Newlyweds hike for Flint water crisis

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While many newlyweds choose a tropical getaway for their honeymoon, 2015 Jasper High School graduate Madeleine (Robling) March-Meenagh, 22, and her husband, Ross March-Meenagh, 24, chose to hike Michigan’s Shore to Shore Trail to raise money for the Flint water crisis.

The trail stretches 220 miles from Oscoda, Michigan, on Lake Huron to Empire, Michigan on Lake Michigan. Medeleine and Ross are both from Indiana — Madeleine from Jasper and Ross from Fort Wayne — and they’re currently in graduate school at Michigan State University.

The hike was a way for them to give back to the state where they’re building their life. They married on July 9 and set out on their roughly 10-day hike on Aug. 3.

Madeleine is the daughter of Libby Richardson and Lanny Robling.

Madeleine and Ross met in undergrad at Ball State University through Circle K, the college-level Kiwanis organization. Service to others and giving back is a big part of who they are, Madeleine said, so they wanted to make their honeymoon reflect that.

Both enjoy hiking, and that gave them the idea to do a fundraiser hike. Their trip took them through the forests of Michigan and towns Madeleine compared in size to Dubois, though in Michigan the towns are much more rural and often an hour or more from medical service. That’s something Madeleine and Ross experienced for themselves when Ross’s toe got infected.

“It was a crazy trip,” Madeleine said. “We felt terrible at the end and throughout, but we learned a lot about the state.”

The two hiked with a sign emblazoned with the slogan “Shore to shore, all Michiganders deserve clean water — regardless of their zip code, income or skin color.”

As they hiked, especially along stretches of road, people stopped to ask them what the sign meant. Madeleine and Ross explained that they were hiking to raise money for United Way’s aid to the people of Flint, Michigan, who are still recovering from a water crisis that began in 2014 when high lead levels were found in the city’s drinking water. Although tests show the water to be safe, the city is still inspecting and repairing water lines that were damaged during the crisis, and Michigan Radio, the state’s NPR station, reported in August that residents still don’t trust their water. Madeleine also pointed out that the people of Flint will be dealing with health complications for years to come.

“It’s not over just because the water is clean,” she said.

Madeleine and Ross set their fundraising goal at $5,000 and raised a little over that, mostly from people in Indiana and their peers. That warmed Madeleine’s heart because it showed people from another state ­— Indiana — supporting their neighbors to the north. It was one of many instances of kindness the hike revealed.

Along the trail, Madeleine said, people were constantly stopping to offer the pair assistance. When Ross’ toe got infected, they had to leave the trail and hike along the road to get to a town. Once there, they stopped at a convenience store to ask where the closest doctor’s office was. The answer: an hour’s drive away. But the convenience store staff knew of a nurse in town, so they called her. The nurse invited Madeleine and Ross to her home where she cleaned up his toe before her husband drove them to a doctor.

Another time, a couple stopped along the road to ask Ross and Madeleine what they were doing. The couple had been picking peaches all morning, so they offered some to Ross and Madeleine. When you’ve been eating dried food for days, Madeleine said, fresh peaches are a big deal.

To Madeleine, the hospitality she found in rural Michigan reminded her of her Southern Indiana home.

Although it was a grueling trip that Madeleine described as a test for their relationship, it was a rewarding and overall positive experience. The lesson to take away, Madeleine said, is the importance of doing what you can with what you have to help those around you.

“We aren’t saving the world, but we are doing what we can with what we have,” she said. “I think that helps.”

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