Hunter Potchen, 8, has picked up “a lot of garbage” since he started cleaning up the Deep River at just 5 years old. Then last year, after Potchen recruited the Shirley Heinze Land Trust to help with his mission, the project grew. 

“I want to get everybody out of the house and back on the river,” Potchen said. 

Potchen’s dream will soon be realized. Earlier this week, Shirley Heinze was awarded a $216,093 grant that, alongside $176,189 in matching funds, will help support revitalization along Deep River. Shirley Heinze was one of six nonprofits that received grants from the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund this year.

The Chi-Cal fund awards grants to organizations that are “moving the dirt,” actually building green infrastructure and restoring local habitat in the regions that surround the Chicago and Calumet waterways, NFWF Great Lakes Program Director Aislinn Gauchay said. 

Two other nonprofits based in Northwest Indiana received grants: the Save the Dunes Conservation Fund and the Student Conservation Association. The projects that received funding are all tackling different issues in different areas, a strategy that Gauchay explained is key to addressing the “downstream” impacts of degradation. 

The Student Conservation Association is addressing the roots of water quality issues quite literally — by planting trees. 

Daiva Gylys, program manager for SCA, said the organization will match the $183,280 grant it received, using the money to plant 500 trees throughout East Chicago, Gary, Whiting, Hammond, Highland and Hobart. The SCA employs teams of five local young adults for eight to nine months, paying them to plant and maintain trees. 

The crew will plant a selection of 45 to 50 different species, creating a diverse, disease-resistant habitat for wildlife. The trees will also help catch stormwater runoff.

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