around Tulip City Airport, and the entrance to the Outdoor Discovery Center, 4204 56th St., is on the west side of 56th St. between 143rd and 142nd.

For more information about Water Festival 2002 or the ODC, call Williams at 393-9453.

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