Great Lakes

12 Gifts From Our Great Lakes

As the year draws to a close, our thoughts naturally turn to gratitude and resolution. Those of us fortunate to live in the magnificent Great Lakes states have even more reasons to be thankful.

Below we highlight 12 gifts from our Great Lakes, which contain 84 percent of North America’s supply of surface fresh water and 20 percent of the world’s supply.

Your continued support helps protect these irreplaceable treasures that give beauty, inspiration, food and so much more to you—and to the world. Thank you!

Water is life, so one of our biggest priorities is to ensure that lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario can sustain us all, now and in the future. Together, the lakes and the lands that surround them form one, interconnected freshwater system that is remarkable in its beauty, immensity, power and the bounty it provides to people and nature.

Many of the fish you love to catch—like bass, musky, northern pike (shown here) and bluegill—are migratory. Their survival depends on their ability to migrate upstream to spawn and forage. Unfortunately, their journey is often blocked by culverts and other man-made barriers. We’re working with communities to remove barriers and open more river miles for fish.

We don’t all have the ability to venture into the wilderness. No worries, because the Great Lakes are chock full of places for city dwellers to play—and to connect with nature. Places like Chicago’s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (shown here) perfectly illustrate how people and wildlife can both thrive in cities.

Even if you’re a regular tree hugger, you may never have gotten as close to a sugar maple as the college athletes who competed in the 2017 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Four. The basketball courts were manufactured by wood sustainably harvested from the Conservancy’s Two Hearted River Forest Reserve in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The benefits of being part of a flock don’t just apply to birds; they also apply to the people and organizations that come together to protect birds. After the discovery of a single breeding pair a decade ago, piping plovers have returned from the brink of extinction in the Great Lakes, thanks to people who cared enough to make a difference for this charming little shorebird.

State parks and other protected areas adorn the shores of the Great Lakes like a necklace of priceless gemstones. Pick a state and any activity—from rock climbing to photography—and you’re sure to find the perfect place. Stand at the top of the 60-foot waterfall in Minnesota’s Tettegouche State Park (shown here), which the Conservancy helped protect, and gain a new perspective for the New Year.

When glaciers formed the Great Lakes, they left behind the rich soil that has sustained people and wildlife for thousands of years. The Conservancy helps farmers optimize the use of nutrients to protect soil health and water quality in nearby streams: using them in the right place, in the right amount, at the right time, and in the right way. That sounds all right, doesn’t it?

The dunes along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline are so large they can be seen from space. They are a haven for many threatened and endangered animals and plants. Vast stretches of the dunes are also open for exploration. Start with the Conservancy’s Ivanhoe Dune and Swale Preserve in Indiana and our Zetterberg Preserve in Michigan and follow your heart and the shoreline as far as you desire!

The Great Lakes are home to more than 500,000 acres of precious coastal wetlands. Think of wetlands as enormous sponges that absorb rainfall and filter pollutants from our region’s primary source of drinking water. The Conservancy’s Great Egret Marsh Preserve in Ohio is a great place to see the abundance of waterfowl and wading birds that also benefit from these wet habitats.

Here’s a fact that may astonish you: the Great Lakes are home to more than 30,000 islands, most uninhabited! Their rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, fertile wetlands and lush forests provide a home for a diverse array of plants and animals. Like many of the islands, St. Martin Island in Lake Michigan, which the Conservancy has protected, offers a safe stopover point for migratory birds.

Dramatic is the only word to describe it. Thanks to decades of community building and challenging conversations, the Conservancy and partners are reversing a system of management that was slowly choking Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Together, we will restore more than 64,000 acres of wetlands. This means cleaner water, improved buffers from damaging storms, and more places for you to canoe, hunt and fish.

From the beginnings of human civilization, people have been inspired by our Great Lakes. Artists from Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to Gordon Lightfoot have created paintings, poems, photographs, songs and stories to try to capture a bit of their majesty.

Are you feeling grateful for the wonder that is in your backyard? What can you do in 2018 to show your love for the Great Lakes? Stay in touch with what The Nature Conservancy is doing in the Great Lakes and your state by signing up for our free monthly e-newsletter. We’ll be right beside you, showing our love, too.

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