Dave is senior advisor at FLOW, a Traverse City based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the waters of the Great Lakes basin using public trust principles.
On the first camping trip of my life in the summer of 1981, at the age of 24, half a dozen environmental advocates from the Sierra Club persuaded me to strap on a backpack and walk eastward with them into the back country of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. As we neared our campsite on the overnight excursion, the sky over Lake Superior, to our left, grew troubled, and thunder rolled far out over the waters. The storm bypassed our resting place, and soon the clouds yielded to brilliant evening sun.
That night I slept for the first time in a tent. After adjusting to the feeling of a thin air mattress below and thin roof above, I fell asleep. I awoke at sunrise to hear a rhythmic pounding, like the slap of a giant hand on a drum.
Pulling on my sweatshirt and jeans, I struggled out of the tent and wandered, slack-jawed, to the edge of the great bluff overlooking Superior. No one else in our party was yet awake, leaving me alone to stare at the frigid blue waters that reached to the north like a yearning for eternity. The early morning sunlight broke into little shards of white glass on the tops of the waves that slammed against the base of the bluff.
I thought: I want people 100 years from now, 500 years from now, to be able to behold and admire this same scene.
After considering journalism and teaching, I know knew what my life’s work would be. I knew also I would never forget this moment.
Fair warning: this post contains part of my heart. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing editorial work to help publicize “all Hands On Deck”, an all-volunteer, non-partisan event on July 3 at 10 a.m. It will link hands and boats along Great Lakes shores in 6 states and Canada, at sites in more than 45 communities, where people will come together to raise awareness of the need to protect the Great Lakes.
I got involved in All Hands on Deck because I can’t remember my life – can’t imagine my life – without the Great Lakes at the heart of it. My great-great-great grandparents homesteaded a stretch of the Lake Michigan shore in what is now Casco Twp. My great-great grandfather worked as a shipbuilder in the shipyards at south Haven. I was born within a half-mile of the “Big Lake” and lived within a couple miles of it until I went to college.
Growing up, I camped with my family in many places on the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Shores. To this day, the view of Lake Michigan from the overlooking bluffs at West Side Park is the view that tells me, “your home.”
The Great Lakes don’t need me or anyone else to put them on the map – they’re already an unmistakable feature of the North American continent, visible from space, defining a watershed that is home to 30 million people – but they do need help to raise awareness of the need to protect them. I want to do what I can to make the wellbeing of the Great Lakes a top-of-mind issue for people who live here, for business owners, for community leaders, for legislators and policymakers, for visitors and vacationers.
I want everyone to understand that sustaining the world’s largest surface freshwater resource makes good sense for all of us! I got involved in All Hands On Deck because it’s one thing, an important thing, I can do for the “Big Lake” of my childhood, and for all her sisters.