It all started with a request from The Watershed Center. Executive Directror, Andy Knott asked if there was a GTSI team that would be willing to study a stretch of beach that may be slated for grooming.
The Slabtown Neighborhood Association had for years asked for a restoration project that included the elimination of a 200-foot patch of vegetation along a spit of land that juts into the bay about a quarter-mile west of West End Beach. The neighborhood group wanted to create a small bathing beach just off Grandview Parkway at the foot of Elmwood Avenue.
The GTSI team at TCAPS Montessori thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about their city government and the process followed when people are interested in making land use changes.
On a cold day in November, students headed to what they affectionately referred to as “The Wild Beach” (now known to them as the Slabtown Beach). Students surveyed the beach for native and invasive plants, they looked for signs of wildlife, and cleaned the beach of trash. Students viewed the beach as artists, scientists and residents of Traverse City. That’s when their journey of learning began.
During the course of the school year, students learned about how permits are issued. They asked Robyn Schmidt from the DEQ in Cadillac to come and talk with them about her role in this process. They reviewed the plans that had been submitted by the city engineer, Tim Lodge, along with photos of the history of the beach over time.
During the open period for public comment, students wrote letters to the DEQ after careful consideration of the issue and expressed what they had learned about the storm water filtering properties of the vegetation and the signs of wildlife that they had recorded on their trips to the beach. City Planner, Russ Soyring and planning assistant, Missy Luick took the time to come out on a field trip with the students and explain what was planned for the site. The students decided to survey the community to see how people felt about grooming this stretch of beach.
The Slabtown Beach Survey was created by GTSI students in Megan Hancocks class at TCAPS Montessori, with the help of Diane Emling at NMC, but the entire GTSI team spent the year studying the beach and learning about the process that a community engages in when making important decision. Photojournalist, Gary Howe and 7&4 News helped to advertise the survey that 35 people completed. By reading the results, students learned about how to write a good survey, consider all comments, and analyze the results.
Teacher, Megan Hancock said that by reading the comments on the survey, students realized that respondents favored keeping the beach natural versus grooming it. There were comments about it being beneficial to leave the beach partially natural, but cleaning it up and removing invasive plants. There were also comments about poor access with the beach being so close to the Grandview Parkway.
Many Slabtown residents who took the survey were in favor of grooming and cleaning up a small portion of the beach for their neighbors and families to use, but the survey results were about even in favor of grooming versus not grooming. Many people registered as neutral on the topic. Most of the respondents who took the survey lived in the 49684 zip code.
In the spring, the upper elementary GTSI students helped the city and the Grand Traverse Conservation District with the removal of some invasive plants at West End Beach, adjacent to the Slabtown Beach, and they replaced them with some beautiful natives shrubs.
Congratulations to the TCAPS Monetessori GTSI teachers and students for taking an active role in learning about their city and state governments, and getting involved in positive action to preserve natural resources!