Traverse City’s ‘Next Generation’ Leaders Promote a Cleaner, Greener Future


Photos by Zac Carsten

Editor’s note: Ella Kirkwood is a sophomore at Traverse City Central High School, in Northern Michigan, where she is a member of the Students for Environmental Advocacy Club. Her mother is FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. This article is part of an occasional series highlighting the “next generation” of environmental leaders. Follow SEA Club on Instagram.


By Ella Kirkwood

Ella Kirkwood at a beach cleanup on the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

The Students for Environmental Advocacy Club (SEA Club) is an amazing group of young people who are passionate about the environment and taking action. We strive to make our school and community a more eco-friendly place. We have met with Michigan’s governor about her climate initiative, installed solar panels at our school, and are currently planting a new garden at Central High School, to name a few examples.

It strikes me as so sad that litter is something that we as humans are so accustomed to that we hardly notice it if we aren’t actively looking for it. 

Eager to join a recent Lake Michigan beach cleanup co-sponsored by the clothing retailer M22, GoSili, Surfrider Northern Michigan, and FLOW, we woke up early on Saturday, May 14, and made our way to Traverse City State Park. There was a great turnout at the cleanup—almost 30 people! We collected garbage from the beach in burlap sacks. We were astounded by how many cigarette butts we found on the ground. We even found some kind of tent stake in the shallow water. It strikes me as so sad that litter is something that we as humans are so accustomed to that we hardly notice it if we aren’t actively looking for it. 

These hands-on cleanups and conservation projects are a wonderful way to bring people together and encourage active participation in the preservation of the places we value in our communities. It was very inspiring to see how much of a difference we could make on that beach even after just one hour of cleanup. 

We were so inspired, in fact, that after the event, Lola Reimers, Amelia Warner, Katie Venhuizen, and I decided that we shouldn’t stop there. We took our burlap sacks to Central High School and surveyed the scene. The Central Parking Lot (or “CPL” as students lovingly refer to it) had trash strewn about everywhere like it does every day, and being so close to Lake Michigan, much of that garbage ends up in our water. We proceeded to systematically clean from one end to the other, finding lots of fast food packaging, nerf-gun bullets, cigarettes, and miscellaneous waste. Some of it was disgusting, like the tire-squashed McDonald’s bags that we had to peel off the ground. 

I think promoting an attitude of conservation among my peers is the most important step towards a greener future. We need to create a culture of caring. 

It is crazy to me that we, as students, have grown accustomed to this level of filth and grubbiness on our school campus. It is a simple task to dispose of your own garbage in the proper receptacle, and I believe we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. This is one of the reasons why I think promoting an attitude of conservation among my peers is the most important step towards a greener future. We need to create a culture of caring.

I am so grateful to the cleanup sponsors for helping SEA Club take those steps forward and for including us in the effort. We have a long way to go, but I really appreciate the efforts of the wonderful people who run these organizations. It’s important to remember that even a small positive action (such as putting your trash in the garbage can or participating in a local cleanup) makes a difference. This cumulative impact and environmentally focused mindset are things that everyone can cultivate every day to protect our beautiful planet.

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