Great Lakes Activists Gather in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Celebrate 10 Years of Restoration Success

Conference to pay tribute to businessman, philanthropist and Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition founder Peter Wege

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (Sept. 9, 2014) – With federal Great Lakes restoration efforts paying off in communities across the region, more than 350 Great Lakes advocates are gathering today in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the 10th annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference, which runs through Thursday.

Follow the proceedings, including daily coverage by Detroit Public Television at or

“We’re excited to be in Grand Rapids, which hosted the first Great Lakes restoration conference 10 years ago,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “We’re thrilled at the progress we’ve seen in those years, and are well aware that we’ve got more work to do. The good news is that federal restoration efforts are helping the environment and economy in Grand Rapids and communities around the region. Our message is simple: ‘Let’s keep Great Lakes restoration efforts on track’.”

Honoring Peter Wege

The conference will pay special tribute to Peter Wege, the Grand Rapids businessman, philanthropist and Great Lakes advocate, who founded the Coalition 10 years ago. Mr. Wege passed away earlier this year and the conference features a tribute lunch today to honor his leadership and support over his lifetime.

“Peter Wege was a wonderful man whose vision, passion, commitment and generosity was instrumental in advancing Great Lakes restoration efforts,” said Ambs. “We look forward to honoring and celebrating his life and carrying on the work to restore the health of the Lakes. Millions of people depend on these magnificent Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and quality of life.”

Conference Highlights

The conference comes at an important time for restoration efforts—barely one month after a harmful algal bloom in Western Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in and around Toledo without safe drinking water, and as leaders in the U.S. House have signaled their intent to vote today to roll back Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and small streams that are essential to the health of U.S. waterways including the Lakes. At the same time, U.S. House and Senate leaders have voiced support to maintain funding at $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which had funded more than $1.6 billion over the last five years to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, fight invasive species like Asian carp, and reduce polluted runoff from cities and farms.

The conference opens today with welcoming remarks from Jimmie Mitchell, director, Natural Resources Department, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; George K. Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids; and Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the U.S. EPA Administrator.

The conference will feature cutting edge, thought-provoking Great Lakes issues, including:

  • How changing demographics in the region will impact future conservation efforts;
  • How local community leaders are working to restore the rapids to the Grand River to increase the community’s connection to its namesake river;
  • What can be done to curb the scourge of harmful algal blooms in Western Lake Erie and elsewhere in the region;
  • What are the implications of increased crude oil shipping on the Great Lakes and efforts to expand pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac;
  • How small plastic pollution is threatening the Great Lakes ecosystem and what’s being done to curb the problem;
  • How to map the value of the Great Lakes to communities around the region to better target restoration investments.

Read the conference agenda at:

Read Detroit Public Television’s schedule of coverage throughout the week at:

Grand Rapids Success Stories

At the conference, the Coalition is releasing a collection of Great Lakes restoration success stories that have taken root in Grand Rapids and surrounding communities, including efforts that have led to a 38-fold increase in trout in stretches of the Coldwater River, reduction of runoff in a local watershed, and cleanup of toxic pollutants through the planting of poplar trees along Muskegon Lake. Read more about these stories and others at:

The conference comes one day after local civic, business, and conservation leaders joined Grand Rapids Whitewater in releasing an economic impact study, showing how restoring the rapids to the Grand River—restoring the rapids to Grand Rapids—would deliver a huge economic boost to the city. The effort in Grand Rapids is part of a growing movement by cities and communities to reconnect to their waterways. Read the report at:

“It’s tremendously exciting to see communities around the region embracing Great Lakes restoration efforts,” said Ambs. “Federal restoration efforts are producing results for the environment and the economy in communities large and small. And we will make sure that Great Lakes restoration efforts don’t falter. We have a responsibility to protect and restore this great resource for people now and generations to come.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of 115 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.

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