Turn on the news. Pick up the newspaper. Read the latest research on the state of our water resources. Worry. Then worry some more. Sound familiar to many of you? There is a state of constant urgency being nurtured by a flood of information on the latest threats to our water, which becomes all too familiar to those who work to protect the resources that sustain us. We live in a corporate age where threats to water loom larger than ever, catapulted forward by seemingly limitless financial influence. We react with a frenzy of activity to combat yet another threat, and war zones are created where logic and the best interests of human beings break like waves against the rock of economic pursuit.
I have often found myself mired down in this constant state of worry and frenzied reaction. For me, the learning curve has been steep, and some of the most important lessons have come from observing brilliant activists, leaders, and colleagues doing meaningful conservation work in a way that personally sustains them. I don’t write about these things because of a personal desire to purge my own frustrations and challenges, but instead, out of a desire to share something incredible that has revealed itself during my travels throughout northeast Minnesota doing conservation and public engagement work. The incredible something is really quite simple…Hope.
I’m talking about the tangible kind of hope that comes from witnessing ordinary, yet extraordinary, Minnesotans who give of their time, expertise, and energy to ensure future generations can experience the beauty and bounty of our state. There are thousands of people working on local, statewide, and national conservation issues whose work is never written about, talked about, or even acknowledged. They show up, write letters, organize local actions, engage with their elected officials, lead by example, and are the very backbone of efforts to protect clean water and our great outdoors. They are Conservation Minnesota and Audubon Minnesota members. They are members of other conservation organizations who show up to share ideas and collaborate. They live in our cities, rural places, on our lakes, and in small towns. I feel compelled to write about them.
I met with a small, impressive group of people at Brewed Awakenings coffee shop in Grand Rapids last week. It was the first time meeting with our members in Grand Rapids, and I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a very special, enthusiastic group of people who are doing incredible work in their community. They have engaged on issues like toxic chemical reform, school trust land, clean water protection, habitat and wildlife protection, and addressing the harm of plastic bags in the environment. I drove home to Duluth after that meeting with a sense of satisfaction that only comes from knowing that Shirley, Vicki, Pat, Bob, Scott and I were about to embark on some really exciting work together.
My experience in Grand Rapids is just the latest in a collection of moments with members that have quieted my worry and sustain me with Hope. There’s Brainerd and the wonderful people of the Brainerd Lakes Area Audubon Society who are dedicated to providing educational opportunities to community members on a wide range of conservation issues. They host bird walks and other fun activities that foster appreciation and connection to wildlife and their habitat. They engage with elected officials to protect our water and wildlife, and are dedicated to serving their community. Hope lives in their dedication.
Just south of the beautiful town of Bemidji, you’ll find the 460-acre Nielson Spearhead Center. It is a wondrous sanctuary supported by the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society (MHAS), led by Brick Fevold. I had the opportunity to go on a bird walk around Spearhead Lake with the members of MHAS, and join their annual Board meeting. I learned about their rich history of conservation activism. They shared their mission of providing children with wilderness opportunities that foster appreciation for wildlife and wild places. Every summer, there is a constant stream of kids experiencing the beauty of the Nielson Spearhead Center, and I couldn’t help but smile when listening to the stories. An abundance of Hope can be found in the development of future conservation stewards.
Lake association members are some of the most informed, fun, and active conservation stewards I’ve met. They can be fierce protectors of our water, seasoned with the light-heartedness of the lake culture. I’ve engaged with lake associations in St. Louis, Beltrami, Koochiching, Cass, Hubbard, Crow Wing, Aitkin, Isanti, Pine, Kanabec, Chisago, Mille Lacs, Morrison, and Douglas counties. These folks are on the front line of water protection, engaging in shoreline preservation, combatting agricultural run-off, and always vigilant against aquatic invasive species. You can imagine that in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, association members are a powerful voice in protecting our resources. Hope is certainly found on our lakes.
And then there is my hometown of Duluth. There is a current of energy running through our community that is propelling us toward clean energy, water protection (our Beloved Lake Superior and St. Louis River), climate resilience, and sustainability. Just recently, I had the privilege of working with community members, Duluth’s leading experts, organized Labor, city staff, and Mayor Emily Larson to establish the Energy and Environment Commission. I’ve also had the honor of working with the Duluth Parents for Healthy Playgrounds, whose efforts succeeded in the Duluth School Board unanimously voting to remove toxic tire mulch from all Duluth school playgrounds. Conservation Minnesota has participated in the Northland Community Solar Coalition in efforts to ensure we have equitable, affordable community solar. The list goes on and on, but it suffices to say Duluth is on a wonderful path toward a healthier future. There are waves of Hope rolling through Duluth.
I will continue to worry, react, and worry some more. We live in an age when the threats to our water and wild places will continue to challenge us. But, my experiences with Conservation Minnesota and Audubon Minnesota have led me to our members and volunteers who continually demonstrate their commitment to preserving the things that make us love being Minnesotans. I am grateful to all of you. Because of you, I experience confidence and joy in the things we accomplish together. You have given me the simple, incredible something that sustains me. Hope.