From the Office

In the fall of 2017, George Heartwell, representing the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly board of directors, reached out about my interest in leading the organization. We set up a formal meeting with Ken Johnson, the MRWA Board Chair, to discuss the possibilities and potential. I was familiar with the MRWA as a stalwart in the conservation arena and a highly effective environmental non-profit with a proud history of achievement. I was excited to be involved in a meaningful way and committed to joining.

The two years have passed quickly, and the experience has been rewarding on many levels. I spent the first couple months getting to know our partners, managing grants, and figuring out what I didn’t know. Thankfully, I shared the office with Pat Jarrett who knows practically everything about the Assembly and she showed patience and support in helping me get adjusted.

I quickly realized that the MRWA relies on three essential pillars of support:
1. A talented and active board of directors, dedicated to sustaining the organization.
2. Willing partners who share our goals and bring necessary skills and expertise.
3. Loyal members who provide their time, financial support and much more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with these groups and have often found them inspirational. A recent encounter with two MRWA members stands out as a great example of what I love about this organization

In early August I joined with 11 MRWA members who volunteered to assist on lake sturgeon surveys in the Muskegon River. The work was timely since The US Fish and Wildlife Service had scheduled a sea lamprey treatment in the Muskegon River below Croton Dam using a chemical that is dangerous to young lake sturgeon. The intent was to capture sturgeon then transport and keep them safe in the hatchery at Grand Valley State University until the chemical treatment had cleared the river.

On the last night of the survey, I met two MRWA members around 10:00PM at the Bridgeton Township Boat Launch where we quickly boarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service boat and headed out onto the dark river. Admittedly, we had netted very few sturgeon over the past few surveys, but we were dedicated to try one more time.

Chris Schmitt, one of the members, shared his personal knowledge of the river throughout the survey and diligently searched for a sturgeon. The other, Colton Isenhart, is a high school student, whose family volunteers regularly with MRWA. From the moment that Colton arrived at the boat launch, his excitement for protecting sturgeon and being on the Muskegon River was contagious. He used a spotlight to scan the river for sturgeon and even at 1:00 am was going strong and asking questions, sharing his love for the river and keeping up hope we would find one more.

I have had the privilege of handling hundreds of sturgeon and always expect to find some but I started to think to myself that we would not see any that night. Well, not if Colton had anything to say about it. As my doubt reached its peak, Colton yelled out that he saw a small sturgeon right next to the boat. Both Chris and Colton kept their spotlights on the fish and with expert boat driving from Rob Elliott of the US Fish and Wildlife Service I was able to net the fish. Once landed, Colton gently handled the fish, and his smile expressed the awe he was feeling at that moment. This was personal. He was out with us to learn about the river, share his knowledge, and do his part in saving a sturgeon from harm. He wanted to help protect what we have in the Muskegon River watershed.

I am confident in saying that all MRWA members have that in common. It is personal and they are driven by a love of the watershed, the river, and what it provides. After two years, I feel fortunate to work side-by-side, for a common purpose with our board, partners and members. You push us to continue doing the work. The week I spent with MRWA members to help the sturgeon will be one I will always remember.

We are pleased to welcome two new contributors to the Riverview this month. Bekka Neelis is an invasive species technician for the North Country Invasive Species Management Area (NCCISMA) who spent her summer in a kayak mapping and cataloguing invasive species within the upper watershed. Her article is a personal account of her adventures.

Charles Chandler is an outfitter on the Muskegon River and a friend of the organization for many years. We are pleased to print the first of a series of three of his articles exploring the complex issues recreational development including dam removal on the White River. This is obviously a subject of focus for us and it is very interesting to hear a perspective from a neighboring watershed. Thanks to Charles and to Ken DeLaat, legendary Sig Tau and publisher of Near North Now, for granting us permission to reprint.

Finally, we present the first of a series of articles, as an introduction to the individuals in leadership positions within the organization. This month we feature a legislative update from State Senator Jon Bumstead.