A new partnership among residents of Great Lakes island communities has launched. The concept was spearheaded by Michigan Office of the Great Lakes Director Jon W. Allan and draws inspiration from the Island Institute, a nonprofit that supports 15 off-shore islands in Maine. Allan envisioned a similar collaborative approach for the several dozen islands in the Great Lakes with permanent, year-round communities.
The partnership, called the Great Lakes Islands Alliance (GLIA), is a binational network of volunteer island residents, advocates and leaders from across the Great Lakes and beyond. The alliance will encourage the building of relationships, foster the exchange of information, and help leverage resources to address challenges and embrace opportunities for the benefit of islands.
The GLIA membership currently includes 50 people from 14 island communities.
The GLIA recognizes the distinct culture, character and independence of each island. Interestingly, island communities are finding they have many challenges in common. These range from environmental protection and sustainable economic development to supporting health care, island schools and historical preservation. Surrounded by water and influenced by isolation, these challenges often manifest themselves differently on islands compared to the mainland. Island residents will benefit from sharing ideas and solutions.
Islanders first came together at the inaugural Great Lakes Islands Summit on Beaver Island, Michigan, in the fall of 2017. That event sparked the idea of forming a long-lasting partnership between islands.
“I could tell from our first meeting on Beaver Island that connecting these island communities, often overlooked by their mainland counterparts, was going to be an important tool for sustaining island living in the Great Lakes,” said Kristy Beyer, a resident of Drummond Island, Michigan.
The second summit was hosted by the community of Madeline Island, Wisconsin, on Oct. 1-2, 2018. A highlight was the unanimous approval a GLIA’s Charter to guide the alliance’s mission and activities.
Among the first activities under the new charter was the election of an all-islander steering committee to oversee the activities of the alliance.
The committee includes:
- Michael Childers, Madeline Island, Wisconsin (Lake Superior), Chair
- Bob Anderson, Beaver Island, Michigan (Lake Michigan)
- Kristy Beyer, Drummond Island, Michigan (Lake Huron)
- Mike Gora, Middle Bass Island, Ohio (Lake Erie)
- Joe Shorthouse, Manitoulin Island, Ontario (Lake Huron)
Islanders, by necessity, wear many hats. Between these five are members and leaders of local governments, numerous boards and committees, businesses and nonprofits, along with specialists in communications, history and environmental science.
While the GLIA seeks to empower islanders, the network is supported by staff from multiple mainland-based entities who serve various administrative and advisory roles. These partners include the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Northland College in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the Island Institute of Maine.
Dialogue among Great Lakes islanders assembled on Madeline reminded attendees that islands are part of one of the planet’s most important aquatic ecosystems.
“The Great Lakes are like a large slow-moving river with their waters flowing from Lake Superior in the west to the St. Lawrence River in the east,” said Joe Shorthouse of Manitoulin Island, Ontario. “These waters pass the shores of all islands. We became more conscious that the quality of water influences all islands and that we in turn influence water quality for those living downstream.”
In other words, the distant island communities felt connected.
The alliance welcomes inquiries from additional island communities, mainland organizations who wish to partner, and others. To learn more, visit greatlakesislandsalliance.org.