The history and restoration of an important watershed 

Table of contents

Prologue – John H. Hartig and Jim Graham
Chapter 1. The Setting: An Urban Watershed – Alan Van Kerckhove
Chapter 2. First Peoples of the Rouge River – Kay McGowan
Chapter 3. Putting the Rouge to Work – Nancy Darga
Chapter 4. Henry Ford and the Rouge River – Brian James Egen and John H. Hartig
Chapter 5. Rouge River Restoration: Revival of an Urban River – Annette DeMaria, Noel Mullett, and John H. Hartig
Chapter 6. The Need for Green Infrastructure – Cyndi Ross
Chapter 7. Rouge River Citizen Science – Sally Petrella
Chapter 8. Environmental Education: Realizing Bill Stapp’s Vision – Sally Cole-Mish 
Chapter 9. The Rouge River Reborn: From Wen to Wonder – Orin G. Gelderloos, Dorothy F. McLeer, and Richard A. Simek 
Chapter 10. Reconnecting with Our Home Waters: Rouge Offers Growing Number of Recreational Opportunities – Kurt Kuban 
Chapter 11. Rouge River Champion – Jim Murray – John H. Hartig
Chapter 12. Reflections – John H. Hartig and Jim Graham


The Rouge River is a mostly urbanized watershed of about 500 square miles populated by nearly 1.4 million people. While not geographically large, the river has played an outsized role in the history of southeast Michigan, most famously housing Ford Motor Company’s massive Rouge Factory, designed by architect Albert Kahn and later memorialized in Diego Rivera’s renowned “Detroit Industry” murals. In recent decades, the story of the Rouge River has also been one of grassroots environmental activism. After pollution from the Ford complex and neighboring factories literally caused the river to catch on fire in 1969, community groups launched a Herculean effort to restore and protect the watershed. Today the Rouge stands as one of the most successful examples of urban river revival in the country.

Rouge River Revived describes the river’s history from pre-European times into the 21st century. Chapters cover topics such as Native American life on the Rouge; indigenous flora and fauna over time; the river’s role in the founding of local cities; its key involvement in Detroit’s urban development and intensive industrialization; and the dramatic clean-up arising from citizen concern and activism. This book is not only a history of the environment of the Rouge River, but also of the complex and evolving relationship between humans and natural spaces.

John H. Hartig serves as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, as the Great Lakes Science-Policy Advisor to the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Jim Graham is an award-winning journalist for the Detroit News and the former Executive Director of Friends of the Rouge.

“The subject is of national significance in that the Rouge River was once one of the most polluted watersheds in America. Its well-documented and well-told stories are beacons of hope in difficult environmental times.”
—Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor of FLOW and author of Great Lakes for Sale and Ruin and Recovery: Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader

- Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor of FLOW and author of Great Lakes for Sale and Ruin and Recovery: Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader

"Hartig and co-editor James Graham have assembled an inspiring story that tells of the river’s recovery from decades of pollutants and the communities that made the revival a reality. Contributors to the book include activists, journalists, engineers, professors, scientists, leaders of non-profit organizations and of university programs. All dedicated years to the restoration of the Rouge."
Great Lakes Echo

- Anastasia Pirrami

"The transformation of our local river was nothing short of tremendous. Likewise, the literary collaboration among two scientists, two engineers, two journalists, and anthropologist, and architect, a filmmaker, two biologists and four people who have made environmental education their life's work, is also tremendous."
Wyandotte Warrior

- Susan Pinkowski

Read: Review from Great Lakes Review | March 1, 2024
Watch: Interview on Southfield Cable 15 | June 1, 2023
Read: Article in the Trenton-Grosse Ile Patch | June 1, 2023
Read: Article in The 'Ville, page 5 | November 3, 2022
Read: Article in Wyandotte Warrior, pages 16-17 | October 27, 2022
Read: Article in Planet Detroit | October 17, 2022
Read: Article in Capital News Service | October 14, 2022
Read: Article in Great Lakes Echo | October 10, 2022
Read: Article in Great Lakes Now | September 7, 2022
Listen: Interview with the editors on Michigan Radio's Stateside | September 16, 2022