Guest column: Five ways to be a Great Lakes ‘steward’

By Patty Birkholz/Office of the Great Lakes

In today’s technological age, there is a documented societal disconnect from nature known as the "nature deficit." As a result, this disconnect has the potential for unfortunate and adverse effects on the Great Lakes, both from an environmental and societal standpoint. In order to counteract these adverse effects, it has become vital to build new collaborations to "create a culture of environmental stewardship by providing people of all ages, especially our young people, with relevant knowledge that builds excitement for learning and instills a commitment to improving local communities."

Through the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, we need to prepare current and future generations, leaders and decision-makers to become Great Lakes stewards.

The Great Lakes are socially, economically and environmentally critical to the region, the nation and the planet. Therefore, it only follows that public agencies, private and nonprofit organizations, and local communities have a vested interest in fostering an environmental stewardship ethic to preserve this unparalleled resource.

These are our Great Lakes; they belong to us. We have a responsibility to be their stewards. There are five simple things that anyone can do to be a Great Lakes steward:

1. Become Great Lakes literate. Great Lakes literacy is an understanding of the Great Lakes’ influences on you and your influence on the Great Lakes.

It is important to understand the characteristics, function and value of the Great Lakes. This understanding enables people to make informed and responsible decisions regarding the Great Lakes and the resources in their local watershed.

2. Connect with nature. Experience a connection to nature in your local community. Visit or, better yet, take a child to a lake, river, park or natural area. People who experience nature at a young age have been shown to be more likely to appreciate the natural environment and become future stewards.

Beach cleaning

Participate in the world’s largest shoreline cleanup on Sept. 15. Join thousands of volunteers in Michigan and beyond for the September Adopt-a-Beach event, part of the International Coastal Cleanup. The official times are 9 a.m. to noon (times and dates may vary depending on location). Volunteers who participate not only remove debris, but record their findings to be used for pollution prevention and education. To register, visit

For more information, contact Jamie Cross, Alliance for the Great Lakes, at (616) 850-0745. To participate at Lake St. Clair Metropark, Belle Isle or Sterling State Park, contact Margi Armstrong, Clean Water Action, at (586) 493-0672.

3. Make wise choices in your landscape. What we do on the land affects the lakes and our future is intertwined with that of the lakes. Plant buffer strips along streams and lake shores to control runoff of nutrients. Minimize use of non-porous surfaces like pavement. We all have a duty to act responsibly. Our ability to effectively balance protection and wise use of our Great Lakes resources is key.

4. Be a part of the solution. Become empowered and take action.

Take steps to protect the quality of our air, land and water. When recreating on Michigan waters: clean, drain and dry all recreational equipment to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals at a collection facility or in the trash. Reduce energy and water use to reduce the impacts on the environment. Recycle.

5. Get involved in your community to protect and restore natural places. People care most about the places where they live and the destinations that they love. There are many organized programs (e.g., Clean Boats, Clean Waters; Cooperative Lake and Stream Monitoring Program; Adopt a Beach, etc.) that provide volunteer opportunities to meet individual interests and can also be fun. Organizations like The Stewardship Network help to develop local leaders to facilitate community conservation.

We have a huge responsibility to create and continuously promote an enhanced awareness of the critical role the Great Lakes and our coastal resources play in our social well-being and economic prosperity. We always should remember: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

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Tue, 08/28/2012 - 9:46am
I care for the Great Lakes, I live here because of the Lakes, and I see their importance to me on a personal level as well as a much larger need. I am an interested person on the issue of the Great Lakes so am I a 'customer' of this article? As a caring 'customer' should I give feedback? I will because I want more people engaged in their day-to-day activities. I am curious who the author is writing to reach. When I read the first couple of paragraphs I knew quickly I wasn't the target audience.