Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 19, 2014

Sierra Club works to reestablish local interest

TRAVERSE CITY — Vicki Olsen contacted the Sierra Club with one primary thought in mind: she wanted an easy way to make new friends who also were interested in outdoor activities.

Little did the new Traverse City resident know she’d become instrumental in starting a local Sierra Club chapter.

For the time being, the club is too small to be an official chapter of the national environmental organization, but Olsen and a handful of others are trying to get it off the ground.

“I think people are part of the national Sierra Club and are card carrying members, but that’s a piece of paper,” Olsen said. “I think it’s the human interaction that’s important.”

Traverse City has been without an official Sierra Club since 2008, when the 800-member group’s board resigned in protest of the national office’s decision to endorse Clorox Company’s green products.

Now, a regular group of about a dozen locals are trying to determine how the long-absent chapter will fit in with all the other regional environmental groups.

“I’m just really impressed that there’s so many groups in the area that are concerned with the environment and getting people out, enjoying nature,” Olsen said. “This is just going to be one of the many groups already here in the area.”

The previous version of the Sierra Club took a leadership role on local environmental issues, but Olsen said she views the new chapter as one focused on activities and education. She also hopes to collaborate with other environmental groups.

The Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club discussed starting a Traverse City-based group in June.

“We have a long history in that area,” said Gail Philbin, the assistant director of the statewide chapter.

The Traverse City area’s club was the first in Michigan, and its actions were instrumental in turning Sleeping Bear Dunes into a national park, Philbin said.

Before disbanding, the Traverse Group took positions on a variety of local issues and helped lead opposition to the Hartman-Hammond Bridge and a coal-fired power plant in Manistee.

A Traverse city-based group has been meeting at Brewery Terra Firma on the third Wednesday of every month.

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