Rouge River Education Project in Michigan

Trains Next Generations of Conservationists

Laboratories and field work trains citizen scientists to collect samples and monitor river health


Our rivers and natural waterways are fixtures of our environment that have been enjoyed for many generations. When a grandfather takes his grandson fishing for the first time, it is the same river in which that grandson will one day take his son fishing. Ensuring that continuity needs a multi-generational effort, where each generation takes up the work of the previous one.

This need has been greatly felt in the communities around the Rouge River near Detroit, Mich. The Rouge River watershed drains 467 square miles into the Detroit River and encompasses 48 communities.  The river serves as a habitat for a variety of fish, bird and amphibian species, along with providing recreation opportunities for local residents.

Unfortunately, due to extensive industrial pollution and urbanization, the river was officially listed as one of the most polluted areas in the region and labeled a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1987. In Areas of Concern, pollution and environmental degradation have led to restrictions on what activities people can can do there, such as restrictions on swimming, drinking water, or eating locally caught fish.

Restoration projects to clean up toxic pollution and address other environmental threats go on to this day. As the Rogue River continues along its long process of rejuvenation, it is vitally important to educate and train a new generation of conservationists and instill in them the knowledge and values to ensure that the river does not again fall into a state of disrepair.

Thanks to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Friends of the Rouge is training a new generation of students to monitor and care for the health of the river on which they live. The Rouge Education Project is school-based environmental education program involving elementary, middle, and high schools from across southeastern Michigan.

Students learn about the Rouge River in their classrooms, and then perform hands-on scientific exploration of the river on a field trip to its banks. They assess chemical, biological, and physical parameters of water quality to determine overall stream health, and report their results to Friends of the Rouge, a local nonprofit. Students are further encouraged to take action to restore and protect the river based on their results.

With this hands-on approach, the Rouge Education Project is collecting valuable data about the health of the Rouge River, while instilling knowledge to a new generation of stewards about how to care for the health of the river. Students come away with a broad perspective on the river’s importance to the Great Lakes ecosystem and the tools they need to ensure that the river remains clean and healthy for generations to come.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Environmental education
  • Citizen participation in river health
  • Monitoring capacity


Students measure the width of a river as part of the monitoring activities. Photo Credit: Friends of the Rouge

Results and Accomplishments

The Rouge Education Project has reached close to 100,000 students from diverse communities and has provided inspiration to countless students to pursue careers in ecology and conservation. Through symposiums and other events, the Rouge Education Project has cultivated an atmosphere of collective learning and growth for students who are interested in ecology, ensuring that a new generation of scientists will be ready to take up the work of conservation