ENS students study effects of ORV use on Beaver Island

July 18, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 19)
Article by Michele Coffill

A group of Environmental and Sustainability Studies students were prompted by local residents to create an awareness campaign to increase responsible use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on Beaver Island.

Kelly Parker, professor of philosophy and environmental and sustainability studies, said 12 students participated in the second ENS Beaver Island Field School, a weeklong immersive trip in late June. 

Using a model established last year, Parker said students serve as sustainability consultants and work on an issue of concerns to Beaver Island residents. The use and misuse of ORVs on the 55-square mile island was mentioned to Parker last year, he said.

"Some islanders mentioned their concern about increasing ORV use, especially tire tracks and damage to the beaches, where ORVs are not allowed by law," Parker said.

Students met with residents and toured the island to see the effects of heavy ORV use. Jolene Bonner, a rising sophomore, said island residents shared their concerns about the loud noises, erosion on beaches and damage to the island's ecosystem.

"We had a discussion session about what we can do as outsiders," Bonner said. 

The students presented their ideas during the Beaver Island Sustainability Fair. The awareness plan included better signage on trails, information about the effects of ORVs on trails and an educational campaign.

Lauren Visser, a senior ENS major, will continue working with Beaver Island residents to implement the campaign as part of her ENS practicum.

Bonner, who has an e-board position on Grand Valley's Farm Club, called the week on Beaver Island life-changing.

"It was so great to be at this diverse, cultural ecological place right in Michigan among people who really care about protecting the natural environment of the island," Bonner said.

Kelly said he hopes to continue the field school next year. Students complete assigned readings and meet for an orientation on the Allendale Campus prior to departing for the island. 

"It’s a great exploration of the kind of direct, interdisciplinary 'immersion in place' that the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program teaches," he said.

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This article was last edited on July 17, 2023 at 9:43 a.m.

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