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Living Green – Creating collaborative coastline conversations

Participants in a workshop titled “History of Shoreline Development and Mapping the Coastal System” brainstorm and make a list of notable events along Marquette’s coastline for a shoreline timeline activity offered at the event, which was held at Northern Michigan University on Friday. The event is the first of three Coastlines and People workshops to be held in Marquette with support from the National Science Foundation. Friday’s day-long workshop involved several presentations and activities focusing on the history of the Marquette-area shoreline, with the next workshops to focus on the coastline’s present and future, organizers said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — With Lake Superior water levels near record highs and precipitation events of increasing frequency and intensity in the region, a workshop series in Marquette is aiming to engage a diverse group in discussions about the past, present and future of the area’s shoreline.

The first of three Coastlines and People workshops, titled “History of Shoreline Development and Mapping the Coastal System,” was held at Northern Michigan University on Friday.

Organizers aimed to bring together representatives from state, county and city agencies, local industry, non-governmental organizations, nonprofits and other entities for discussions, presentations and activities related to “mapping the ‘system’ and creating a timeline of the history of our coastline and communities along Lake Superior’s south shore,” they said.

The workshop series is supported by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Jessica Thompson, an associate professor in NMU’s College of Business; Sarah Mittlefehldt, associate professor in NMU’s Department of Earth, Environmental & Geographical Sciences; and Scott Jordan, an associate professor teaching in NMU’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management degree program.

It’s critical to bring “diverse perspectives and voices together” in this fashion and understand the coastline’s history, Thompson said, as “the decisions we make right now are going to characterize the future of our shoreline and the conversations people are having 20, 40, 60 years from now.”

Attendees at Friday’s “History of Shoreline Development and Mapping the Coastal System” workshop at Northern Michigan University are pictured. The event brought representatives from state, county and city agencies, local industry, non-governmental organizations, non-profits and other entities together for discussions, presentations, and activities related to the history of the area’s shoreline. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

A talk by Mittlefehldt outlined how the use of Marquette’s coastline has gradually changed from being largely industrial to largely recreational over the past decades due to a variety of factors, including past planning decisions.

Mittlefehldt credited Holly Greer — who served as Marquette’s first female mayor in the 1970s — for helping create the public recreational opportunities along Marquette’s shoreline that we know today.

“She had this vision of the coast, which at the time was still pretty industrial. She wanted to create a series of green spaces connected by what is today known as the bike path connecting Lower Harbor all the way up to Presque Isle to promote recreation and outdoor activity,” she said. “But also she viewed this as an economic asset to the region. And it was also going to be part of this emerging cultural identity of Marquette as a place that really valued its shoreline and really valued public access to shorelines.”

The recreational opportunities that Greer helped usher in decades ago provided Marquette’s current mayor, Jenna Smith, with many spaces to develop a “strong connection to Lake Superior,” while growing up in the area, Smith told attendees.

“This is why I care so much about our lake and about this community,” she said.

Smith also discussed some of the shoreline-related planning she’s been involved in as a city commissioner and mayor, detailing the city’s plans for addressing shoreline erosion along portions of Lakeshore Boulevard and U.S. 41 due to “rising lake levels and significant storm activity.”

“These critical issues have all come up in the recent past. Only time will tell as to what other challenges we may face related to rising lake levels, extreme weather events and climate change,” Smith said. “The time is now to work towards a comprehensive and strategic plan for our collective lakeshore, both within the city limits and beyond. Our best bet for success will be to collaborate as a community and to continue to engage the public in these important discussions.”

The workshop also featured a talk titled “Using Historical and Spatial Data for Shoreline Analysis” by Michigan State University’s Coastlines and People team, a timeline activity, a system mapping activity and a social hour.

The next workshop, titled “Mapping the Coastal System,” will be held at NMU on Feb. 21. The final of the three workshops, “Envisioning Sustainable Coastline Development,” will be held on May 8, Thompson said.

“After the series ends in May, we’re going to create public documents that have all this knowledge corralled in one place so that the next generation of planners and residents can say, ‘These are tools to help us think about decisions that are being made, especially decisions related to development, industry, tourism,'” she said. “And then our goal is to then turn around to our funding agency, the National Science Foundation and say, ‘Look, we engaged a robust, diverse group of stakeholders. And we’re ready. We’ve built the collaborative infrastructure to now start working on our coastal infrastructure.'”

Overall, Thompson hopes the workshop series can help “engage people in thinking about the long-term future” of the coastline, she said.

“The decisions we make today matter,” Thompson said.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.