KALAMAZOO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — While many donated their time to help others in the spirit of the late Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, a handful of Kalamazoo-area volunteers focused their efforts in giving back to the land we live on.

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and their neighbors volunteered together to help clean up and beautify the Bow in the Clouds nature preserve in Kalamazoo Township, considered by advocates to be one of their busier service events of the year.

SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitchell Lettow organized the cleanup, which included removing invasive species to further help Spring Valley Creek and wildlife depending on it.

“You wouldn’t know (the creek) was there because of all the … common buckthorn,” Lettow explained. “(It is) one of these invasive shrubs that take over habitat and make it less productive for insects and wildlife, and then biodiversity as a whole.”

The 31 participating volunteers also removed graffiti and picked up trash within and around the preserve’s property.

One of them, Nkenge Bergan, tries to find something to do every year for MLK Day and wanted to help more than just her fellow neighbors this time.

“I would’ve never known that there is a way to give back to nature in this way … just to see the work that all of us can do together to make sure that our Earth is clean,” Bergan said.

Ed Sova is a familiar face among the crowd, with this year’s MLK Day being his 12th go-around for the group’s cleanup. He added that Bow in the Clouds is the only preserve in the Kalamazoo area on the bus route, which in itself creates a prime opportunity.

“This is very accessible to all strata of income or culture, so I feel it’s my closest link to being able to do that kind of service for our community,” Sova said.

Another batch of volunteers among the group is part of a nonprofit usually on the receiving end of those wanting to help.

Eric Birko serves as executive director for Kalamazoo-based nonprofit AACORN, which helps adults with intellectual and developmental differences. On Monday, he, his fellow staffers and program participants wanted to return the generosity already shown to them on a regular basis.

“Our program director said ‘Hey, I found an opportunity. What do you guys think?’ And everybody was like ‘Let’s do it,'” Birko explained. “So we are here to give back and show folks that while we receive, we’re also really interested in participating in our community.”

The volunteers all say their service emulates the spirit of a man who preached and exemplified it to everyone.

“We are able to, today, impact a part of our community that may go overlooked sometimes. … That nature, conservation and taking care of this place that we call home and gives us an opportunity to really dig in and apply our skillsets to help,” Birko said.

“While this may not be what some people may see as directly impacting civil rights or human rights, it absolutely has. Because we are giving a voice to those that are voiceless by clearing up their area,” Bergan explained. “What better way to remember the essence of Dr. King’s dream around the beloved community.”

“We’re advocating for species and habitats that cannot necessarily speak and advocate for themselves,” Lettow added. “I think that is also in the vein of what is important to MLK and to this day as well.”