Plain old conversation works for lakes’ advocates

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Representatives from multiple Great Lakes-based organizations gathered recently in Ann Arbor but not to tackle any threats to the lakes.

They came for happy hour.

“It’s just sort of a casual thing that happens a couple of times a year,” said Kristin Schrader, a communications manager for the Great Lakes Observing System, a regional data-sharing partnership based in Ann Arbor.

It started six years ago, when Schrader was working for Ducks Unlimited. She thought her organization would benefit from conversations with members of other groups – something that happened only at infrequent events with scheduled programs. Schrader wanted an event conducive to casual conversation.

And the Great Lakes Happy Hour was born.

The gathering creates “cross-pollination, in a casual way,” she said. Individuals from nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private firms and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have attended. And the soirees feature a mix of political leanings -– evident in the distinction between self-identifying “conservationists” and “environmentalists.”

Both groups advocate for preservation of natural resources, although environmentalism is often associated with liberal political ideologies and conservation with those of the political right.

Although onlookers might expect some tension there, they won’t find it, said Drew YoungeDyke, a communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

“We’re all looking out for the Great Lakes,” he said. “We’re all about the resource, though we may have come to appreciate that resource from a different perspective.”

Poor weather at the most recent event forced a last-minute change of venue from a beer garden to a local brewery and drew a smaller crowd than usual. Fewer than 10 attended.

The event has drawn audiences of up to 30 in the past.

Schrader said representatives from the Great Lakes Observing System, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Great Lakes Commission and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research attended.

Members of Ducks Unlimited, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the private environmental science firm LimnoTech have come in the past, she said.

YoungeDyke said, “We get together and have a beer, and just kind of discuss the issues that are going on. Pretty informal, but a good spot to kind of get in the loop on what’s coming up.”

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.