Great Lakes’ Pioneer Caretakers Gather

Two years before the historic 1972 Clean Water Act was passed to fight water pollution, a concerned group of Great Lakes residents were already working on it. In 1970, a grassroots movement of good citizens formed the Alliance for the Great Lakes, now the oldest independently formed organization in the nation created to protect the five Great Lakes.

Alliance members recently gathered in Grand Haven to hear former Michigan Governor James Blanchard (1983-1991) talk about Michigan’s early entry into environmental activism. Democrat Governor Blanchard succeeded Republican Governor William Milliken, and, despite their party differences, they shared a passion for the environment. And since the state they governed is surrounded by Great Lakes, protecting America’s largest fresh water resource was a top priority for both of them.

The 11,000 citizens who belong to the Alliance for the Great Lakes come from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Among many projects, they created the Adopt-a-Beach program where volunteers actively clean up 254 beaches in all six Great Lakes states. Last summer they cleared nearly 32,700 pounds of trash.

One of the Indiana volunteers, Susan MiHalo, said this about her seven years with Adopt-a-Beach at Ogden Dunes: “One of the biggest impacts I’ve seen is the ability to empower citizens. I’ve learned…even just the simplest things we can do, like putting a lid on a trash can at our beach, will help us overcome our beach health issues.”

Michelle Mullin, who volunteers at Chicago’s Ohio Street beach, spoke of her deepened commitment by “reaching out to people on the beach informing them of the tie among litter, seagulls on the beach, and swim bans.”  The tie: litter attracts seagulls thus creating more waste (feces) that leads to higher e. coli counts in the water, hence swim bans.
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Thousands of volunteers — families, schools, businesses and community groups — participate in the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach™ Program. Volunteer to adopt a beach year round, or for just one day in September!
Former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and Mark Van Putten, former president of the National Wildlife Federation and now The Wege Foundation’s environmental consultant, are pictured at an Alliance for the Great Lakes gathering in Grand Haven. The Alliance is a regional leader in environmental education having worked with The Wege Foundation to develop the “Great Lakes in My World” K-9 curriculum.