Green Team Teens Dig In to Heal Their Watersheds

In 2009 Calvin College faculty members Gail Heffner and Dave Warners launched Plaster Creek Stewards after learning that Plaster Creek (named for the plaster mill set up in 1840 to use the creek’s gypsum) is the most contaminated creek in West Michigan. Plaster Creek Stewards is a collaboration of Calvin faculty and students working with local schools, congregations, and community partners to restore health and beauty to the Plaster Creek watershed.

In the summer of 2012 Heffner and Warners added a new Plaster Creek Stewards initiative to involve local high school students in watershed restoration. The Green Team students learn about watershed ecology, develop job skills, and help install and maintain rain gardens. The Green Team soon doubled in size when Trout Unlimited sponsored another group of teenagers living in the Rogue River watershed to work with them.

Now a diverse group—the Plaster Creek urban students and the Rogue River suburban and rural students—bonded in a shared mission to improve the environments where they live. These new friends can be heard singing as they work and sharing lunch together sitting in trees!

The 16 Green Team students are addressing the problem of excess storm water that flows into local creeks after heavy rains. So much of the land that once absorbed the rain has been paved over that now storm water flows over streets, parking lots, and sidewalks. That runoff carries pollutants like gasoline and herbicides into the storm sewers where it drains directly into Plaster Creek, Rogue River and eventually into the Grand River and Lake Michigan.

Green Team members learn how to install green infrastructure such as rain gardens and bioswales that capture storm water where it falls. Here the Green Team is creating a rain garden by digging out the land between the sidewalk and street and planting native Michigan plants whose long roots will capture the polluted runoff water before it reaches the creek. After planting the curb is cut so that storm water can flow naturally into the rain garden. This short colorful video tells the whole story.

While cleaning up two West Michigan watersheds is one obvious objective, another goal is to encourage Green Team members to consider college after they graduate. The high school Green Team students work in the field alongside college student mentors and they have classroom sessions at the college, all helping to de-mystify the college experience. This exposure to higher education has inspired this diverse group of teenagers to go on to college after high school.

 

Wege Prize Winners Announced 2017

Global Student Design Competition Focused on the Circular Economy Names Winners of $30,000 in Prizes

Winning teams announced in Wege Prize 2017; 2018 competition launched

Collaborative team from Brown University, University of Michigan wins $15,000 top prize with solution to transform organic waste into  animal feed and agricultural fertilizer;  plans real-world prototype with Texas-based microbrewery

Grand Rapids, Mich. May 19, 2017  Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design has announced the winners of Wege Prize 2017, the fourth iteration of the annual design competition challenging transdisciplinary teams of college/university students from around the world to rethink and redesign the way economies work.
The five finalist teams in Wege Prize 2017 presented their solutions to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability at the 2017 Wege Prize Awards, held on May 19 at KCAD. The teams’ solutions were evaluated on factors such as depth of research, technological and financial feasibility, alignment with circular economic principles, and potential for impact.
 
Winners:
1st Place – $15,000 
Team name: Kulisha
Maya Faulstich-Hon – Environmental Science, Brown University (Undergraduate) 
Eric Katz – Business, University of Michigan Ross School of Business (Undergraduate)
Jon Luthy – Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering(Undergraduate)
Katie Matton – Computer Science, University of Michigan College of Engineering (Undergraduate)
Viraj Sikand – Environmental Science, Brown University (Undergraduate)
Solution:
 Kulisha developed a solution focused on working with food and beverage processing plants to convert their organic waste products into an insect-based protein that can be used in animal feeds and as an agricultural fertilizer. Their system integrates a type of insect called the black soldier fly into food and beverage plants to decrease disposal costs while creating additional value from waste that would otherwise be discarded.The team has already secured a relationship with an Austin, Texas-based microbrewery, where they’ll soon begin testing a prototype of their system in an on-site facility.
“This solution is a genuine contender to solve two problems: eliminating a major food waste problem while providing a viable alternative to the current method of depleting fish stocks to generate the protein used in animal feed,’ said judge Colin Webster, an education programme manager with UK-based nonprofit The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “It was clear to the judges that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into the development of this solution. It’s on the cusp of being trialed in a major way, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how that unfolds.”

2nd Place – $10,000
Team name: 
SOMOS
Enrique Andrade – Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
Taylor Axdorff – Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
Ian Culver – Collaborative Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
José Sanabria Vindell – Renewable Energy Engineering, Autonomous University of Nicaragua Faculty of Science and Engineering (Undergraduate)
Alex Santiago Ramírez Cárdenas – Environmental Engineering, Autonomous University of Nicaragua Faculty of Science and Engineering (Undergraduate)

Solution:
 SOMOS developed a solution focused on helping small coffee farmers operating in Nicaragua’s Miraflor Natural Reserve halt the negative environmental impact of their production process while also taking advantage of the waste byproducts of that process to produce other raw materials which can be exported for additional revenue.
The team’s solution was informed by extensive localized research and observation. Team members from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University travelled to Nicaragua on several occasions to interview key stakeholders in Miraflor’s coffee production industry alongside their Nicaraguan teammates.
“SOMOS was succinct in both their presentation and the way they addressed our questions, and that allowed the strengths of their solution to come to the surfaces,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator and nationally known sculptor who’s also a Next-Gen Board Member of The Wege Foundation. “What really impressed us most was the team’s on-the-ground approach; they went to the source of the problem and were deeply inspired by what they encountered. This solution could be adopted by other mountainous coffee farming regions, and that’s a great story.”

3rd Place – $5,000
Team name: 
Cheruvu

Nikhitha Rao Cheeti – Public Policy, University of Michigan Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy(Graduate) 
Aniket Deshmukh – Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering (Graduate)
Shamitha Keerthi – Resource Ecology Management, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Samhita Shiledar  – Chemical Engineering/Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan College of Engineering/School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Kavya Vayyasi – Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Solution: Using their home country of India as a case study, Cheruvu developed a solution focused on the creation of a sustainable enterprise that employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to help farmers in India increase crop yields, mitigate risk, and improve their economic standing by providing them with access to high-resolution data on best agricultural practices, soil nutrients, climate, and satellite imagery.

Like SOMOS, the members of Cheruvu developed their project largely through on-site interaction with those most affected by the problem they were trying to solve. The team, composed of five students originally from India who are currently pursuing their graduate studies at the University of Michigan, conducted extensive interviews with farmers in India who are struggling to maintain profitability, as well as other key stakeholders.

“We were really struck by the depth of the ground fieldwork undertaken by Cheruvu. The team was able to prototype their solution in a real-world context, and we were touched by how much they cared about helping small farmers compete in what is an increasingly complex and evolving industry,” said judge Gretchen Hooker, a biomimicry specialist with the Biomimicry Institute. “Moving forward we’re interested to see how their solution can help farmers reduce their dependence and chemical fertilizers and encourage them to adopt a circular model that prioritizes the ongoing health of the soil.”

The other two finalist teams—EcoReturns and Remade in China—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award for earning a place in the final stage of the competition.
EcoReturns, which included undergraduate and graduate students from the University of British Columbia, Yale University, and Lund University, focused on rethinking seafood production in ways that directly address the impact on marine ecosystems while promoting community involvement and consumer engagement. The team presented an investment model that enables individual and institutional investors to support marine ecosystem restoration and the adoption of sustainable, small-scale management practices in British Columbia’s fisheries while obtaining both ecological and financial returns.
Remade in China, an all-graduate student team representing Parthenope University of Naples, Beijing Normal University, and Delft University of Technology, presented a solution focused on the development of a modeling tool that can help urban environments develop food, energy, and water systems that unite policy and technology to meet consumer needs while maximizing both the value of resources and the systems’ ability to recover and reuse them. 
Previous competitions were open exclusively to undergraduate students, but for 2017 Wege Prize was open to both undergraduate and graduate students worldwide. Teams were asked to create a solution to the following “wicked” problem: How can we create a circular economy? Each team – composed of five students and representing different academic institutions and majors of study – had to leverage its transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business, non-profit organization, or other solution that could function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economy.

Unlike our current linear model, in which we take, make, and dispose, a circular economic model is restorative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. Using a systemic approach, teams had to not only design a compelling and innovative solution, but consider its economics and viability within natural, social, and financial systems as well.
“All of the finalist teams in Wege Prize 2017 have displayed an extraordinary amount of courage, dedication, and compassion for the future of our world, and for that we thank them,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “I challenge all of our finalists to use their experiences in this competition to continue moving forward, to expand on their existing ideas and to remain fearless in building the future.”
The five finalist teams were chosen out of an original field of 25 teams representing 38 different academic institutions from 17 countries around the world. Over the course of seven months, teams developed their ideas from a one-page proposal into a multifaceted design solution informed by their own research, ideation, and experimentation as well as direct feedback from the judges, culminating in the final presentations on May 19.
“With the inclusion of graduate students for the first time in this year’s competition, we were thrilled to see an increase in participation and geographical reach as well as many teams combining undergraduate and graduate students,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD Sustainability Officer, Collaborative Design program chair and Wege Prize organizer. “As the competition grows, so too does the commitment of the teams and the strength and cogency of their ideas. As we congratulate this year’s winners, we also look forward to the incredible possibilities that lie ahead.”
 
Thanks to the continuing support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2018 will be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will again be focused on the circular economy. 
 

Team registration will open in August 2017, but those interested in participating are encouraged to begin building their teams and brainstorming ideas now by connecting with other potential participants on the Wege Prize Facebook Group. Educators and other professionals who are interested in contributing their expertise are encouraged to contact wicked@wegeprize.org for more information.

Details about Wege Prize 2018 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org. 

About Wege Prize:
Wege Prize, a West Michigan-born concept developed by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’ (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is a collaborative design competition that gives teams of college students the chance to work across disciplines, use design thinking principles, and contend for $30,000 in total cash prizes, all while helping to show the world what the future of problem solving looks like. The challenge is to design a product, service, or business model that can function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economic model. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org. 
 
About The Wege Foundation:
Planting seeds that develop leaders in economicology, health, education, and arts, and enhance the lives of people in West Michigan and around the world. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.org.

About KCAD:
Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation, and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu.

Wege Family Tours Blandford Nature Center

*Pictured above from the left, Laura Wege, Blandford Nature Center President Jason Meyer, Blandford Development Director Corey Turner, Wege Foundation staff member Katy Furtado, Patrick Goodwillie, Diana Wege, Wege Foundation staff member Jody Price at the Nature Center’s new visitors center named for Blandford’s founder Mary Jane Dockeray.

 

In April 2017, Patrick Goodwillie, Diana Wege, and Laura Wege, three members of the Wege family, and Jody Price and Katy Furtado, Wege Foundation staff members toured Blandford Nature Center. They were among the first to visit the new the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center named for the Nature Center’s founder. And they saw the original visitor’s building renamed for their father and grandfather.

This partnership between Blandford and The Wege Foundation began in 2009 when the 143-acre Nature Center lost Kent County support and became a 501 C-3 non-profit funded by private donations. The first giver when the taxpayers could no longer keep it going was The Wege Foundation. Peter Wege made a five-year commitment to fund Blandford from 2009 until 2014.

Blandford’s President/CEO Jason Meyer summarized the significance of that first gift. “Simply put, Blandford Nature Center may not even exist today had The Wege Foundation not stepped in to support us through our transition to nonprofit management.

“Our nature center, and the thousands of people we reach with our mission each year, are thankful for The Wege Foundation’s generous support. We are proud to call our fully-renovated former facility the Peter M. Wege Environmental Education Center.”

Jody Price, Katy Furtado, Diana Wege, Laura Wege, Jason Meyer, and Patrick Goodwillie on the nature trail at Blandford Nature Center.

The Wege family also celebrated The Wege Foundation’s role in the recent real-estate transaction that doubled the Nature Center’s property when the Land Conservancy of West Michigan took over the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Course adjacent to the Center. The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Ken and Judy Betz family, and the Cook Foundation made the lead gifts to buy the property.

Adding the former golf course’s 121 acres to Blandford’s gives the Nature Center 264 acres of permanently preserved green space inside the city limits open to the public. Consistent with The Wege Foundation’s original environmental focus, instead of the proposed development of the century-old golf course into homes and condos, the land is being converted back to its natural state rich with wetlands and wildlife habitats.

Wege Prize competition organizers are thrilled to announce the finalist teams for Wege Prize 2017!

Finalist teams named in international design competition focused on the circular economy; 
five innovative ideas will face off for $30,000 in total cash prizes
 
Wege Prize 2017 finalists will present complete solutions on May 19, 2017;
Internationally-recognized judges to evaluate and award $30k in prizes at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI
 

Grand Rapids, Mich. April 19, 2017 – Wege Prize, a uniquely transdisciplinary design competition based in West Michigan focused on rethinking and redesigning how our economy works, has selected five teams of college/university students from around the world to move on to the final stage of the fourth annual competition. Now, those efforts will culminate in a presentation to a panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability.

At the 2017 Wege Prize Awards on May 19, 2017 at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A., the five teams will present their ideas in full to the judges, who will choose a first, second, and third place winner. The top award of $15,000 will be given to the winning team, with awards of $10,000 and $5,000 going to the second-place and third-place teams, respectively.

Teams were asked to create a solution to the following “wicked” problem: How can we create a circular economy? Each team – composed of five college/university students, both undergraduate and graduate, representing different academic institutions and majors of study – had to leverage its transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business, non-profit organization, or other solution that could function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economy.

Unlike our current linear model, in which we take, make, and dispose, a circular economic model is restorative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. Using a systemic approach, teams had to not only design a compelling and innovative solution, but consider its economics and viability within natural, social, and financial systems as well.
 
Wege Prize is organized by KCAD’s Wege Center for Sustainable Design with support from the Wege Foundation.
 
“KCAD is proud to work alongside the Wege Foundation to empower students from around the world to be bold and broad in their consideration of the world, their place in it, and the challenges we all face together,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “Wege Prize is a powerful platform for elevating discourse and inspiring action, and we commend these finalist teams and all of our competitors for their collaborative and creative spirit, their thirst for innovation, and their dedication to realizing positive and lasting change.” 

Wege Prize 2016 Finalists
 
  • Team: Cheruvu
    Schools represented: University of Michigan, College of Engineering; University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment
    Cheruvu has developed a solution focused on the creation of a sustainable enterprise that employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to help farmers in developing countries increase crop yields, mitigate risk, and improve their economic standing by providing them with access to high-resolution data on best agricultural practices, soil nutrients, climate, and satellite imagery. 
  • Team: EcoReturns
    Schools represented: Lund University (Sweden), Yale University (United States), The University of British Columbia (Canada)
    EcoReturns’ solution is focused on rethinking seafood production in ways that directly address the impact on marine ecosystems while promoting community involvement and consumer engagement. They’ve created an investment model that enables individual and institutional investors to support marine ecosystem restoration and the adoption of sustainable, small-scale management practices in British Columbia’s fisheries while obtaining both ecological and financial returns.
  • Team: Kulisha
    Schools represented: Brown University (United States), University of Michigan (United States)
    Kulisha has developed a solution focused on working with food and beverage processing plants to convert their organic waste products into an insect-based protein that can be used in animal feeds and as an agricultural fertilizer. Their system integrates a type of insect called the black soldier fly into food and beverage plants to decrease disposal costs while creating additional value from waste that would otherwise be discarded.
  • Team: Remade in China
    Schools represented: Beijing Normal University (China), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), Parenthope University of Naples (Italy)
    Remade in China’s solution is focused on the development of a modeling tool that can help urban environments develop food, energy, and water systems that unite policy and technology to meet consumer needs while maximizing both the value of resources and the systems’ ability to recover and reuse them.
  • Team: SOMOS
    Schools represented: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (United States), National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (Nicaragua)SOMOS has developed a solution focused on helping small coffee farmers operating in Nicaragua’s Miraflor Natural Reserve halt the negative environmental impact of their production process while also taking advantage of the waste byproducts of that process to produce other raw materials that can be exported for additional revenue. 

Wege Prize 2017 began with a field of 25 teams representing 38 different academic institutions from 17 countries around the world, including, for the first time, graduate-level students. Over the last five months, teams have developed their ideas from a one-page proposal into a multifaceted design solution informed by their own research, ideation, and experimentation as well as direct feedback from the judges. Now, the five finalist teams will have two months to translate their work into a cohesive and compelling presentation.

“As part of our mission to continue growing the scope and reach of the competition, we opened Wege Prize 2017 up to include graduate students, and we’re thrilled with the diversity­—both disciplinary and geographical—of this year’s field,” shared Gayle DeBruyn, Wege Prize coordinator and Chair of KCAD’s Collaborative Design program. “We’re anticipating well-considered, fully developed solutions from our finalist teams that are both elegant and actionable.”

For the final competition on May 19, the judges will gather in Grand Rapids to converge their own unique perspectives, knowledge, and talents to determine which solution inspires the greatest hope for success. Solutions will be judged on a variety of factors relating to process, understanding of the circular economy, depth of research, effective communication, and economic and logistic feasibility.

 

Judges include:

Michael Werner – Environmental Program Manager, Google Mountain View, CA
Colin Webster – Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation  Endinburgh, United Kingdom  
Gretchen Hooker – Biomimicry Specialist, Biomimicry Institute  Kalamazoo, MI    
Nathan Shedroff  Associate Professor, California College of the Arts San Francisco, CA
Christopher Carter – Independent educator, animator, and sculptor Miami, FL
Those interested in seeing the teams compete in person are warmly encouraged to attend the 2017 Wege Prize Awards event, which is free and open to the public. For those who cannot physically attend, an online live stream of the event will be made available on wegeprize.org. 

2017 Wege Prize Awards
 
Date: May 19, 2017
Time: 10:00am
Location: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s Woodbridge N. Ferris building (17 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.)Event Schedule
9:30 am     doors open
10:00am – 12:30pm          finalist presentations
12:30pm – 2:00pm             judges’ deliberation/lunch break
2:00pm – 2:30pm               presentation of awards
2:30pm – 3:30pm               media/interviews

Individuals with disabilities who require special accommodations to participate should contact the KCAD President’s Office at 616.451.2787 x1150 at least 72 hours in advance.

Need for Inclusion in Environmental Non-profits

Pictured above: Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss congratulates Dr. Taylor after the University of Michigan professor delivered The Wege Lecture at Aquinas.

Artist and Wege Foundation Trustee Chris Carter introduced Dorceta E. Taylor Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, as the presenter for the 21st Annual Wege Foundation Speaker Series in early April at Aquinas College

Dr. Taylor’s Untold Stories of the Conservation Movement opened with poet Phyllis Wheatley who was brought to this country as a slave in 1761 as an eight-year old. Educated by her owners the Wheatleys, in 1773 Phyllis published a book of her poetry, the first African-American to publish in the colonies.

While Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are well known as nature writers, few Americans have ever heard of Phyllis whose poetry influenced them. These images from one of Wheatley’s poems could easily be mistaken for Emerson’s:

The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays, On ev’ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays, Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display To shield your poet from the burning day. But the ‘burning day’ for Wheatley as a slave would have been quite different than for the Cambridge poets.

Dr. Taylor also recounted the environmental abuse inflicted by the early settlers when they stole the Native tribes’ lands because the white sportsmen believed it was their right to have good hunting grounds. She talked about the Trail of Tears in 1838 when President Andrew Jackson drove the Cherokees off their ancestral homelands in the Southeast forcing them on a brutally cruel trek west to Oklahoma.

The inequity for minorities is not over in the environmental world, Dr. Taylor said, when 38% of the population are minorities but they hold only 15% of the jobs in environmental organizations. “You need to go out and recruit them,” she told the attentive audience.

Andrew Goodwillie and Sara O’Connor, two of Peter Wege’s grandchildren, at the 21st annual Wege Speakers Series at Aquinas College.
Two of Peter Wege’s children Jonathan and Diana Wege, Chair and Vice-president of The Wege Foundation, at the reception for Dorceta E. Taylor Ph.D. after her talk on the history of social injustice in the conservation movement.

Blandford Plus A Golf Course: A Gift To The Future

An historic real-estate transaction for Grand Rapids was announced in early 2017 when Blandford Nature Center teamed with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan to acquire the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Course next door to Blandford. Adding the golf course’s 18 golf holes to Blandford brings the Nature Center’s permanently preserved green space to 264 acres all open to the public and within the city of Grand Rapids..

Instead of being developed into homes and condos, the century-old golf course will be converted back to a natural state that includes thriving wetlands and natural wildlife habitats. The new land will allow Blandford to expand its outdoor educational programs that now host two Grand Rapids Public Schools, Blandford School and the C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy.

Brad Rosely, the real estate developer who orchestrated the sale, summarized the significance of the deed transfer. “Developments come and go, but this will be there forever.”

The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Ken and Judy Betz family, and the Cook Foundation made the lead gifts toward buying the Highlands. Now Blandford is reaching out to the community to support this once-in- a-lifetime opportunity with donations of their own to help pay off the remaining debt on the property. Jason Meyer, Blandford’s president and CEO, hopes the citizens of Grand Rapids, like the lead donors, will recognize the long-term benefits of this land acquisition.

Jason Meyer noted that while the groomed golf course will soon return to nature, the habitat and wildlife restoration will happen over years. “What people are investing today, they might not even see what it becomes. But they’re caring for a place for future generations.”

For The Wege Foundation, this property has special meaning as it is physically connected to Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic School headed by Father Mark Przybysz, the late Peter Wege’s priest and close friend. Peter Wege took pride in rebuilding Father Mark’s rectory as a pioneering LEED certified smart home, building LEED classrooms for the school, and installing solar panels and a wind turbine. Now two of Peter’s good causes are next-door neighbors.

THE WILDERNESS LETTER From “Coda: Wilderness Letter,” copyright by Wallace Stegner, 1960.

One of America’s great writers of both fiction and non-fiction, the late Wallace Stegner was a pioneer of the environmental movement starting in the 1950s. Stegner used his extraordinary literary gifts to wake Americans up about threats to the environment nobody was paying attention to.

In 1960 Wallace Stegner published his personal manifesto on humanity’s need to preserve wild lands. March 1 this year is the 145th anniversary of America’s first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872. That law signed by President Ullyses S. Grant was the first of its kind and triggered the creation of national parks around the world. Today 100 countries have over 1200 parks or comparable land preserves. The United States now has over 400 parks covering 84 million acres in all 50 states.

To honor the historical significance of that March 1, 1872, law, and to remember again why these parks are so valuable, here is Wallace Stegner’s famous Wilderness Letter.

THE WILDERNESS LETTER From “Coda: Wilderness Letter,” copyright by Wallace Stegner, 1960.

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it. Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved– as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds– because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simple because it is there–important, that is, simply as idea.

Saving the Great Lakes Started in Grand Rapids May 2004

Working into the wee hours Friday night, December 9, 2016, the U.S. Congress authorized $1.5 billion to pay for Great Lakes restoration over the next five year. Included in that legislation is $170 million badly needed to help Flint clean up its lead-contaminated water. The Water Infrastructure Improvements will upgrade water facilities for states facing public health threats—with the nationally publicized crisis in Flint topping the list.

Peter M. Wege welcoming over 70 environmental scientists from around the country to a conference at Steelcase on saving the Great Lakes in May of 2004.
Peter M. Wege welcoming over 70 environmental scientists from around the country to a conference at Steelcase on saving the Great Lakes in May of 2004.

But what wasn’t in the press releases was that this historic $1.5 billion environmental leap forward for the country began at Steelcase, Inc., in Grand Rapids in May of 2004. A visionary who believed any thing was possible, the late Steelcase heir Peter M. Wege had told his staff that spring, “We’re going to save the Great Lakes.” And they knew him well enough to think he might just do it.

Wege then invited over 70 nationally recognized environmental leaders to a three-day working conference titled Healing Our Waters. In his invitation to the conference, sponsored by The Wege, Frey, Beldon, and Mott Foundations, Wege wrote, “Our objective is to collaboratively reach consensus on a policy statement for restoring the Great Lakes ecosystem. We will focus not on the problems, but the solutions.”

Wege asked the attending experts to “develop a powerful statement on the policy reforms needed to begin healing the Great Lakes.” And they did! Over three days in May 2004 packed with long sessions and lively debate, the environmental scientists collaboratively agreed on the greatest threats to the Great Lakes. Included in their final report, the HOW experts outlined a program to deal with deteriorating water quality in the Great Lakes—the same solutions just approved by Congress for Flint.

Wege called the HOW experts’ final statement the “Magna Carta of the Great Lakes.” That “Magna Carta” coincided with an executive order by then-President George W. Bush that brought together over 1,500 Great Lakes citizens to craft the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes calling for $20 billion in federal funding. The citizens’ recommendations mirrored the conclusions from the HOW conference in Grand Rapids. Indeed, the $1.5 billion Great Lakes funding just passed is a direct outcome of the Steelcase HOW conference.

Another direct outcome of the Steelcase conference has occurred over the past seven years with Congress having invested over $2.2 billion to restore Peter’s Great Lakes. That two-plus billion has funded some 2,900 local projects around the five Lakes. One example has been the cleanup of three contaminated sites. In the twenty years before the GLRI was passed, only one toxic site had been decontaminated.

For Peter Wege, who died in 2014, that 2004 Great Lakes conference was not just one more good cause. Rather he described it as “the most important single project of my life as an environmental activist since starting The Wege Foundation in 1967.”

He did say, “We’re going to save the Great Lakes!”

 www.healthylakes.org

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Fifteenth Annual University of Michigan Wege Lecture

bill-clark_605-e1478097402115Dr. William Clark, Harvard Professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, delivered the 15th Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability at the University of Michigan this fall. Dr. Clark began by saying he was a bit intimidated when he found out who the previous lecturers had been. “I might not have come if I’d known I was following the Dalai Lama!”

The distinguished list of Wege Lecture speakers also included the former Prime Minister of Norway Dr. Gro Harlem Brundland, the former President of Costa Rica Jose Maria Figures, Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States, and Chairman of Ford Motor Company William Clay Ford, Jr. The first University of Michigan Wege Lecture was given October 17, 2001, by Dr. Rosina M. Bierbaum, former EPA official under President Clinton and at the time the new Dean at the time of the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The title of Dr. Clark’s lecture was Pursuing Sustainability: Linking Science And Practice. He focused on the need for innovative thinking from the world of academia to solve the problem of Earth’s finite resources continuing to support the ever-growing number of people depending on it.

For the plus side, Dr. Clark noted that people are now “living longer and better” than ever before in human history. “ But that is not sustainable.” He pointed out we have saved eagles, restored forests, and the ozone is recovering. Yet with the current global population of 7.5 billion on its way to 10 billion, science has to get creative if humanity is to sustain the quality of life that has improved for everyone in the last 150 years.

Accomplishing this, according to Clark, will require world leaders to manage our human, social, manufacturing, natural, and intellectual assets. That means linking innovative scientific research with the actual real-world practices of sustainability. But, as with the American eagle, Dr. Clark says it can be done.

ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION AND RESEARCH AT U-M