Cleaning Up

A healthy future is dependent on the health of our water resources

Cleaning Up

Water is important to me.

That may seem like an obvious statement with no real meaning, given that water is a necessity for our survival. But it’s a resource many take for granted, as you well know.

I live and work in northern Wisconsin. Lake Michigan is a couple-hour drive to the east, and Lake Superior a couple hours to the north. My house is on a 455-acre lake that’s so clear I can see fish swimming from my deck high up the hill from the water. My office looks out over a small corner of the largest freshwater chain of lakes in the world.

The connection goes back further than that. I grew up in Rhinelander, a town surrounded by lakes and split by the Wisconsin River. The river is dammed where it flows into town and through a paper mill that was once the largest employer in town, and still plays a major role in the local economy. Another river, the Pelican, flows just past the end of the block where I grew up. My mom grew up on Boom Lake, and my grandpa’s shop was right next to the house. He was one of the first and the longest-operating Evinrude outboard dealer in the state.

Last winter I spent two weeks working remotely from my ice shack on Boom Lake, writing stories about the lake’s ice-fishing culture. I have always been connected to the water. Hell, I’m even a Pisces, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I spent last Friday night on a Lake Superior beach with friends, filling coolers and 5-gallon buckets with smelt during their annual spring spawning run. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but notice the trash washed up on the rocks and stuck in the brush a few yards back, from fishing tackle to bottle caps and beer cans.

If you’re at all familiar with smelt, you know A) they’re delicious and B) they’re incredibly laborious and tedious to clean. I won’t get into the details, but later in the weekend, after a couple hours of work and at least a couple more to go, I took a little break and went outside.

Down by my own shore I found an old bucket washed up. I picked it up and then soon enough threw an old can inside. Then another. And then some other random things, and by the time I was done, the bucket was full. Sure, it’s spring, and there are always things to clean up in spring, but that’s only because we leave garbage lying around in the first place. It felt good picking it up, but I wish I didn’t have to. I wish there was more respect for our resources.

We’ll never eliminate litter and pollution. We’ll never bring all our waterways back to their pristine state, but we can do our part. As managers of water, waste and stormwater systems, I respect what you do. And as stewards of our resources, I hope you take every opportunity to share how important that is with the next generation. It might not get the appreciation it deserves, but I can’t think of anything more important.

Enjoy this month’s issue.

Oh, and if you want to read about those two weeks I spent on the ice, visit and search Boom Lake.


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