Hear from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, based in Petoskey, on local water threats, how we can help and inspiring the next generation of conservationists in Northern Michigan.

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Gail Gruenwald, the recently retired executive director of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, has spent nearly four decades advocating for the North’s waters. In the ’80s, she wrote the state’s first Wetland Protection Guidebook after the Wetlands Protection Act of 1979 was passed, changing people’s perceptions of wetlands as wastelands. Since then, and with help from a remarkable team, she’s grown the Watershed Council to 2,200 members and created an organization that local governments and lake associations turn to for advice. As the Watershed Council welcomes new Executive Director Katie Wolf this spring, Gail and Associate Director Jennifer Buchanan reflect on the work that’s been accomplished and challenges that still lie ahead.

An accomplishment you’re especially proud of:

GAIL: Fundraising for purchasing and renovating the building that we’re in—the Freshwater Center—that’s now been our home for a couple of decades. Outside, we have a stormwater sand filter and a rain garden that also serves as an educational facility. Inside, we have displays in the front room, and people can come in and learn about the Watershed Council. It’s a neat place downtown right near the park and it gives us real visibility.

JEN: The Watershed Academy, which is a program for high school kids. We teach students who express interest in water quality during classroom sessions, and then we take them out to a stream and they get waders and collect macroinvertebrates, which are good biological indicators of water quality. I’ve watched the program grow from a few initial thoughts into something that’s impacted hundreds if not a thousand kids at this point, many of whom have since graduated from high school and gone on to study natural science.

Biggest water issues our region is facing:

GAIL: Climate change. Climate change isn’t an issue just because the climate is changing. It also has resulting problems. Stormwater discharges are increasing, causing more pollution in our waters. We’re seeing an increase in invasive species because they’re able to adjust to differing temperatures. Algae growth, and some blue-green algae problems, have been cited in Northern Michigan. And then we are still facing water quality issues from shoreline development and the hardening of shorelines. And that is because obviously the region is still a nice place to come and live and build your home, but there are still not enough protections in place to protect those shorelines.

Gail Gruenwald standing in front of water

Photo by Todd Zawistowski

How to help:

JEN: Well, this might sound self-serving, but I think it’s being aware of the groups in your community, namely conservation nonprofits, and the work that they’re doing. If you believe in the mission of those groups, make sure you’re supporting them as best you can, whether it’s a donation or liking something on social media.

Beyond that, you can help by being aware of what I call your “stormwater footprint.” Take a look and see what’s happening on your property. Do you have a downspout that is draining directly to the street? Are you leaving pet waste on the ground and therefore allowing bacteria to wash into a lake? Learn about the importance of what you can do at your home, your business, your workplace, to minimize what’s leaving that area of land and having an impact downstream.

Find resources, events, volunteer opportunities and more on the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council website.

Portrait of Jennifer Buchanan

Photo by Dave Weidner

Carly Simpson is the associate editor of Traverse Magazine and editor of MyNorth’s email newsletter The Daily Splash. Subscribe for free here. Have any questions? Get into contact with Carly via email: csimpson@mynorth.com.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski & Dave Weidner