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BISF 2023: A full week of inspiration, stewardship, & community

The following text appeared in the September 2023 issue of “The Northern Islander,” Beaver Island's monthly print newspaper (edited here for clarity & added content).   

Building upon the momentum of previous years, the 2023 Sustainability Fair events were too great to be limited to just a single day! Our "Sustainability Week" began Monday, June 19th (the Juneteenth holiday) and concluded Saturday, June 24th.

So many wonderful and inspiring experiences took place—here are some highlights!

Island Ecology Tours

On Monday and Friday, sustainability studies professor and Tara's Meadow director Seamus Norgaard led Island-wide tours, focusing on the ecology of this historical place. Did you know that every natural ecosystem in Michigan can be found within the 6 x 13 mile boundaries of Beaver Island? From marshes, cedar swampland, fens, and sand dunes to mixed hardwoods, conifer forests, and everything in-between, we have them here on the island. Some of these sites have been rated among the best in Michigan, such as the outstanding Point Lapar Dry Mesic forest, with trailhead access across from Wagner’s State Forest campground.

Mushroom & Foraging Workshop

On Tuesday, mycologist and Island resident Gina Manga guided an innovative workshop at the CMU Biological Station, where students and adults alike searched for edible hidden gems as they explored the Island's rich forests.

Natural Communities & Endangered Species Trail Hike 

On Wednesday, Invasive Species Coordinator Shelby Harris led our journey at the George and Althea Petritz Nature Preserve, a 27-acre protected area in walking distance from St. James Bay and town where the endangered plant Pitcher’s Thistle can be found. On the hike, our group learned that this is one of several rare endemic plant species that calls Beaver Island home, alongside the Michigan Monkey Flower, Lake Huron Tansy, and Dwarf Iris. Shelby explained that the Island also has endangered animal species, such as the Piping Plover and a grey toad that exists nowhere else on the planet! Beaver Island even provides a safe harbor for larger populations of species that have not reached "threatened" status but are in decline on the mainland, such as the leopard frog and spotted salamander.

Pollinator Plant-In & Monarch Butterfly Release

On Thursday, Lauri Juday of Walloon Lake Area Conservancy led a pollinator "plant-in" workshop, where more than 20 students from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and North Central Michigan College (NCMC) got their hands dirty and planted six native forb species at Tara's Meadow: Giant Yellow Hyssop, Butterfly Weed, Sand Coreopsis, Brown-Eyed Susan, Sky Blue Aster, and Hoary Vervain. Our guide Lauri—also known as "The Butterfly Lady"—then gifted the group with an amazing experience: releasing 150 recently hatched monarch caterpillars into the meadow! Several chrysalises were also identified for safe raising and future release.

Meet-n-Greet & Community Discussion on Renewable Energy

Friday evening, professionals from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, and others met at Whiskey Point Brewery to exchange ideas and engage Island residents with discussions on renewable energy possibilities.

Saturday: The Fair!

The excitement growing throughout the week peaked on Saturday at the 9th annual BI Sustainability Fair! The day opened with a gathering at Paradise Bay, with an Anishinaabe Water Blessing by Cynthia Pryor and an Irish Celtic Cairn Ceremony by Seamus Norgaard.

Soon after (and just a short walk away), environmentalist Sally Wagoner gave an informative Native Plant presentation at the Historical Museum. At Greg Fellowship Hall, we were welcomed with the traditional Odawa “Strawberry Moon” feast of whitefish, corn soup, wild rice, frybread, and strawberry short cake—graciously prepared by the Island's Kenwabikise and Anthony families. The line never seemed to end as everyone got up for seconds!

With full bellies, the crowd listened and engaged with the presentations that followed. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory presenter Marcy Whitfield shared information about her collaborations with the BI Townships and greater community on energy transition strategies, and she also gave the attendees an opportunity to weigh in on potential solar array placements around the Island. Bobbi Welke, St. James Township Supervisor, updated us on workplace housing and other St. James initiatives, while Township Representatives Beth Crosswhite, Juli Runberg, and Bill Markey added their insights. Dark Sky expert Tony Miller presented a night program and the exciting possibilities for a Dark Sky Park on the Island.

A team of wave energy researchers from the University of Michigan's School of Engineering provided an overview of their Lake Michigan wave studies so far and what it could mean for future energy production. This was followed by an up-close demonstration of their wave energy prototype down in St. James Bay.

The event featured many other engaging speakers, such as:

  • Liv Rollinger, Climate and Clean Energy Specialist at Groundwork Center, who invited attendees to dig deeper and share personal stories about how climate change has impacted our lives.

  • Cole Maxon, Agathon Solar Installer, who presented an overview of solar installation possibilities on the Island with his technical expertise.

  • The GVSU Field School, led by professor Kelly Parker, whose 17 students presented preliminary findings and suggestions from their Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Education and Service Project.

Of Special Note

Though a truly wonderful week, all of this fun and good service work took place against a backdrop of burning forest fire smoke in Canada and other places on the mainland—reminding us all of the urgency to address climate change to not only protect our ecosystems but our own health. With this in mind, we greatly value and appreciate the ongoing work of St. James and Peaine Townships, the Beaver Island Association, and others toward shared Island resilience, sustainability, and smart energy transition goals.

We are so thankful for BISF's many contributors who make this annual event (and other Island sustainability projects) possible: Charlevoix County Community Foundation, Beaver Island's Terrestrial Invasive Species Program (TIS), GVSU’s Environmental Sustainability Studies program, NCMC’s Environmental Sustainability Studies program, the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce, the Beaver Island Association, McDonough’s Market, and other supporters. We also give heartfelt thanks to those who collaborated with Tara's Meadow to bring hands-on education and community service programming this Sustainability Week.

We thank all the volunteers who believe with us that Beaver Island can serve as one shining example of hope and sustainability for future generations!


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