Detroit River Story Lab receives grant to continue its summer Skiff & Schooner program

Source: Michigan News
Photos By: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

This Is Michigan, Tall Ships. Detroit.

There’s no better place to learn about the impact the Detroit River has had on our region than from a skiff you’ve built with your own hands or from aboard a large schooner, sails aloft in American and Canadian winds.

A pilot project developed last summer by the Detroit River Story Lab at the University of Michigan and achieved through partnerships with the Green Door Initiative of Detroit and the Suttons Bay-based Inland Seas has received nearly a $32,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

David Porter

“The Detroit River Story Lab is thrilled to be partnering with the Green Door Initiative on the Detroit River Skiff & Schooner Program,” said U-M English Professor David Porter, who leads the Detroit River Story Lab. “The generous grant award from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan highlights the importance of Green Door Initiative’s ongoing work to promote the values of sustainability and environmental career opportunities for youth in the Detroit region.”

The Skiff & Schooner program engaged Detroit students and community groups in study on the Detroit River. 

The schooner trips utilized the expertise of Suttons Bay-based Inland Seas Education Association, whose employees taught sailors on the 77-foot ship how to raise the anchor, collect plankton and fish from the river, test water samples, steer the ship and more.

Another course, conducted in partnership with the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, taught students how to build wooden skiffs similar to those historically used on the river for fishing and transportation. The week-long workshop provided school-aged students a chance to problem-solve, learn carpentry skills, develop teamwork and learn about the environmental and cultural heritage of the Detroit River.

Bruce Ross

Bruce Ross, deputy director of the Green Door Initiative in Detroit and a former Department of Natural Resources employee, said the boat building exercise was all new for the underrepresented students, many who have never been on a boat.

“I want our young people to really understand the unique area that we live in. How many people live in an area where they have a historical river, or historical island like Belle Isle, or historical riverfront. How many people have that?”

Ross said that by introducing students to natural resources and environmental hands-on learning opportunities, and the chance to explore maritime or natural resource careers, “it really opened these kids’ eyes. They’re so interested in these careers based on their experience.”

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan provided support of the “place-based experiential learning program to encourage awareness of the Detroit River as an environmental and cultural resource.”

Detroit River Story Lab participants test out the rowboats they build on the Detroit River from Belle Isle. Credit: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is a full-service philanthropic organization leading the way to positive change in our region. As a permanent community endowment built by gifts from thousands of individuals and organizations, the foundation supports a wide variety of activities benefiting education, arts and culture, health, human services, community development, and civic affairs. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed more than $1.3 billion through more than 85,000 grants to nonprofit organizations throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw, St. Clair, and Livingston counties. For more information, please visit

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