BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
— TRAVERSE CITY — It takes a village to keep one green.
That’s the message an Elk Rapids group hopes to deliver with its fifth annual Green Elk Rapids Days.
The event, May 7-20, focuses on green lifestyles and environmental issues, with activities for all ages and interests. Activities include everything from “Trashformations” and essay contests, to film screenings and book discussions, to organized hikes and paddles.
“We just thought it was an organic way to build a community awareness and perhaps, collectively, a community pride,” said Royce Ragland, chairman of the volunteer group — informally considered a committee of the Elk Rapids Village Council — that organizes the event. “And it was certainly a nice thing to be identified for as a small village.”
Ragland sald the event stems from a 2009 conversation among a small group of friends, including an environmentalist and members of the Village Council and the Village Planning Commission.
“We were sitting around talking about the things Elk Rapids does that are green, like wood chipping and (exploring) rain gardens as a way to handle storm runoff,” she said. “We thought, ‘This is pretty progressive, pretty green, pretty environmental. Probably not many people know we do this.’”
The friends asked then-Village Manager Bob Peterson to make a list of the village’s green practices for its next Village Council meeting and invited a dozen or so local groups to talk about their own green efforts.
Then they placed a small public notice about the meeting in the local paper.
“To our thrill and delight, a lot of villagers came to the Village Council meeting, where we highlighted a lot of the green things the village did,” said Ragland, an active community volunteer and Planning Commission member. “We thought this is such a good thing to promote Elk Rapids as a place that wants to be green, to be right. We agreed it would attract people to live here.”
Since then, the event has grown to involve everything from schools to businesses to organizations like the local historical society, the local brewing company and even the local funeral home, which this year will co-host a session on green burials.
“We kept discovering more things that we could highlight to show what everybody does to be green and we encouraged more and more age ranges and collaborations,” Ragland said, adding that individual participants have ranged from women who knit with recycled materials and a youngster who creates art from found objects, to a druggist who turns in leftover medications.
Elk Rapids District Library will bring northern Michigan artist Martina Hahn to this year’s event for a performance of “The Lorax,” Dr. Seuss’s cautionary tale of greed and environmental destruction. Hahn begins her performance standing in front of a 5-foot by 5-foot canvas painted completely blue and attached to a custom easel she can spin.
”She talks about Dr. Seuss and tells the story of ‘The Lorax’ and in six minutes she paints a phenomenal painting,” said library director Nannette Miller. “We’ve done it for all the schools in Elk Rapids and it is just incredible. We agreed to bring her so the whole community could see her. It’s not just a story hour. This is totally different and definitely worth seeing. It’s quite entertaining.”
Students from Sunrise Academy’s pottery, entrepreneurship and fabrication classes will compete in the Trashformations contest with garden creations made from clay and recycled, natural wood pallets. The students, in grades 9-12, took last year’s prize in the school division for their pallet beach chairs.
The contest is one of Green Elk Rapids Days’ most visible and popular activities, with participants making creations from recycled and repurposed materials and displaying them everywhere from yards to business windows.
“We call them creations because we don’t want people to think they have to have artistic talent,” Ragland said. “This is about trash. If it looks nice, that’s great. But creativity carries the ball here.”
Sunrise Academy lead teacher Kathy Moody-Breece said the project not only teaches students important environmental lessons, like keeping toxins out of gardens and making trash into useful items, but also allows them to work toward building a business by selling their creations: potting benches, raised garden beds, kneelers, gathering baskets and garden markers. More important, it offers them a chance to be involved in their community.
“Typically alternative education students feel a lack of involvement in the community or their high school,” she said. “They love getting out in the community, being part of the community.”
Green Elk Rapids Days operates on a shoestring budget, with most speakers offering their services for free in return for a dinner donated by a local restaurant or a “hearty breakfast at someone’s house,” Ragland said.
“We laugh that we are a zero-budget operation. Our modest little fundraiser takes care of our modest fees,” she said. “This year our committee was thrilled that we raised over $600, and we chuckle that probably some of our friends put in extra.”
Ragland said the committee hopes to make Green Elk Rapids Days a signature village event that demonstrates how being green can be fun.
“We wanted to be provocative, not preachy,” she said. “We wanted to make this feel like this was a really cool thing to do.”
Tuesday, May 7
• Book discussion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the environmental classic, “Silent Spring,”by Rachel Carson, 5-7 p.m. during Happy Hour at Siren Hall. Discussion led by Terri Reisig, Elk Rapids High School literature teacher and Northwestern Michigan College instructor. Be prepared to share what you think are the key messages of the book and its relevance today.
Thursday, May 9
• Screening of “Silent Spring,” a PBS film that revisits early controversies about pesticides and environmental impact, 6 p.m. at Marina Pavilion. Bring your own beverage; popcorn available.
• Local speakers address significance of pesticides, organic farming and genetically modified foods, 7 p.m. at Marina Pavilion. Co-hosted with the Elk Rapids Historical Society.
Saturday, May 11
• Super Recycling Day partners with Bay Area Recycling for Charities to accept items at the village recycling lot, 321 Bridge Street, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Recycle-A-Bicycle will accept donated and repairable bikes at this location.
• Green Burials, 9:30 a.m., 312 Pine Street. Co-hosted with Covell Funeral Home.
• Exhibits and demos by Brick Wheels Bike Shop and The Wet Mitten Shop, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Government Center parking lot.
• “The Lorax” children’s story hour with artist-storyteller Martina Hahn, 10:30 a.m. at The Lighthouse at Presbyterian Church. Co-hosted with the Elk Rapids District Library.
• Parks & Recreation Commission hosts ribbon cutting and short bike tour of Michigan Bike Rt. 35 to Wilcox-Palmer-Shah Preserve, 2 p.m. with hike to follow. Depart from Government Center.
Saturday, May 11-Monday, May 20
• “Trashformations” competition throughout the village, featuring creations made from recycled and repurposed materials with a “green” theme.
Tuesday, May 14
• Student projects and activities at Dam Beach. Times to be announced.
Thursday, May 16
• Short’s Brewing Co. highlights its energy conservation and recycling practices as host of Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m. at the production facility, 211 Industrial Park Drive. Guided tours, hors d’oeuvres and beer also available (www.shortsbrewing.com).
Saturday, May 18
• 5th Annual Short’s to Short’s Paddle kayak event from Short’s brew pub in Bellaire to Short’s production facility in Elk Rapids, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Registration details and post-Paddle party information: www.shortsbrewing.com.
• Village curbside trash pickup, 7 a.m. till done.
Monday, May 20
• Special Village Council meeting, 6 p.m. at HERTHA Hall, 401 River Street. Announcements, essay winners, Trashformation winners. Guest speaker Pat Lindemann, Ingham County Drain Commissioner, on innovative water projects.
For more information, visit www.greenelkrapidsdays.com.