Paddlers who love the water make Lake Michigan crossing, support Muskegon Lake restoration

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– Photos by Cynthia Price


By Cynthia Price

The two self-professed “wild and crazy guys” who paddled across Lake Michigan on Aug. 8 and 9 say they did it for a number of reasons — the challenge, the fun, camaraderie, awareness-raising, and ultimately to raise money to make the Great Lakes a better place.

All of their goals were met.

Daniel Bonner and Eric Strickler followed similar life paths, living in and loving this area, attending Grand Valley State University for degrees in Natural Resource Management, but moving elsewhere to pursue their lives – and then being pulled back by the siren call of the beautiful lakes.

For Bonner, it was North Muskegon to Colorado, after he worked in many environmental jobs including in the dunes. But he moved back several years ago and helped establish Rootdown Yoga and Juice Bar, where he is the juiceman and a CorePower Yoga teacher.

Strickler was raised in Grand Rapids and then headed for Seattle, where he worked at Mt. Rainier National Park, as an instructor connecting children to the marine environment, and as the developer of a paddling program for ten years. He has only recently returned.

It is easy to imagine why the two get along, because they are both enthusiastic and fun, even when life throws challenges at them.

And the Michigami Crossing, which is what they called the lake paddling adventure that sprang from their “spitballing” ideas about what would be rewarding, had its challenges. After the two left Milwaukee and paddled for over 21 hours, they ran into a storm that came up more suddenly than anticipated, and had to jettison the last six miles of their 79-mile journey.

Strickler says, though, that the beginning of the trip, though incredibly challenging physically, was everything he hoped it would be. After they rounded the breakwater from Milwaukee, he said the conditions became perfect. “The weather was just amazing, perfectly clear,” he says. “We were enjoying each other’s company and everything about the day... It was just phe-

nomenal.”

Bonner adds, “It was exactly what I wanted, exactly as I pictured it. It was the middle of the day and everything seemed perfect.”

However, after several hours of such perfection, they were told by a meteorologist who was advising them that a storm would soon come up. It hit about 10:00-11:00 – both paddlers point out that it was very hard to keep track of time during the journey. There was a support boat following them, carrying Bonner’s girlfriend and others, and they huddled close to it and paddled hard.

“Even then, it was enjoyable,” Strickler says. “There were gas fumes and we kept having to take paddling breaks, but I?was hyper-aware of my surroundings and we were even in tune when we decided to call it.”

Though disappointed, the paddlers said in a statement, “The fact that we made it back to shore safely and shared an incredible experience with some great people is a success in our minds!”

Moreover, the trip has raised over $7,000, and there are still 22 more days (as of Aug. 17) to contribute. To do so, go to www.fundly.com and search for Michigami Crossing. (Michigami is Algonquin for “big lake.”)

Those funds will go to the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership (MLWP), a group that started out as an advisory council to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to address being named one of 43 “Areas of Concern” in the Great Lakes (U.S. and Canada). It is staffed by Kathy Evans through her position at West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

Though the dollars brought in by the MLWP and the Muskegon Lake restoration efforts number in the tens of millions, there are often situations where it takes only a few thousand dollars to help with  the match on a sought-after grant.

A press conference with Bonner, Strickler, Evans, representatives from the city of Muskegon (LaShelle Mikesell) and the County (Bob Lukens), and MLWP Chair Dennis Kirksey on Monday was held at Rotary Park, near the Lakeshore Fitness Club and Heritage Landing. After the cleanup of the contaminated sediments at the site, called the Division Street Outfall, Rotary Park installed a kayak launch. Measures to promote the water quality there, including planting native species, will be completed as part of an effort to increase “green infrastructure” – the use of natural items to prevent and purify dirty stormwater runoff.

After the conference, about 10-12 people including the paddlers and some of their supporters, walked to the nearby “Carpenter Lot.” Beidler’s Creek in that area (which is at the end of Beidler Street) was the original water source for Muskegon, but was then run through pipes underground. In order to improve the water quality there, impervious surfaces have been removed as well as foundry sand and slag. There will also be a recreational area installed, to which Strickler responded, “Can it please include a climbing rock?”

More about the many Muskegon Lake restoration projects, including volunteering, is at muskegonlake.org or on Facebook.

 

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