On Earth Day, inspire love for nature

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Kids at lake with park interpreter

April 20, 2018

An adult and child beachcombing

This weekend, we celebrate the 48th Earth Day – nearly 50 years since the birth of the modern environmental protection movement. In that span, we’ve come a long way.

The Great Lakes were once treated as the industrial backdoors of our state, but actions and advocacy by people who cared made incredible strides in cleanups and protection. There is always more progress to be made, but we can be proud that the unsustainable ways our waters were treated in the past are no longer the norm.

Many of today’s Great Lakes environmental problems now exist on the “micro” level and are tough to see with the naked eye. Microplastic particles, microcystin bacteria (better known as blue-green algae), invisible contaminants and tiny aquatic invaders are the next frontier to tackle.

How do we ensure that we keep moving forward?  

Young girl learning to fish

It’s in our nature to protect what we love, and a connection to nature is the spark that lights passion for the world around us.

Experiencing the outdoors is essential to reversing the encroachment of “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods” to describe a growing trend in disconnect from the natural world.

It’s hard for many of us to imagine this happening in Michigan. We’ve claimed the titles of the Great Lakes State and the Trails State. Michigan is known for incredible opportunities to enjoy the outdoors year-round and is a haven for those who love trail running, kayaking, fat tire biking, skiing, and birding. So, it’s especially distressing to learn that many children in this state have never seen the Great Lakes.

Let that sink in.

In a place where we’re never more than six miles from an inland lake or few hours’ drive from a Great Lake, there are children who have never experienced the wonder of the freshwater seas right in our backyard.

Two girls playing along the Lake Michigan beach

Growing stewardship for nature starts with a connection to it. Unplugging from screens and spending time outdoors with the next generation catching frogs, building sand castles, and splashing at the beach is key.

Our staff at the Office of the Great Lakes understand that public access to the Great Lakes is a recreational amenity, but also enhances the more elusive “quality of life,” value which is hard to explain in words, but easy to understand. The story of our connection to the Great Lakes is captured in video through the Power of Nature series supported by the Coastal Program.

This Earth Day, we can thank the generations before us who advocated for the first environmental protection laws and worked to heal our waters. Many of them, like volunteers in Michigan’s Areas of Concern communities, continue to inspire. Some have been working to restore waters impacted by pollution for more than 40 years.

To enjoy the Great Lakes for generations to come, we must take steps to ensure that the next generation experiences the wonder of the outdoors. Passion to become stewards of our state’s outdoor spaces, naturally, will follow. 

Learn more about Great Lakes stewardship at www.michigan.gov/waterstrategy.  

The Office of the Great Lakes works in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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