By Steve Rawlings
Human beings sometimes need to be reminded of the saying "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."
That's what the DTE Energy Foundation expects the upcoming William G. Milliken Waterscape in Traverse City to be — an enduring physical reminder that we need to protect and preserve Michigan's precious natural resources for generations to come.
It's fitting that the waterscape — which will be built in Clinch Park with a DTE Energy Foundation grant that celebrates our 10-year partnership with the National Cherry Festival — will carry the name of Traverse City's favorite son. During his time in his office, Gov. Milliken was a passionate protector of Michigan's natural resources at a time when environmental stewardship wasn't often a priority for many political leaders.
Gov. Milliken was ahead of his time in that regard — probably because he grew up amid such outstanding natural beauty here in the Grand Traverse region. He spent his boyhood here swimming, sailing and fishing near his family's cottage on East Bay.
Shortly after taking office in 1969, he called preserving our natural treasures "the critical issue of the '70s. Unless we move without delay to halt the deterioration of our land, our water and our air, our own children may see the last traces of earth's beauty crushed beneath the weight of man's waste and ruin."
He wasn't about to let that happen, so between 1969 and 1983 he became instrumental in the enactment of some of Michigan's most historic and far-reaching environmental protections, including the nation's first ban on the pesticide DDT, limits on phosphorous in detergents and the beverage container recycling law.
Can you imagine where we'd be as a state without those measures? Our fish and birds would be endangered and long-lasting toxins would be a perpetual part of the food chain. Our lakes would again be choked with green algae caused by phosphorous. And of course we know what our roads and byways would look like without the can and bottle return law, which remains an enduring blessing to the state.
To this day, Michigan is one of just 11 states with such a law and it leads the nation in the percentage of containers recycled, at 97 percent.
We can thank Gov. Milliken for that and for his unique focus on Michigan's bounty. At DTE Energy Foundation, we're pleased to be able to honor Gov. Milliken by naming the waterscape after him. In case you haven't heard, initial plans call for it to dramatically illustrate the life cycle of water. We expect it to be a beautiful, educational and fun addition to the city's Clinch Park Phase I Bayfront Plan.
Work begins this fall. When it's completed, may it serve as a reminder to us all about what Michigan has and never wants to lose.
The waterscape will be depicted on the DTE Energy float in the Cherry Royale Parade Saturday.
About the author: Steve Rawlings is DTE Energy's regional manager.
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