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Howard A. Learner

This Summer, I’m Off to See the Midwest

Summer in the Midwest means beaches and swimming, biking, boating, camping, hiking, and, for many people, more travel as COVID-19 restrictions ease up. 

Like many Midwesterners during the pandemic, I traded international or coastal trips for weekend jaunts to the Midwest’s great places. With our country returning to something approaching normal, my wife Lauren and I are heading off for a longer vacation. Two sons will be joining us. The Midwest is still our destination.

We’re going to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park and the Sylvania Wilderness. These are great places for summer travel, and we’re ready to go.

For many folks, it will take years to process the past 15 months of the pandemic and quarantines. We are re-learning to engage with large groups of people and to feel comfortable talking to strangers, and, in different ways, to grieve and really re-emerge. During challenging times, many of us take solace in nature. National parks close to urban centers had greatly increased numbers of visitors last year, bicycle sales boomed as more folks biked in their neighborhoods and beyond, and more people watched birds as Audubon Society activities zoomed up.

Parks and other natural areas offer socially distant recreation and a place to heal. We need it.

“They restore us, they inspire us and they recharge us at a deep level,” as U.S. Senator Angus King said at a recent Congressional hearing.

The Midwest has great national parks and lakeshores like Voyageurs National Park, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There are also the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Sylvania Wilderness, Midewin national tallgrass prairie, and other natural areas that have been protected by states and private parties across the Midwest. Check out Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Devil’s Lake State Park, and the Ice Age Trail, all together in southwest Wisconsin. Beautiful scenery and fun, accessible hiking.

We have great beauty and special places here in the Midwest — from the lakefront bike path along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago to the many rails-to-trails. Beauty abounds from the hilly Driftless Area’s small rural towns and family farms, to the Northwoods and the whole Great Lakes, a global gem. (Gosh, I sound like a tourism agency or tourist magazine!)

That’s why ELPC works so hard to protect Lake Michigan from ammonia and cyanide pollution permit violations at the Cleveland Cliffs’ Burns Harbor, Indiana steel mill. We fight to clean up Lake Erie and end toxic algae outbreaks fueled by agricultural runoff pollution. And we won in the fight to protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron! We successfully fended off the Trump administration’s misguided attempt to cut 90% of the size of the only national marine sanctuary in the Great Lakes.

That’s also why ELPC fights so hard to protect the scenic Driftless Area landscape and communities against a huge, costly, and destructive high-voltage transmission line. No need for 17-story high towers when there are most cost-effective alternatives with forward-looking modern clean distributed solar energy + storage resources, opportunities to upgrade existing powerlines, energy efficiency improvements, and other advanced, smart technologies.

And that’s why ELPC is working to preserve key natural resources in the Northwoods, and to help make the Great Lakes natural shoreline and built environment more resilient against the effects of climate change.

ELPC’s work has been done over the last year from kitchens and living rooms that Wi-Fi can reach. This Midwest summer now provides valuable time to engage with nature and remind us why the umpteenth Zoom hearing or our latest long legal brief – a great oxymoron! – are well worth it.

The Midwest is our home. The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play. The nature, beauty and the Midwest and the Great Lakes reminds all of us at ELPC of the important work that we do, and the results we achieve. We are protecting the Midwest’s environment for people, communities, and our planet.

Happy travels and enjoy summer.

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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