Tag: Grand Traverse Bay

Protecting the Great Lakes is “A Matter of the Heart”

On #GivingTuesday, a FLOW supporter shares loving words on water

By Jerry Beasley

I do not come by my love of water as a result of growing up where there was plenty of it. So I might say that I don’t come by it naturally. But it’s real, and here’s the story of why.

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. There were no natural lakes to swim in. The Cumberland River was the only nearby body of water, and it was busy with industrial boat traffic—so there were no swimming holes. I do remember playing around in local creeks, scouting for crawdads and little fish. The truth is, I was afraid of the water. When, at the age of nine, I signed up for a class at the YMCA where I would be taught to swim, I panicked and quit.

I did finally learn to swim—badly—as a young teenager, and I remember long, sunburned days at Cascade Plunge, a 45-minute bus ride from my home.

To keep this story short, I’ll leap ahead to the time when I moved to a small farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, overlooking the Sassafras River, one of the several Eastern Shore tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. My daughters were then very young, and because the summers were hot, we spent long afternoons on that river, where the girls learned to swim. Just a few miles upstream, the Sassafras was no more than a trickle, but where we played and swam in it, the river was as wide as the Mississippi, and as majestic. It inspired a kind of awe. I never became a really good swimmer, but being there changed me, for I then first realized that I had a genuine love for the water. My girls loved the water, and I think they taught me to love it too.

Much later, in the early 1990s, my new wife and I began traveling together in the summers from our home in Delaware to Northern Michigan—to her family cottage on Intermediate Lake in Antrim County, part of the Chain of Lakes watershed, not far from Traverse City. The cottage had been in her family since 1918, and she had been spending summers there for much of her life.

A whole new world of joy opened for me. Everyone in her family loved the lake with a great passion. Her father built sailboats and spent hours on the water in them. Everyone swam. Evenings on the dock were a long tradition, and the beauty of the sunsets was wondrous to me. From that point forward, we both felt that we always needed to be near water. We soon bought a small house on the Elk River in Maryland, like the Sassafras, an Eastern Shore tributary of the Chesapeake and, from our beach, equally majestic.

Watch Jerry Beasley read from “A Matter of the Heart”. And please consider supporting FLOW on #GivingTuesday.
But it was during those days in Michigan almost 30 years ago that I fell so deeply in love with water, in a new and completely fulfilling way. I marveled at the fact that Michigan had so many miles of Great Lakes shoreline, that it had more than 11,000 inland lakes. Truly a water wonderland. When my wife and I were ready to retire, we decided to move all the way to Traverse City so that we could be near the family cottage and the water that makes it such a special place for us. And the bonus is that when we’re not at the cottage we have the magnificence of Grand Traverse Bay.

Now, as every reader of this blog post already knows, our water legacy is under grave threat, and there are many people, individually and in organized groups like FLOW, who are working fiercely to save it, producing studies and launching campaigns to inform and engage the public. All of this is essential, and without it, the battle will almost certainly be lost.

But the thing I learned many years ago, as I passed from ignorance and something approaching indifference to passionate love, is this: that what is most fundamental about our relationship with water is a matter of the heart. Love preceded knowledge for me. Without the former, I would never have moved on to the latter.

To put it another way: What I have learned, and what I believe in the most elemental way, is that our first and most basic relationship with water is anchored in love. In the absence of love there is the great risk of indifference and failure to protect this resource that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, belongs to us all and is essential to life. If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved. So, while we marshal facts and organize and encourage activism, let us remember to acknowledge the power of our affections and make them a guiding principle in all that we do.

BAYKEEPER® Heather Smith is Protector and Educator Too

Grand Traverse Bay is one of the Great Lakes watershed’s special places.  Protecting, restoring and preserving it is the job of many, but a special role goes to Heather Smith, the Grand Traverse BAYKEEPER® at the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay since August 2016.  FLOW was curious about Heather’s work, and she graciously agreed to answer our questions.

Heather grew up in Leelanau County and attended schools in Suttons Bay.  She earned her undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Michigan State University and a graduate degree in Water Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


First, what are some of the most interesting facts about the bay and why we should be proud of it? For example, I did a calculation and found it has 8 times the volume of Lake St. Clair, which seems pretty impressive.

The bay is an impressive water body! It’s a very unique embayment of Lake Michigan, and the bathymetry is wild – all resulting from glaciers that retreated about 11,000 years ago. At the deepest point, the bay is around 600 feet deep. The east arm of Grand Traverse Bay is significantly deeper than the west arm, and it gets relatively shallow near the outlet to Lake Michigan. We have some unique underwater features as well – underwater bluffs and riverbeds – that we are learning more about as Northwestern Michigan College’s Marine Technology Program further explores the lakebed.  

Besides the geeky bathymetric and geologic stuff, the Grand Traverse Bay watershed is home to hundreds of native plants and animals, some only found in this region. Thousands of people depend on Grand Traverse Bay for their drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on lakes, streams, and wetlands within the Grand Traverse Bay watershed for recreation, transportation, fishing, and their way of life. These waters are worth protecting. They are the lifeblood of our community.

Are there characteristics or features of bays that are unique or not like lakes?

Yes, Grand Traverse Bay is a bit different than a lake. We are directly connected to the larger Lake Michigan system. About 261 billion gallons of water flows into Lake Michigan from the bay each year.

When people come up to you and ask you what the BAYKEEPER® does, what is your quick reply?

I am the eyes, ears, and voice for Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed. I advocate for swimmable, fishable, and drinkable water in our region.

What do you think is your most important BAYKEEPER® task?

I am a consistent and persistent advocate for decisions and policies that preserve and protect YOUR water.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as BAYKEEPER®?

Local decision-making plays a big role in the protection of our environment as local decisions directly affect water quality in Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed. There are a number of zoning tools and land use policies that local governments can employ to help protect our water.  

If we, as the people that work, play, and live here, value our water, we need to speak up to ensure it’s protected. Local governments can represent community values and respond to community concerns in a way that state and federal governments can’t always do. We need to ensure there is not a disconnect between the community value of our water and local decision-making. Ensuring that citizens are actively engaged in local decisions can and will largely impact the future of the community we live in.

What is the biggest problem facing the Bay?

The Great Lakes are faced with challenges that we created. As the Grand Traverse BAYKEEPER®, I spend the majority of my time focusing on hyper-local issues. Stormwater runoff and intense development that threatens to fill our valuable wetlands and alter our natural shorelines are our biggest threats to the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. Sediments, nutrients, bacteria, and other pollutants enter our surface waters through stormwater that washes from roads, parking lots, and driveways. Wetlands and naturally vegetated shorelines play a critical role in filtering and purifying runoff before it enters our waterbodies.

It’s worth noting that I am not here to halt development in our beautiful corner of Michigan, but rather to advocate for sustainable development practices that treat and infiltrate stormwater onsite using natural processes and preserve wetlands and natural shorelines. There are engineering solutions and design principles that work in harmony with nature. I’ll argue that nowhere else in the state is it as important to utilize these eco-conscious design elements as the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. Our livelihood depends on the health of our water.

What shaped your appreciation for water and made you interested in a career in environmental issues?

Growing up on the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay – swimming, sailing, fishing, kayaking – significantly shaped my life and inspired my career path. My days spent on and in the bay cultivated my interest in and passion for freshwater ecology. There are few days a year, weather permitting, that I am not outside enjoying our vast network of water resources. And watching my daughter enjoy this same body of water motivates me to continue fighting to protect our water.   

Can you suggest one or two things anyone can do for the Bay?

Take action, and speak up about projects and policy decisions that affect your water. To learn more about receiving updates on public meeting and comment periods where you can voice your concern or support for water related projects and policies, contact me at hsmith@gtbay.org or 231.935.1514 x3.