Mississippi State student organizations hold annual Catalpa Creek Stream Cleanup

July 14, 2023

The Catalpa Creek Watershed is cleaner thanks to numerous organizations participating in the creek’s annual cleanup this past March.

Once a year student organizations come together to remove garbage from the creek. The Bagley College of Engineering student group Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), spearheaded the cleanup with support from CHEVRON and the Bagley College of Engineering Diversity Program.

Kari Oppedal, president of SHPE, said she and fellow organizer and SHPE vice president, Lorena Chavarro-Chaux, were pleased with this year’s turnout.

“This year, we were amazed to see over 65 volunteers join the Catalpian family. This is the largest turnout since the event started, and we were encouraged to see more engagement from the community. We hope to continue growing next spring and have new Catalpians join the family,” Oppedal said.

The cleanup began in 2016 as an event coordinated by SHPE, the Soil and Water Conservation Society and the Watersheds and Water Quality Research Lab (WWQRL) at Mississippi State University. The cleanup was initiated by John Ramirez-Avila, faculty advisor of both student organizations and head of the WWQRL, as an educational component of the Catalpa Creek Restoration and Protection Project for which he is a team member. Since then, the event has successfully run yearly, but due to COVID-19, it could not be held in 2020 and 2021.

For the 2022 and 2023 clean up other organizations joined this effort including the Society of Hispanic Women of Starkville and the MSU Chapters of Engineers Without Borders; the Society of Women Engineers; and the National Society of Black Engineers. The cleanup also served as a capstone project for the Montgomery Leadership program, which won Capstone of the Year during the 2023 Student Leadership and Community Engagement Awards.

Oppedal explained the cleanup is a great event that allows the community to engage in active service to help benefit their environment. She believes the first-hand interaction is a unique experience that can be very rewarding and significantly impacts improving the health of Catalpa Creek.

“It helps to bring the community together, and we got a lot of positive feedback from our volunteers about how they enjoyed meeting and bonding with new people. We hope to influence our volunteers to return home and continue to be proactive in reducing pollution and littering.”

‘Let’s clean our home’ and ‘Cleaning for the future’ were the themes of the past two years event.

“The event themes came out of the mindset that we are going to continue creating awareness in adults and children to mitigate, preserve and improve the condition of our creeks around campus,” Chavarro-Chaux said.

She went on to say that she believes that the cleanup brings the degradation that litter can cause to the quality and fuction of Mississippi’s streams into the public eye.

Oppedal said that one of her favorite parts of the cleanup is when everyone reconvenes at the end, and volunteers get to share the items they found in the creek.

“This year, some of our most interesting finds included a safe, football and various parts of signs/structures. Last year we found a suitcase, a tire, a park bench, and surprisingly even a washing machine,” Oppedal said. “For volunteers, I think it can be very eye-opening to see what can end up in a creek, and hopefully allows them to be more mindful of how they dispose of materials.”

As the co-organizing organizations of the cleanup and other outreach events, SHPE and WWQRL received the Group Excellence in Community Service Award by the Student Leadership and Community Engagement and the Maroon Volunteer Center in 2022 and 2023, respectively. SHPE was also recognized as the 2022 Campus Organization of the Year. These awards recognize outstanding accomplishments with an exemplary display of community engagement with the university and the community.

The Catalpa Creek watershed, which includes nearly 29,000 acres of land in Oktibbeha and Lowndes Counties, runs through Starkville and the Mississippi State campus and farm facilities before flowing into Columbus Lake and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality lists Catalpa Creek as impaired and needing restoration. Agricultural resource concerns identified for the watershed include sedimentation, grazing, sustainable forestry, and declining wildlife habitat. Urban stormwater management is also a critical need. The Catalpa Creek Watershed Restoration and Protection Project was initiated in response to these issues. Project goals include:

  • Restoring and protecting ecosystem health, ecosystem services, quality of life, and water resources within the watershed.
  • Developing an informed citizenry in the watershed and beyond.
  • Creating experiential learning opportunities for students, educators and practitioners.

The Catalpa Creek Watershed Restoration and Protection Project team members include John Ramirez-Avila, associate professor in the Richard A. Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Beth Baker, assistant extension professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture; Leslie Burger, associate extension professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture; Wes Burger, Dean/Director of the College of Forest Resources/Forest and Wildlife Research Center; Joby Czarnecki, associate research professor at the Geosystem Research Institute; Richard Ingram, former interim director at the Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute; and Tim Schauwecker, professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Follow SHPE on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/159127704175097. Follow WWQRL on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MSUWatersheds or visit their website athttps://www.cee.msstate.edu/wwqrl/

The Richard A. Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering is online at www.cee.msstate.edu and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

The Bagley College of Engineering is online at www.bagley.msstate.edu and can be found on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube at @msuengineering.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

By Camille Carskadon