New folk album explores environmental issues

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — Stephen Jones didn’t initially set out to put together an album of songs about modern life in Midwestern America.

But that is exactly what he did.

Jones is a retired journalist and current history professor at Central Michigan University. He’s also been a songwriter since high school.

His most recent record, “The Road We Build,” features songs that capture moments of his experience living in the Midwest. They also discuss contemporary social events.

The title comes from the first song on the album.

“That song kind of captured an idea that I was interested in,” Jones said. “To one extent or another, nearly all these songs embodied this idea of, ‘the world is what we make it.’”

Jones sings and plays acoustic guitar throughout the album. He is joined by his friend George Brown on guitar, upright bass and synthesizer. Dan Hazlett, who recorded and mixed the record, also provides instrumental backing.

The result is folk music that captures moods both energetic and contemplative.

Jones’s previous records were made up of strike songs, some of them parodies of existing music. In 1999, he wrote a song called “Marquette Range,” inspired by a conversation he had with a miner in the Upper Peninsula.

“That song is not his precise words, but it’s my recollection of the essence of our conversation,” Jones said. “It was sort of a quantum leap over the other songs that I’d written before. That was the first what I would call ‘real’ song that I wrote.”

“Marquette Range” became a songwriting springboard. It was picked up by folk singer Lee Murdock and featured in his album “Standing at the Wheel.” It was also the first time Jones said he felt he captured a moment of his experience in the world.

The rest of “The Road We Build” came in bits and pieces. As the years went by, Jones kept composing as the world around him kept changing.

Every song tells a unique story. “Marquette Range” expresses a miner’s struggle to support his family as the mining industry changes. From the song:

“A few more years, I’ve heard them say, they’ll shut it down and move away,

Kicking us aside like dogs with mange

Played-out hearts upon this Marquette Range.”

Many of the other tracks also discuss current events through a personal perspective. “Standing with Standing Rock” came from Jones’s experience going to the protests about the Dakota Access Pipeline at North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation in November 2016.

His time there gave him an appreciation for the effort to peacefully protect both the water and the rights of the indigenous people, Jones said. The song developed out of what he saw and heard there.

In a similar vein, “The Albatross” looks at the Flint water crisis through a unique lens.

The song is an homage to poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In it, Coleridge tells the story of an old sailor who, after killing an albatross, watches his crewmates die. His only chance at redemption is to tell other people what he did — and warn them against repeating his mistakes.

“It struck me that ‘water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink’ was what Flint was about,” Jones said. “This tremendous injustice that had been done to the people of Flint, especially the children, who are more susceptible than anybody to the impact of lead contamination.”

The track “The Andersons Don’t Live Here Any More” describes how many families lost their homes when the housing bubble burst in 2008.

Jones saw houses vacated and payments rising in his own Detroit neighborhood. It’s only now starting to bounce back, he said.

Each song is inspired from a different event. Trying to single one out is, according to Jones, like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite.

But it’s what he calls the “moral dimension” that binds the record together.

“There really is only one lesson to learn in life: pay attention,” Jones said. “Everything else is just context. I’m trying to let the experience of the world bounce off me in a way where it can lead somebody to think about things in a different way, or see an angle they hadn’t considered.”

“The Road We Build” is available for digital download from Amazon and Spotify.

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Recycle your home?

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — You may recycle in your home, but did you know the building itself can be recycled?

A group of researchers at Michigan State University studying the science of domicology — the term they use to describe the policies, practices and consequences of abandoned structures — are examining how wood from abandoned buildings can be reused.

The average Michigan home holds about 6,000 board feet of lumber, enough to fill two school buses, according to George Berghorn, an assistant professor of construction management at MSU. And the state has 244,000 abandoned homes.

The lumber in abandoned buildings includes a mix of aesthetic products such as doors, siding and windows that can be sold as salvage. However most of the wood in homes is structural material used to construct the frame of a building — the support for the walls and roof. Continue reading

Reclaiming buildings can create jobs

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sometimes deconstruction can yield surprising finds—like human body parts.

Workers with Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit deconstruction organization, once saw a human arm among other trash in the basement of a blighted house.

At first, they thought there was a body in the house, said Jeremy Haines, its executive director. On closer inspection, workers realized it was just a mannequin.

Fake body parts aside, the house the organization was taking apart was one among many abandoned houses in Detroit. According to a U.S. Census five-year estimate, more than 183,000 homes in Detroit are vacant — accounting for 75 percent of the vacant houses in the state. Continue reading

Researchers seek new ways to salvage abandoned buildings

By DARIEN VELASQUEZ

Capital News Service

LANSING — Constructing, remodeling and demolishing buildings have significant environmental impacts: Natural resources are used to build them and large amounts of waste are sent to landfills when they come down.

What do you call that?

Researchers at Michigan State University use the word “domicology” to define the study of policies, practices and consequences of what happens to empty buildings.

It’s a term that doesn’t officially exist – yet. But George Berghorn, a self-described domicologist and assistant professor of construction management at MSU, is working hard to make it one. Continue reading

Detroit architect honored in new book

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Admirers of architect Wirt Rowland finally have the biography they were looking for. It was a long time coming.

Rowland was arguably the premier skyscraper architect of the early 20th century. He designed prominent buildings around the country for years. Yet his name is hardly known outside of architectural circles, and no one had bothered to write a book about the man.

That’s what struck Michael G. Smith of Bloomfield Hills and led him to write the just-released, “Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture” (Wayne State University Press, $44.99).

The tome is comprehensive and meticulously detailed as Smith explores the rise of Rowland through the ranks of the architectural world and his work in Detroit. Despite his lack of training, Rowland earned a position in the city as an apprentice draftsman in 1901. Four years later, he was the lead designer for the two largest construction projects in Michigan. He went on to work for some of the most prominent architectural firms in the city, designing five of Detroit’s 16 prominent skyscrapers Continue reading

Another legal lap ahead in horse pulling doping dispute?

By BEN MUIR

Capital News Service

LANSING — It has taken five years, four judges and three rounds in a lawsuit to decide a doping scandal between a state horse pulling association and one of its members.

And it’s still not over. A fourth round is possible.

Many thought it was over after a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of a Chippewa County man accused of breaking competition rules.

The case started in 2012 when a horse owned by David Esslin of Goetzville, then a member of the Bear Lake-based Michigan Horse Pulling Association, tested positive for an illegal substance. Esslin was fined and suspended from the association.

Esslin fought the drugging allegations by suing the association, successfully, for thousands of dollars.

The association banned Esslin after the lawsuit. Esslin wanted back in, so he took the group to court, where a Clare County Circuit Court judge ordered his reinstatement. The group appealed the reinstatement but lost that battle as well, according to court documents. Continue reading

‘Saving Arcadia’ tells conservation success story

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — For Michiganders, going “Up North” is a common answer to questions about upcoming vacation plans – and for good reason.

That region holds Michigan’s dunes—landforms integral to the state’s history and tourism. They also hold stories of grassroots advocates and volunteers who successfully preserve these pristine landscapes.

Heather Shumaker, the author of “Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes” (Wayne State University Press, $22.99), explores the near 40-year battle between Arcadia Dune conservationists and CMS Energy, the holding company of Consumers Energy, a natural gas and electric public utility.

Located along Lake Michigan’s coastline and almost directly across from Wisconsin’s Green Bay, the Arcadia Dunes’ conservation story begins in 1969. Elaine Putney, an orchard farmer, received a knock on her door from a sharply dressed man. The man, Gerald Derks, was offering to buy land from Benzie County residents on behalf of Viking Land Co., which — as it would later turn out — represented Consumers Power Co. Continue reading

Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading

Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading

Course for 5K goes over and under airport runway

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Runners, lace up. In October, you’ll get the chance to race on an actual airport runway, and maybe duck under a 747.

Talk about creative land use. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport recently announced plans for a 5K race on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“It’s a bucket list-type thing,” said Tara Hernandez, the director of marketing and communications at the airport.

Post-9/11, people probably didn’t think they’d have opportunities to do stuff like that, she said. Continue reading