Monday, September 01, 2014

Sen. Levin joins supporters, visitors at Bete Grise 10-year celebration

By Michele Bourdieu

U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) addresses the audience at the Aug. 17, 2014, Bete Grise Preserve celebration near Point Isabelle, on Lake Superior. (Photo © and courtesy Bill Rose. Reprinted with permission.)

POINT ISABELLE, KEWEENAW COUNTY -- Cool breezes and partly cloudy weather didn't discourage 80 or more visitors -- and special guest U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) -- from enjoying the Aug. 17, 2014, dedication and 10-year anniversary celebration of the Bete Grise Preserve.

A large crowd gathers at the Point Isabelle roadside park on Aug. 17, 2014, to dedicate new additions to the Bete Grise Preserve and celebrate its 10th anniversary. U.S. Senator Carl Levin is seated in the foreground, center. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated)

Hosted by Stewards of Bete Grise Preserve, the event featured several speakers representing the work of partner organizations and individuals and the funding involved in preserving a total of 4,000 acres, about 5.5 miles of sensitive Lake Superior shoreline and almost all of the sloughs of Lac La Belle in Keweenaw County -- for non-invasive public access, recreation (including berry picking) and education.

Gina Nicholas, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District chairperson, welcomed visitors to the small roadside park near Point Isabelle, one of the most recent additions to the Preserve.

Gina Nicholas, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District chairperson, welcomes more than 80 visitors to the Celebration and 10th Anniversary of the Bete Grise Preserve on Aug. 17, 2014, at Point Isabelle on Lake Superior. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

"Today we are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the formation of the Bete Grise Preserve, and we're also dedicating four new parcels of land," Nicholas said. "And those new parcels are Bete Grise wetlands, Point Isabelle, the mouth of the Little Gratiot and Oliver Bay."

Nicholas noted a major source of funding for the recent expansion of the Preserve with these new parcels was a  $1.7 million grant from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) CELCP (Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program), funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

"We still had to match that with another $1.7 million," Nicholas said.

Providing financial and in-kind support for the match were The Nature Conservancy, attorney Jim Tersha, and the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District, Nicholas noted.

"But the lion's share of the financial  match that we needed to complete the Bete Grise wetlands project was provided by John Woollam and the J.A. Woollam Foundation," she explained.

This sign at the Point Isabelle roadside park lists partners and funding sources that have contributed to the Bete Grise Preserve. Click on photo for larger version.
 
A highlight of the afternoon was the visit by U.S. Senator Carl Levin, who has been a supporter of the Great Lakes and of the efforts to preserve the delicate wetlands and shoreline of this special area of the Keweenaw:


After some humorous comments on Keweenaw potholes (the Gay-Lac La Belle Road), U.S. Senator Carl Levin speaks about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the importance of protecting and restoring lands for future generations with public funds.

Sen. Levin, who is retiring at the end of this year after serving more than 35 years in the U.S. Senate, spoke briefly with Keweenaw Now about his plans for the rest of his term, noting he has too much to do now to think about retirement plans.

"My short-term plans are to work as hard as I know how to get done what needs to be done in the next four months as a senator," Levin said. "That's my focus and I haven't looked beyond that."

Examples of his current goals include a defense authorization bill and closing loopholes that the biggest corporations in the country are using to avoid taxes they should be paying.

Asked if he would still be interested in protecting the Great Lakes after retirement, Levin said, "I'll always be interested in protecting the Great Lakes."

Pictured here with Sen. Levin at the Aug. 17 Bete Grise celebration are Jeff Knoop, director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Marquette office, and Gina Nicholas, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District chairperson. "It was an honor to have the Senator come," Nicholas said. "He's done so much to help the Keweenaw."

Another long-time supporter of the efforts to protect Bete Grise, Jeff Knoop, director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Marquette office, gave an overview of his and TNC's involvement in protecting Bete Grise wetlands and shoreline.

During the Aug. 17, 2014, Bete Grise celebration, Jeff Knoop, director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy, Marquette office, speaks about his involvement with the Bete Grise Preserve from its beginnings in 2001.

Knoop acknowledged the work of several people who also helped with the project. The first was Steve Beyer of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), who put the proposal together for the first stage of the Bete Grise wetlands protection project.

Knoop said in his career of more than 30 years with TNC he has never been involved with another project with so many partners as those who have supported the Bete Grise Preserve.

In addition to Gina Nicholas and the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District, the partners he mentioned as deserving credit for their participation and contributions include the MDNR, the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), the Keweenaw Land Trust, National Coastal Wetland Conservation Program, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, and more.

Bete Grise is historically and culturally important to Native American communities as well. Representing the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) at the event was Jessica Koski, KBIC member:

During the dedication at Point Isabelle, Jessica Koski, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, speaking for KBIC, thanks everyone who has participated in the preservation of the Bete Grise wetlands and shoreline.

Two major sources of government grants for purchase of much of the Preserve were the DEQ Coastal Zone Management Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Laurel Hill, biological technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marquette office, said it was great to be involved in the celebration ten years after USFWS helped fund the first Bete Grise acquisition in 2004.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program seeks to create partnerships to catalyze public action and conservation in the Nation’s coastal areas, and the Bete Grise Preserve is a perfect example of just that," Hill said. "The exemplary efforts of wide ranging collaborators are reflected in the beauty of this Preserve, which will continue to be invaluable for future generations."

Also addressing the visitors at the Point Isabelle event was Matt Warner of the DEQ Coastal Zone Management Program, who spoke about the involvement of the program in providing funding for the original Bete Grise Preserve and for management activities as well. He also spoke about the CELCP (Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program) funding for Michigan through NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

During the Aug. 17, 2014, Bete Grise Celebration, Matt Warner, Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality Coastal Zone Management Program, speaks about grants that contributed to purchase of the Bete Grise Preserve wetlands and coastal areas in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Warner also thanked individuals, including the previous speakers, and groups for their participation in this preservation effort.

One of those was Sue Haralson, Stewards of Bete Grise secretary, who has been involved in the project for several years. She recently retired from her position as Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District administrator.

"Great turnout!" Haralson said of the day's event. "Mother Nature gave us cool weather, but dry. A cool breeze kept the bugs away."

Haralson added she thought the music, provided by the group B3, was "outstanding."

Tom Collins, left, on saxophone, Stewards of Bete Grise president, joined the local band B3 in providing a variety of lively music for the Bete Grise celebration. Pictured with him are, to his left, B3 musicians Erika Vye, Marshall Weathersby and Steve Brimm.

Tom Collins, Stewards of Bete Grise president, who, with his saxophone, joined the B3 musicians during the event, also commented on the wonderful turnout.

"A big thank you to Gina for her laser focus in making all this happen throughout the years," Collins said.

Nicholas concluded the presentations with appreciative comments and invited everyone to enjoy the copious refreshments provided by Stewards of Bete Grise. Here she points out on a map most of the protected areas of the Preserve:

Using the map on the Point Isabelle sign, Gina Nicholas points out the different parts of the Bete Grise Preserve -- from the original Bete Grise South to the recently acquired mouth of the Little Gratiot near Lac La Belle.

Several residents of the Bete Grise area were also present at the celebration and spoke with Keweenaw Now.

One couple, Dante Iacovoni and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Bete Grise for 11 years.

"It was just great, in spite of the weather -- more than I expected," Dante said. "It just shows the enthusiasm of the people in this community."

Describing this special place, Joyce Iacovoni added, "This is as close to paradise as we're going to see and experience."

Chuck Brumleve, Stewards of Bete Grise vice president and Bete Grise resident as well, summed up the reason for the celebration: "This has been the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people for a lot of years."

During the Aug. 17 Bete Grise celebration, Chuck Brumleve, center, Stewards of Bete Grise vice president and Bete Grise resident, chats with TNC's Jeff Knoop, left, and Charlie Eshbach of the Michigan Nature Association, who was especially instrumental in preserving the tip of the Keweenaw (a large wilderness area north and east of Bete Grise) with the help of TNC and grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

More photos:

Keweenaw County Sheriff Ron Lahti was on hand for the celebration. Here he chats with Senator Levin.

Senator Levin and Amy Berglund, his Upper Peninsula regional representative, pause for a photo with Keweenaw Now photographer Gustavo Bourdieu.

Visitors enjoy a large selection of refreshments provided by Stewards of Bete Grise.

Jessica Koski of KBIC with one of the newest KBIC members -- her son, Skyler.

 Visitors line up to sign the Bete Grise guest book.
 
View of Lake Superior and Point Isabelle from the roadside park.

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