EAST CHICAGO | East Chicago students returned Monday morning to Roxana Marsh to see the transformation of the property they helped revitalize two years ago.
"We need to start to get everyone involved in this kind of project at an early age so that when you grow up, you become part of something that keeps you involved for the long term," said Indiana Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago.
Roxana Marsh is located on the Grand Calumet River, just northwest of Indianapolis Boulevard and Knights of Columbus Drive. Federal and state officials worked to remove more than half a million cubic yards of polluted sediment from the waterway, a legacy from more than a century of environmental degradation caused by heavy industry in the region.
Two years ago this week, students from East Chicago Lighthouse School planted seedlings at Roxana Marsh to celebrate the end of the dredging project there. On Monday, those students returned to find fully-grown native plants and a handful of egrets in the water.
The students spent the morning doing environmental field studies at the marsh and cleaning the property.
Indiana Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, recalled meetings 20 years ago about how to meet the challenges with the contamination in Roxana Marsh and the Grand Calumet River.
"Sometimes you think of a long-term objective and wonder if you'll ever get anything done at all," Randolph said. "The good things is perseverance, hard work and dedication can do it. To come back and see the efforts come to fruition before your eye, especially from young people, makes you very proud."
Javier Saenz, a sixth grade student at East Chicago Charter Lighthouse School, said he learned about the pollution in Roxana Marsh from the project.
"People in the community should be aware of the environment," Saenz said.
Sandra Olavarria, Saenz' classmate, agreed.
"The work we did was fun and it made us feel helpful," Olavarria said.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said the project "is a beautiful thing."
"I was told three and a half years ago we should put a walking path along here and I couldn't see it," Copeland said. "Now, I can see it crystal clear."
Copeland said plans are in the works for a path linking the marsh to Kosciuszko Park.