I’ve had the great opportunity to work on protecting and restoring them for the last 45 years, and it’s been wonderful. The summer before last I canoed down the Sheboygan River, and I had been involved in a superfund cleanup there, which resulted in the removal of tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated sediment. We canoed down the river with the Mayor and members of the Great Lakes Quality Board. How that cleanup has transformed downtown Sheboygan, Wisconsin – it’s famous for Bratwurst among other things in Wisconsin – is really quite phenomenal.
Mayor Mike Van Der Stein joined us in the canoe trip going down there and all sorts of conferences and conventions go there because of the (successful) cleanup of the river and the harbour. Then on the lakefront there’s a big development on the lakefront: it’s a conference centre and we had the Water Quality Board meeting there. There was some work done by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student on what the fishery means to the Cheboygan area. She was able to document that just being able to fish in the river and the harbour brings in about 28 million dollars a year to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
That’s one example. Fox River in Wisconsin is another. I haven't actually canoed on it but I drive on a bridge across it a number of times. Thirty-nine miles of that river is contaminated with PCB’s (and) is in the process of cleaning up. It’s been going on for about 15 years now; in another 5 years it will be done. (At) Torch Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a major clean has occurred up there. And I’ve been back, not to canoe or hike, but to see the revegetation of that area. One of the earliest cases I worked on was a US Steel Koch plant up in Duluth, Minnesota. There’s a major cleanup going on there through the whole St. Louis River – again, I haven’t actually canoed on the river, but I’ve gone walking along the shore.
So I have been able to enjoy the fruits of labour. I am very convinced that it's important to do that, to stay in touch with the resource itself. You can only do so much from an office in downtown Chicago. You got to get out there and engage with and enjoy the resource. But even more importantly, engage with the people who are out there and really have lived with the resource all of their life.
My Watermark is Lake Michigan (Wisconsin) but like with a family, you can never pick your favourite child, so I love all of the Great Lakes.