Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dredging Continues

It was a beautiful morning, this second full day of summer. With temperatures predicted to be summer time hot, I decided to take an early morning bike ride- early for me, anyway, which was about 8:30 AM. I rode north about three miles along the lake, then back. When I got back to the harbor, I stopped to watch the dredging at the end of the channel. I wasn’t the only one. Many of the watchers were holding
fishing poles. Here’s two pictures of what we saw.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Weekend to Celebrate

This was a busy weekend at my lakefront. Besides, Harbor Market, a European style Farmer’s Market that happens every Saturday and in the summer is literally steps away from my house, there was a big yard sale, plus people biking, walking, flying kites, getting married and just enjoying the beautiful weather.

On Saturday morning, my husband and I attended an Open House at the Southport Beach House for CEDAR – the Center for Environmental Education, Development and Applied Research. It was a day-long event promoting the lakefront, the environment and conservation of natural resources. In the evening they had a soiree called Solstice Celebration. You can learn more about CEDAR on their website.

I didn’t get any pictures of any of these events as I had my own big one going on. My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary (which is actually today) with family and friends. It was a wonderful weekend for us, but I cannot just write about my anniversary without tying it into the Great Lakes, for if this blog has a mission statement, it is to tie everything in, one way or another, to the Great Lakes. However, I can easily do that in two ways.

The first is that in the 40 years of our marriage, there are many, many memories of the Great Lakes. An early one that immediately comes to mind is an afternoon walk in the winter of 1969 at a frozen beach on Lake Erie. Michael and I like beaches – and haven’t always cared whether we visit them in summer or winter. Then there was camping on the shores of Lake Superior in the UP and visiting Mackinac Island as young marrieds. As parents, our young children grew up walking the rocks along Lake Michigan and playing on parks along its western shores and camping along the sand dunes on its eastern shores. In recent years, there are memories of driving from one lake to another to visit family and friends. And even though during those 40 years we didn’t always live in sight of a Great Lake, we have always been “Great Lakers.”

The second thing about the lake is that there were people who came to our house for the first time for a celebration brunch on Sunday. We are always proud to open our house to them and extend our hospitality but its especially fun when they say, “Wow. You have a view of the lake. How cool.”

Yes. How cool.

So the local events of the weekend took second place over our personal ones, but in sense they are part of our personal life. They are a part of where and how we live. And I hope to do so for many, many more years with my husband, my best friend, and my fellow “Great Laker.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lakefront Activity of a Different Kind

Want to ride this cool bike? And feel the cool lakes breezes at the same time? And ride past marinas, museums, beaches and more? You can, for a very small price. You can rent it from Bike Kenosha Rentals, which is housed in a trailer near the Southport Marina on the Kenosha lakefront.

I first noticed the trailer a few weeks ago and have walked by it several times. Today I stopped to talk to Jeff Shipley, the proprietor.

“How’s business?” I asked

“Not bad,” was the answer, “although the rain and cooler than normal temperatures haven’t been very helpful.”

Jeff is an entrepreneur who saw a need, and because he is currently not working elsewhere, decided to give the bike rental business a try. He set up in a parking lot next to an open field. So did the Pita Shack and occasionally a Ben and Jerry’s vendor is there, too. They all pull trailers, pack up and leave with them at night and are not there on rainy days.

The open field next to where they park was originally slated to be developed as retail shops as part of the Harbor Park Redevelopment . That was changed a few years ago to residential development and last year the whole project, a victim of the economy and perhaps poor planning as well, was either canceled or delayed ( I am not sure which).

But the field does get used. On any given day you can see dogs catching Frisbees, kids flying kites, or an impromptu baseball game. For me , that’s much better than stores anyway, but it will be interesting to see how successful these temporary business will be this summer.

Jeff told me the vendors have gotten some flack from people who think their businesses are taking away from the downtown, a few blocks away, which is struggling to survive. But I think the two areas are different. People strolling at the lakefront want something different than those strolling downtown. They want bikes and the kind of food you can eat while walking.

Besides there are signs of hope downtown, too – two kid-oriented businesses, a child’s play place and a do-it-yourself pottery place are slated to open next month, in addition to the already open and successful toy store and ice cream places. All these business can be good for each other. And good for my neighborhood. And when people use the lakefront for businesses and recreation, they will see how beautiful it is here and come often, so that should be good for the lake, too.

The open field may not exactly be a "field of dreams" but I do believe there is a bit of a “Build it and they will come” effect. I am not much of an economist, but I am sure some economic guru would have something to day about this literally “grass roots” movement. It can only be better for all of us.

By the way, there are many good bike paths in Kenosha, my favorite of them is along the lakefront. Jeff has maps at his bike rental stand if you are interested. Jeff is at the red flag at the far upper corner of the field picture.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Activity at the Kenosha Harbor

This is what I saw this morning when I was out walking the dog. I figured they were dredging the harbor and I wanted to learn more about what they were doing and why. But I didn’t really know who was “in charge” of the Kenosha Harbor, so I had to do some snooping around. Of course, the first thing I did was go to my trusty search engine and that lead me to the Kenosha Public Works Department. When I called their office, I spoke to a perplexed person who didn’t know who took care of the harbor either. She put me on hold for a minute or so, and then came back to transfer me to the Parks Department. There, the person was also perplexed but she transferred me to someone, who it turned out was exactly the right person for me to speak with. All in all, not too painful of a process.

I spoke with Jeff Warnock, Park Superintendent, who gave me the information I needed plus much more. First of all, about the dredging in the harbor. That is being done by the US Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the city. The dredging is necessary because of the buildup of silt that settles in the harbor. When that happens not only does the harbor become shallower (in some places barely three feet, according to Jeff), it also plugs up the water intake pipe for the water used by the north side of the city. In order to keep the port open, the government requires this dredging, which on average takes place every 5 years. Although there will not be a Tall Ships Festival here this summer (a victim of the economy), we all look forward to seeing the ships here in the future and the dredging will make that possible.

The process involves a type of drilling that forces air down under the silt to push the water up. The water is then screened to remove the solids and the return the cleaner water to the harbor. The solid material is hauled away and will end up on the north side of Simmons Island where it will become part of the beach – a good example of recycling and a win-win situation.

During my conversation, I also learned about another project that will be taking place in the harbor, perhaps as early as this week. This involves some changes to the dock near the Kenosha Yacht Club. I will watch for it and try to get some pictures of that, too, but I have satisfied my need to know more about the activity along the harbor and will leave it at that for today.

During our conversation, Jeff and I both agreed that most people here in Kenosha undervalue the harbor and lakefront. I do believe that is slowly changing, as evidence by the numbers of people who were out enjoying it over the weekend. When I was on the home page of the Park Department, I read their Mission Statement. It is this: To advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people. I want them to know that it is “mission accomplished” for me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Keep the Kenosha Engine Plant Open!

Years ago, I am told, when a resident of Kenosha traveled outside Wisconsin and was asked where he or she lived, when the city was identified, the response was often, “Oh, that’s a big auto town, isn’t it?”

“Yup, that’s the place”, was the proud response.

They have been making cars in Kenosha since the early days of cars. First, it was Ramblers, then Nash Ramblers, then American Motors cars. During its heyday, AMC employed over 17,000 people here. In the 1970’s things started to decline, and Renault, a French carmaker, was here for a while. After that, Renault was sold to Chrysler, who ended auto production here in the 1980’s. Now all that is left is the Daimler Chrysler Engine plant and that may soon change, too. The remaining vestige of Kenosha’s long standing auto industry is scheduled to close because of the auto industry bailout and the sale of Chrysler to Fiat, an Italian auto maker.

Everyone in town is concerned about the proposed closing of the engine plant because even those who are not current or retired auto workers will be affected. There isn’t anyone in town, from merchants to doctors, who won’t feeling this closing if it happens.
I attended a meeting the other night where representatives from the UAW spoke about the situation. I found it interesting that their attitude was not one of anger about the plant closing, for they said if Chrysler is not selling cars, they don’t need engines and there isn’t much the workers here can do about that. What angers them, though, is that these job are not scheduled to disappear – they are scheduled to move to Mexico.

It angers me, too. It is not right. One can argue whether the shift away from auto manufacturing has been good or bad for the city. In the 1970’s and 1980’s when American Motors was headquartered in Detroit, there were many who at that time wanted to say goodbye to the absentee landlords. After they did leave, the land on which the lakeshore auto production plant stood was cleaned up and turned into Harbor Park, a piece of land that now houses residences (where I live), museums, marinas, and parks. I suppose if you had asked the people seen here enjoying the perfect June afternoon we had today, they would agree that the city turned this old industrial site into beautiful public property.

There is no question that this is an auto town. It seems there isn’t a summer evening or weekend without some kind of car show. There’s the big one at Simmons Island or the one in downtown Kenosha. There are smaller ones in fast food parking lots and city parks. There are shows with all kinds of cars and those that specialize in everything from Ramblers and AMC models to Corvettes, muscle cars and who knows what else.

But beyond the love of cars in K-town, the engine plant employs over 800 workers. They should not loose their jobs without very, very good reason, and those jobs certainly should not be exported to Mexico. Our government officials need to know we feel about this, and not just UAW member or people who live in Kenosha. They also need to hear from people all over Wisconsin, the Great Lakes, and the United States. They need to hear from all of us – car lovers and those of us who don’t care whether a car has much more than four tires and an engine and gets us where we want to go.

By the way, if you want to know more about the history of the automobile industry in Kenosha, visit the Kenosha History Center, which just happens to be across the harbor from where the American Motors plant used to be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Short Shoreline

Last week I was in Pittsburgh, one of my favorite cities. I was delighted when I heard the G20 will be meeting there in September. Pittsburgh was chosen because it is rust belt city that has successfully re-invented itself. I only wish my hometown of Buffalo had done better but it seems to lack the vision of the Pittsburgh’s leaders. I hope my current hometown of Kenosha takes note of the transition in Pittsburgh and uses it as a role model.

While in Pittsburgh we visited three wonderful gardens. The city has the right climate for lush, urban gardens and everyone seems to have a green thumb. Contributing to the success of these backyard beauties is the ample annual rainfall. The city is green and moist - especially this year - and the gardens were flourishing. There is no need to divert water from the Great Lakes here.

My husband and I lived in Pittsburgh for a year and we were back visiting with some of the people we met that year. As is usually the case with people you don’t see often and don’t keep in touch with, there is a lot of catching up to do.

“What are you doing these days,” they would ask me.

My answer is usually “Odds and ends. I write, I weave, I knit, I do some volunteer work and I have a blog.”

“A blog? What’s it about?”

“The Great Lakes.”

Inevitably, in Pittsburgh that was met with almost dead silence or a perplexed look and a brief comment like, “That’s interesting.”

I wanted to pursue the topic, but they usually didn’t. However, in one case, a couple we had dinner with pushed a little further. These are folks in their seventies who are curious, interesting and very, very bright. Yet when I spoke briefly about my love of the Great Lakes and the need to protect it, or about water diversion or invasive species, this was all new to them. I didn’t tell them about the Great Lakes Compact and that their state had to sign it order for it to pass. The conversation we did have about my passion was brief - they were much more interested in my weaving.

I was remind of this yesterday as I listened WUWM , the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s NPR station. The program Lake Effect was on when turned on the car radio on my way to the store. I heard an interview with Rebecca Klaper from the Great Lakes Water Institute. Dr. Klaper was one of the speakers at the series I attended earlier in the spring at the Discovery Museum. In the radio interview she responded to questions about the decision to allow New Berlin to divert water, the proposal of the same by Waukesha and spoke about the Great Lakes Compact in general. Later in the morning, after I ran my errands, I got back in the car the program featured the musical initiative to combat invasive species that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Somehow, although I love Pittsburgh, I don’t think I would have heard either of these two programs on their local radio station. It’s just not a priority for them but here in Wisconsin both featured topics are very important. I guess it’s a matter of perspective and 50 or so miles of shoreline on Lake Erie just doesn’t give enough of it. I would guess the residents of Erie, PA are more aware of the issues. After all, its what they see in their backyard.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is Water Alive?

It has not been because of a lack of passion or purpose that I have not written recently, but more because of a lack of time, coupled with more mundane reasons relating to my idiosyncratic computer. Plus, daily writing, or even tri-weekly, is a habit easily broken. I needed something to jolt me back into my musings and it was a Mary Oliver poem that did it.

A few years ago, I received a gift of a volume of Oliver’s poems called “Why I Wake Early”. It was a treasured gift (even though I hardly ever wake early) but I loaned it to a friend. This friend was a lover of poetry and had taught me how to better read a poem, and because she was very sick, I wanted to share these poems with her. She died shortly after I gave her the book, and although I could have asked her family for it back, somehow I felt it needed to stay wherever it was. Last week I finally got around to replacing the small volume.

If you don’t know Mary Oliver, she is an award-wining poet who often writes about nature. Here are a few lines from the poem that brought me back to my writing. The poem is called Some Things, Say the Wise Ones. In it, Oliver contemplates what makes something alive. She writes:

About cows, and starfishes, and roses, there is no
argument. They die, after all

But water is a question, so many living thing in it,
but what is it, itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity how can they write you out?

When I first studied biology many years ago, I learned the activities required to qualify an entity as living. Among them, if I can remember, were reproduction, growth, metabolism, respiration, adaptation, response to stimuli and maybe death. Even though the study of biology has changed in the past four decades, I think the definitions still hold.

Perhaps water falls in a special category of life – sort of like viruses – although I do not imply they are alike, but viruses are quasi-alive. They grow and reproduce, but not without a host. Water doesn’t metabolize, grow, or reproduce – theoretically, there is the same amount of water on earth today as there was when the planet was created, but it does respond to stimuli and I guess it can die, or at least bodies of water can die. What else would you call what has happened to the Aral Sea?

There is no question for me that the water beyond my windows is alive. It changes, sometimes seemingly in an instant. It exchanges oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases. It responds to stimuli such as wind and temperatures. It moves. It has moods and sports different colors to indicate those moods. It can be angry or docile, comforting or fearsome. It speaks, sometimes in roars, sometimes in whispers, but it always has a presence and a voice.

There is also no question for me, or anyone else, that life requires water. Mine certainly does, and not just to dissolve my enzymes, electrolytes, and carry my vital chemicals. I have chosen to live near water and I need to continue to explore it, protect it, learn about it, and enjoy it. And I suppose, write about it, so here I am again.