Greener Schools takes students on Humbug Marsh Field Trip to teach Outdoor Landscape Design Classes

June 12, 2011

GIBRALTAR – Middle and high school students from Detroit Institute of Technology (DIT) and Detroit Community Schools went on a field trip last month to Humbug Marsh to take part in the rebirth, reclamation, and restoration of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. They planted trees, watched the birds, and hiked the trails of the newly restored refuge in Gibraltar, Michigan.

“The bus drove south on I-75, and as the skyline faded into the distance we passed industrial polluters like the Detroit Salt Mines, the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Marathon Oil Refinery,” said Lizzy Baskerville, Coordinator for EMEAC’s Greener Schools Program which sponsored the trip.  “As we approached the downriver towns of Wyandotte and Trenton, a student murmured ‘We sure aren’t in Detroit anymore.’

“Though we were definitely in new territory and 40 minutes from home, the post-industrial landscape was somewhat familiar to us. Off of busy Jefferson Ave in Gibraltar, the façade of Humbug Marsh was hardly distinguishable from its industrial neighbors- with a cyclone fence surrounding us, and a smokestack in the distance. But down a short road towards the river was the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and Humbug Marsh- the first of its kind in North America.”

Humbug Marsh is located at the intersection of the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, so the area is important for migratory birds.  Birds rely on the area’s marshes for resting and refueling, but if the river and marshes are polluted and habitat is destroyed. The birds have nowhere to stop.

“We learned that these restored habitats support 300 species of birds, including 30 species of waterfowl, 23 species of raptors, and 31 species of shorebirds, plus 117 kinds of fish, all within an urban area of six million people,” Baskerville said. “We kept trying to find the birds we heard in the trees, saw a couple toads bouncing along the trails, and stepped alongside deer and other animal tracks in the mud. It was beautiful and lush, and wet.”

“As some of these urban people visiting the refuge, we weren’t entirely prepared to hike through a muddy marsh while the rain was pouring down, but the youth were incredibly positive and eager to brave the wetness. We made our own boots and ponchos out of garbage bags and duct tape. As if signaling our dedication to Mother Nature, after an hour of withstanding the rain it stopped and the sun came out.”

With the guidance of the Humbug Marsh staff, students went on a nature hike. They planted hundreds of baby dogwood and willow “sticks” along a newly day-lighted pond. They learned about reclamation, habitat restoration, and the importance of the region’s wildlife through these activities. Most importantly, the sutdents had a lot of fun. One young woman who ventured into the middle of the pond to plant a sapling fell in, and emerged to giggles and mud caked all over her pants.

“I don’t care,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m having fun.”

For more information about Humbug Marsh visit: