How to volunteer in metro Detroit’s great outdoo...

How to volunteer in metro Detroit’s great outdoors this spring

“There’s something different about getting your hands dirty, working in a garden and knowing you’re providing people with healthy food.”

detoit volunteering outdoors

While it’s typically the season of spring cleaning, you had an entire winter trapped in the house to reorganize your closet. So why not venture out to help out, by volunteering in metro Detroit’s great outdoors? 

Our green spaces, which spend all winter collecting litter, larger debris and (this year) an unsettling number of masks and gloves, certainly could use the love. Neighborhoods need beautifying; trees need planting; gardens need weeding — all perfect activities if you’re trying to stay socially distanced, get your body moving and find community connection as the pandemic lingers.

At Big Green’s 60-plus learning gardens at schools across metro Detroit, more volunteers than usual are needed this year to ready the plots for seasonal planting. With many teachers and students staying home, the gardens, built and stewarded by the national nonprofit’s small regional staff, are in need of some serious tending. 

Big Green’s school gardens promote food, nature and health education, but also provide fresh food for the schools’ families, staff and larger communities — which has been an even more crucial service during the pandemic, said Ava Jackson, Detroit program manager for Big Green. 

Helping in the gardens gives volunteers the ability to feel the impact of their work, immediately and in the long-term, she added. “There’s something different about getting your hands dirty, working in a garden and knowing you’re providing people with healthy food — and helping the next generation understand how important it is to take care of their bodies.” 

Students at one of Big Green Detroit’s learning gardens, currently in need of some TLC from volunteers. Courtesy Big Green Detroit

As Earth Day, National Volunteer Week and Arbor Day all collide this week, there are countless opportunities to lend your time to improve community spaces — and they don’t end with the week. Here are more than two dozen ways to volunteer outside in metro Detroit all spring. 

Have a great volunteering opportunity we missed? Email events@detourdetroiter.com to let us know — we’d love to share it. 

Clean up local land, parks and shores

Detroit River Coalition cleanups: 

Visit one or more of these in-person cleanups at Rotary Park in Trenton, Dequindre Cut in Detroit, Milliken State Park area in Detroit, Belle Isle State Park in Detroit, Dingell Park in Ecorse or with Friends of the Rouge at Fort Street Bridge Park in Detroit.

When and where: April 24 
Rotary Park in Trenton 9:00 a.m.-noon 
Dequindre Cut in Detroit 10:00 a.m.-noon
Milliken State Park area in Detroit 11:00 a.m.-2 p.m. 
Belle Isle State Park in Detroit 10:00 a.m.-1 p.m.
Dingell Park in Ecorse 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Fort Street Bridge Park 9:00 a.m.-noon
How to volunteer: Register via individual links above

Rouge Park:

Join a group of 25 volunteers to help clear litter and trash from walkways at this sprawling Detroit park. All volunteers must pre-register and abide by safety protocols; you’ll want to bring work gloves and wear long pants, long sleeves and sturdy shoes. 

When: April 24, 10:00 a.m.-noon
Where: Rouge Park, Stone Bridge Trailhead, 15099 Outer Dr. W, Detroit
How to volunteer: Register here

Maheras Gentry Park: 

Step up and help clean up the Detroit River shoreline at Maheras Gentry Park in Detroit with BlueCommunities. COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place including mask wearing and social distancing.

When: April 24, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Where: Maheras Gentry Park, 12550 Avondale St., Detroit
How to volunteer: Register here

Palmer Park:

Bring the kids to explore the Aziza Fairy Door Forest while helping make the park a cleaner place for all. Adults can also join People for Palmer Park and lend a hand with trash pick-up, weeding, sweeping and more. 

When: April 24. Cleanup 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Aziza Fairy Door Forest 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Where: Palmer Park Community Building, 1121 Merrill Plaisance St., Detroit 
How to volunteer: Register here 

City of Wayne:

Stop by for a city-wide cleanup of the roads and paths along the Rouge River with the Rotary Club of Wayne, Wayne Main Street and Friends of the Rouge. Social distancing and masks required.

When: April 24, 9:00 a.m.-noon
Where: Goudy Park, 3498 2nd St., Wayne
How to volunteer: Sign up via Eventbrite 

Bloomfield Hills:

Head to the Johnson Nature Center nature center for a fun Earth Day weekend event where kids can partake in a variety of educational and service opportunities, including invasive species removal and trail management.

When: April 24, 8-10 a.m. or 10 a.m.-noon
Where: Johnson Nature Center, 3325 Franklin Rd., Bloomfield Hills
How to volunteer: Register here

Give the Motor City a makeover

Starting May 1 and lasting for seven Saturdays in a row, Detroit takes on its major annual beautification project: Motor City Makeover. For last year’s “makeover,” even during the early days of the pandemic, 289 volunteer groups collected 447 tons of debris at 250 different cleanup locations. Each week focuses on sprucing up one council district at a time.

“This is a time to reach out to your neighbors, bring them all together and go out and clean up those sites,” said Mayor Mike Duggan at a press conference this week. “It has made a huge difference in this city.”

You can sign up as a group or individual on any Saturday, whether for your own district or not, to get supplies and more info about cleanup sites. Businesses can also register to host a cleanup event or take the clean corridor pledge. 

When: Every Saturday May 1-June 12
Where: Citywide
How to volunteer: Get more details when you register at www.motorcitymakeover.org 

Do a solo cleanup on the Detroit River — with prizes

Why not get out on your own (or bring friends and family) to pick up litter? Show off your trash haul along the Iron Belle Trail in this cleanup contest put on by the Detroit River Coalition — then post a photo and enter to win a new Shinola Detroit Bike.

When: Through April 24, on your own schedule
Where: Iron Belle Trail (map with dumpsters indicated)
How to volunteer: No registration required/choose your own time! Learn more here

Spruce up a local garden 

Big Green Detroit:

Big Green Detroit is a national nonprofit that has built more than 60 learning gardens at Metro Detroit schools to provide experiential food and health education for kids. With normal school hours upended, they need your help with garden prep — like filling beds with soil, weeding and fertilizing — at sites around Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. You bring the water, snacks, gardening gloves, and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, they’ll provide the gardening tools. They’re planting in every other bed and limiting volunteers to five at a time at any location to ensure social distancing. 

How to volunteer: Tell them you (or you and a small crew) are interested on the United Way site to arrange a time and location that works for your schedule; opportunities are “abundant” for the next two months during the work week. 

Topping off soil at a school garden. With many students learning remotely, more volunteers are needed to prep gardens for planting. Courtesy Big Green Detroit


HAVEN, an Oakland County center serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, is seeking volunteers to help get their .75-acre produce garden ready for planting. Take on some of the garden chores from a long list with the guidance of garden manager Rebecca Gray, or build a fence to protect those crops. Face masks, social distancing and health screening required. 

When: Multiple volunteer shifts available, April 23-May 8
Where: HAVEN, 801 Vanguard Dr., Pontiac
How to volunteer: Get more details and sign up through the United Way of Southeast Michigan portal

Plant some trees

River Rouge:

Join ReLeaf Michigan at Rouge Park for a project to plant 20 trees to replace ones lost to Dutch Elm disease years ago. Sign up with two or three friends; bring a mask and gloves. No planting experience necessary — they’ll show you how.

When: April 30, 12:45-4:00 p.m.
Where: Rouge Park near the Scout Hollow sign, 9500-9658 Spinoza Dr., Detroit
How to volunteer: RSVP at www.releafmichigan.org/rsvp


Help plant 15 trees in Ferndale and increase the tree canopy. You’ll need three or four people in a team who have been social distancing together — and appropriate shoes. 

When: April 30, 8:45 a.m.-noon
Where: 2400 Martin Rd., Ferndale
How to volunteer: Sign up at www.releafmichigan.org/rsvp

Even more trees:

ReLeaf Michigan is hosting even more tree plantings across the state, several times a week through the end of May. If you get the planting bug, find all their events here, or request a planting for your community.

Bonus: Get some trees, free!

After you’ve cleaned up parks and neighborhoods across the city, you deserve a little treat… we mean tree. At Palmer Park’s cleanup event on Saturday, April 24, Plastic Oceans and the Social Forestry Project will be giving out 200 red oak seedlings for people to plant at their homes. And at the Maheras Gentry Park cleanup on Saturday, those groups will also be giving out saplings to attendees (limited to 50). 

Allison Jacobs contributed. 

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl