Michigan Waterways Stewards work to reclaim Lansing’s riverfronts

Volunteers pulled hundreds of electronic scooters from the Red Cedar in 2023


On a Sunday morning in July, Cal DuLow and his 18-year-old son, Xan, left their home in Grand Rapids to go magnet fishing in downtown Lansing.

They had plans to meet other hobbyists at the riverfront to share in the plunder, but ended up arriving early. To kill some time, they drove a few miles east to scout a stretch of the Red Cedar River in East Lansing.

They came equipped with powerful Kratos 1350 neodymium magnets and tri-pronged hooks that they fasten on the end of thick ropes. When they find a suitable spot, they plunk them over the railing and feel around for a pull, at which point they’ll reel it back up to find unseen junk or potentially treasure.

They usually run tests just to see if anything pulls out, because sometimes they don’t find anything.

“That day, we just kept pulling out scooter after scooter,” Cal DuLow said, referring to rentable electronic scooters that are prevalent on college campuses. “We decided to keep going.”

By day’s end, the duo had recovered 35 electronic scooters from the Red Cedar. Most of them belonged to Spin, a San Francisco-based tech company. DuLow called them to let them know, noting that the employee who answered was “amazed” to hear how many.

The DuLows have had other strange hauls in the four years they’ve been magnet fishing, including 40 to 50 firearms, a piece of mortar artillery, a 1950s’ refrigerator, cash registers, safes, parking meters, wheels, kegs, horseshoes, jewelry, furniture and countless “unidentifiable lumps.” They’ve even found a few scooters back in Grand Rapids, but never quite this many in one place at one time. Not even close.

Scooters are a “concern,” DuLow said, because the lithium battery may explode when it gets wet. “With those batteries being sealed, it’s a ticking time bomb after 15 to 20 years when that water intrudes into that battery.”

The pair returned to that spot twice more by summer’s end, retrieving another 121 scooters, plus an estimated 1,700 pounds of bicycles, in just three single-day trips.

Their work got the attention of Mike Stout, a 62-year-old East Lansing resident and founder of the Michigan Waterways Stewards, a campaign he launched last winter to clean the area’s rivers, streams and adjacent parks.

“Because of this father and son team that had randomly thrown a hook, we discovered a problem that no one was aware of besides Spin scooters,” Stout said.

The prevalence of the scooters troubled Stout, a 1983 Michigan State University graduate and an accomplished paddler who moved back to East Lansing from Minnesota nearly two years ago. Shortly after his return, he took his kayak out for a training session on the Red Cedar River and was “appalled by the conditions” he saw, including several stretches made “impassable” by logs, trash and debris.

“It’s not a new problem. It’s been a problem for at least a decade, who knows how long,” Stout said. “I thought: ‘Well, I’ve got two options here. I can either let someone else worry about it or tackle it on my own.’ I decided to tackle it on my own.”

Since then, he’s partnered with 50 organizations and nearly 850 volunteers to remove an estimated 37.5 tons of debris from the local waterways. Of that total, Stout said his group has counted more than 250 scooters and 160 bicycles in addition to what the DuLows found.

The scooters are far from the only concern, but for Stout, discovering them was “the icing on the cake.”

Peter Dewan, who was the president of the East Lansing Rotary Club when the organization partnered with Stout this year, agrees.

“I can maybe understand if it were just a handful or a dozen,” Dewan said. “But when it was over 200, to me that illustrated that there’s an awareness that needs attention.”

In October, East Lansing City Attorney Anthony Chubb said the city was looking into possibly revoking Spin’s license, but the city website still lists it as a licensed operator. The process became more complicated in September, when the company was bought out by Bird, a competitor

Stout said he is disappointed “in the lack of ownership and accountability by Spin,” which did not respond to a request to comment for this story.“They dismiss, deflect, they try to blame it on the reckless few. But, as a reasonable business, if you have a problem, you need to own it,” he said. “They know how many of them get lost in the woods, a backyard, a garage or a river, because each one has a GPS tracker on it. All along, they knew about a much greater problem that they never even hinted to.”

Stout acknowledged that it often takes time to enact changes at the municipal level, but he said Lansing, East Lansing and Meridian Township have become more responsive to his concerns. He’d also like to see Michigan State University do more to protect the river that flows through campus.

In the meantime, more volunteers continue to step up and add to the group’s momentum. Mount Hope Church outreach director Deana McIlrath’s first experience with the stewards came in May, when she brought 10 students to volunteer at an event.

“One student could walk across the trash pile because it was so dense,” McIlrath said. “I was really surprised. For that to be Lansing, and in that condition, I just didn’t expect it.”

A few hours later, “the water was flowing, and you could tell right away it made a difference,” she said.

The church was the first group to sign on again for next year.

“Once you start focusing in and see how much attention it needs, how can you not join in? You wonder why you’d never really noticed it. It’s because the awareness just wasn’t there before,” McIlrath said. “Now, every time I go out, I want to pick up trash.”


Michigan Waterways Stewards, Cal DuLow, Venture DuLow, Xan DuLow, Mike Stout, East Lansing, Bird, Spin, Scooters, Lansing, Meridian, Red Cedar River, Grand River, magnet fishing, rivers, cleanup, activism, environment, rowing, Peter Dewan, East Lansing Rotary Club, Anthony Chubb, Mount Hope Church, Deana McIlrath, volunteer, Grand River, Michigan State University


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