Reflecting back to Summer 1993, I can feel the balmy evening when Sally Van Vleck and I sat at the picnic table at Neahtawanta Inn while she recounted the founding of NMEAC. I was living at the Inn for the Summer helping her and her husband Bob Russell, run the B & B aspect of their social justice center. I had no idea I was signing up for an activist primer download, from both her and Bob.
That evening, Sally passionately told me of the work done by many to bring awareness and preservation to ensure standards for the ecological and environmental integrity of our Northern Michigan home. I loved that the story began with four women around a kitchen table, concerned about the impact of a nuclear plant Big Rock on the beautiful shoreline of lake Michigan near Charlevoix, and how these four women's concern, could launch forty years of citizen-led advocacy for environmental stewardship.
Inspiration filled me as Sally cited a core group of individuals who came to together as a local force of environmental activists, to 'fight fires' of multiple environmental concerns arising in our bioregion. These concerns were real and confronting many communities within 3-5 counties bioregions around Traverse City.
These early activists were a diverse set of characters who wore both business suits and bandanas, loved life and loved to tell the tales, especially their successes. They took on big cases like, saving the downtown Boardman River outdoor space from mall development where the Sara Hardy Farm Market is now. There were years of ongoing battles to safeguard the pristine beauty, of the Crystal River from Bob Kuras' desire to expand and develop further the Homestead Resort.
Sally noted the activists were tired and the organization was in a slump. She invited me to a meeting where I met the chairs Ken Smith, Bob Jones and a smattering of die-hard NMEAC'ers.
In one meeting, you could say I heard the call. I was pulled in - into a cause near and dear to me, inspired, optimistic, naive and full of ideal. At the age of 26, the pull was strong to join this inspiring force who worked long hours, shared the local lore, and kept addressing the environmental threats popping up like superheroes, as the onset of increased population and natural resource extraction was in good flow. I began an amazing direct education in civics, local-activism, teamwork and community collaboration with some of the most patient, kind individuals - my mentors, They were and remain forward thinking members of our community. Thank you!
This committee resurrected the NMEAC Newsletter, and invigorated our membership, We participated with the seven sub-owners of GT Commons redevelopment property, to ensure the parkland was kept as parkland, and Munson Hospital or other sub-owners kept to their footprint. We kept a TCLP substation out of the confluence of two Kids' Creeks at 8th street. NMEAC educated and debated TC TALUS for years, asking whether a bypass through the Boardman River Valley was necessary by suggesting successful models of new urbanism and fostering holistic understanding in limits to growth.
NMEAC leaned on ecological forbearers - our heroes like Pine, an Odawa elder, Rachael Carlson, Aldo Leopold, Wes Jackson, Stephanie Mills, who in their writing, continue inspire and guide us with the principles and practices - the "how-to's" for being responsible and creative when we face the pressure of population increase.
What touched me then, and now in my reflections of NMEAC today is how NMEAC truly is a watchdog citizen-led advocacy group. NMEAC guided many communities into the civic process.
Education, collaboration and community centered the movement, not just the human community, by bringing the bioregional perspective into our understanding and activism- seeing humans as a part of all nature and having the greatest impact on the systems that make a healthy thriving landscape or watershed for generations to come.
Every week, the NMEAC office answering machine had another cry for help, an emotional plea for direction on how to protect or preserve some wetland, watershed, or vast greenbelt, which is an expanse of nature needed for species and eco-systems to thrive. It was those individual citizens standing in their own backyard, seeing how all backyards connected into a greater neighborhood community that was under threat by careless development or a reckless grab of natural resources. These citizens called the NMEAC office every week, asking NMEAC to step in and help them organize to stop, slow or direct the inevitable. Many evenings were spent in the township meeting halls and at city/county government building. There were a few potlucks, but you could say our trenches were the township meetings, the city commission meetings. We grew as a community.
I saw the tireless commitment of Ken and Kay Smith, Ann Rogers, Greg Reisig, Sally Van Vleck, Bob Russell, Bob Jones, Mark Nixon, Victor McManemy, Sandy McArthur, Phil Thiel, and so many others, to empower local communities to stand their ground, find their voice and use this American system of local government as it is designed.
At the time NMEAC partnered with the Michigan Land Institute (now Groundwork), with the Watershed Initiative (now Watershed Center), The GT Regional Land Conservancy, Conservation Districts, task forces and smaller local formations of concerned citizens, who arose, aligned to address threatened eco-systems from over these three to five counties. We supported the county recycling and composting tent at the annual Cherry Festival, where humor and humus helped us bond deeper.
NMEAC referred to itself as a watchdog organization. Without big funders, who by its citizen-led advocacy, had the freedom to say and do what needed to be said and done. NMEAC had a membership full of big hearts, hearts that shared resources, talents/time/skills, professional capacities, $10 donations to $1000 donations..
NMEAC membership united in a call to action, like responding to a beating drum, hearing the pulse of the deep woods and water tributaries, the rhythm of nature's cycles and "ALL- SPECIES", who paraded down Front Street, Traverse City each Earth Day. NMEAC stood firm on the bones of bedrock not designed for oil/gas drilling. Thanks to forty years of citizen-led advocacy, all of us continue to delight in the fleshy beauty that today still attracts visitors and residents from afar, to behold our natural landscape and waterways.
It is our duty to retell these stories.
It is all of our duty to inform the new residents and younger generations of NMEAC"s 40 years legacy of citizen advocacy. I couldn't begin to list the names of people who touched me - taught me in the time I was co-chair, office manager and editor for the NMEAC Newsletter I had the pleasure to meet and work in these trenches with an amazing force of people who care. From this deep place of care and concern, their activism was called forth to bring awareness and due process to fragile, unique and precious eco-systems. An eco-system does not have property boundaries, it is a dynamic network rooted, alive and pulsing, contributing to bigger natural systems known as bioregions. A Bioregion is nature's defining mark of place, like the Grant Traverse Region or the Great Lakes.
These eco-systems include the human family, who stand together to halt degradation, ensure the "purity" the State of Michigan capitalized on. Integral connection defines ecology and is reflected by those everyday persons, who care, who feel passionately moved to protect- preserve what is special to them. These citizens rise up and call together others concerned. They work ceaselessly within their communities to save a slice of our region from "golden bulldozers", whether through journalism, education, leadership in local government or business, the annual Environmentalist of the Year Awards.
When I reflect on my connection to the Grand Traverse Region, I feel it is not as much about the landscape and natural resources, as it is about these watchdogs, these dedicated people WHO continue to preserve these natural resources and call out for ACTION as needed. My heart connects to those hearts, in our mutual love and understanding of the importance of environmental stewardship and how special this place is: Northern Michigan.
Whether its years of regenerating forests by planting scores of trees (Clarence Kroupa), remediating the damage or preventing more degradation, by sounding the horn, calling us together; we keep thinking forward. We adapt, we learn, we grow, we grow older and some of us die, while the spirit thrives, calling for new voices. We thrive as activists, watchdogs, scouts, to leave our campsite better than how we found it.
We hold accountable our government process, and use our government process to maintain this gem of a pace we, the local citizens call home.
Thanks to so many, who have given so much.
We are overdue for a potluck! Here's to forty years everyone!!
Kima M Kraimer.