Since 1994, The Watershed Center has advocated for Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed. This year, we evaluated what we have accomplished, what we are advocating for, and where we are going.

This guest post is part of the Traverse Magazine series “For Land and Water.” Subscribe for more about environmental preservation efforts in our communities.

With summer behind us and autumn’s embrace upon our doorstep, it seems we can agree that we are lucky to live in Northern Michigan. Our water, trails, dunes, local food and wine, arts and culture—these are the basis for the high quality of life we are fortunate to enjoy. To keep these unique assets strong and thriving, our region is rich with nonprofit organizations focused on stabilizing or improving their corner of our broader community.

As our region continues to grow and change, it is important for local organizations to truly understand their niche and occasionally take time to pause and take stock to ensure their work reflects the needs of our community. With The Watershed Center approaching 25 years of service, we recently took the opportunity to revisit our guiding plan to ensure we knew where we had been, where we stand, and where we are going.

We enlisted the expertise of strategy consultants to help us get a well-rounded view of our organization from our stakeholders—those impacted by our work. What we learned helped shape our new strategic plan, which we published this summer. We view the plan as a living document, understanding it is important to chart a course while being adaptable and welcoming to new opportunities and challenges as they come. Like our watershed, we need to be resilient.

We remain committed to our mission to advocate for clean water in Grand Traverse Bay and act to protect and preserve its watershed. We aim to be the leader in clean water and to achieve broad community commitment to clean water. Our values remain the same, too. What has evolved is our focus on two areas of strength: advocacy and outreach, and on-the-ground projects.

We are proud to be seen as the voice for Grand Traverse Bay through our advocacy efforts. We want to serve as a resource for local units of government on issues related to our watershed, such as stormwater management plans or real estate development, as well as provide technical assistance on infrastructure projects. We listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to citizen questions or concerns. While we focus on local water quality issues, we may support other organizations working on water quality issues at a regional, state, or national level if the issue directly impacts Grand Traverse Bay.

Our on-the-ground work will continue to focus on stormwater management practices, such as green infrastructure and stream restoration, which improve or maintain the health of the bay. One insight we gleaned from our stakeholder interviews was our knack for bringing all the players together. We have seen that especially with our work on Kids Creek, an urban stream in Traverse City that is impaired due to the amount and quality of stormwater entering it. For nearly 15 years, we have accomplished numerous stormwater management and stream restoration projects by convening stakeholders that touch the creek as it winds its way under and through neighborhoods, open spaces, and urban areas on its path to the bay.

Stepping back to look at the role water plays in our region, I’m excited to see where our strategic plan takes us. By helping to stabilize or improve water quality through advocacy and on-the-ground projects in communities throughout our watershed, I am reminded that beauty like this, like Grand Traverse Bay, does not just happen. It takes people who care and work to protect it, who speak on its behalf. The Watershed Center is proud to be that voice.

Christine Crissman is the Executive Director of The Watershed Center.

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Photo(s) by Caryn Chachulski