2005 Grassroots Citizen Advocate Award Recipients

2005 Grassroots Citizen Advocate Award Recipients

Edith Chase, Ohio Coastal Resource Management

Don Griffin, Friends of the Detroit River

Edith Chase and Jill Ryan

Edith Chase and Jill Ryan

Edith Chase has spent the last 30 years or more working to protect the resources in the watershed of Lake Erie and throughout the Great Lakes Basin. Her affiliations include the Ohio Coastal Resource Management Project, League of Women Voters, Kent Environmental Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Trust for Public Land, Greenspace Working Group of the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, Advisory Board of Eco-City Cleveland,and the Coastal Resources Advisory Council. Edith is active – not just belongs to, but is active with – many groups that advocate for habitat protection.

In the 1970’s Edith began her activism for Lake Erie and its tributaries by joining a citizens’ effort to modernize the state’s water pollution laws, then went on to work for passage of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. She began to use the federal coastal management program to push for a state version, and in 1982 founded the Ohio Coastal Resource Management Project, where she published “Who’s Minding the Shore?” a treatise that advocated hard for protection of near-shore fisheries and other habitat.

Edith has been one of the main contacts on a controversial dam near Akron, Ohio, on a beautiful stretch of the Cuyahoga River. This dam, situated in Gorge Metro Park, is being considered for a hydro-electric power plant that is dubious for many reasons. Edith is always willing to make herself available as a resource for people looking for good information. In this case, she was available to tell people how the power plant would prevent the return of many species of fish that biologists are seeing upstream and downstream of the dam.

At public meetings Edith is a regular participant, and can be considered a true-across-the-board environmentalist. For example, at a meeting earlier this year of the Lake Erie Commission, Edith promoted a wind farm being built in northern Ohio, then went on to promote hearings on the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration’s plans for Great Lakes Restoration.

Edith is a person who is energetic, savvy, inspirational, knowledgeable and can speak with clear arguments for protecting Lake Erie, and who can disarm her opponents with her sensibility. This has resulted in Ohio becoming a participant in NOAA’s coastal management programs, the adoption of water quality laws, and the establishment of grant programs for coastal protection – all the while being a committed grassroots activist.

In her own calm but confident manner, Edith sets a stage for success. Her commitment to the Great Lakes comes through in all of the conversations that you have with her. She really is top-notch – the kind of leader that does communicate and build coalitions, not just talk about it.

An excerpt from Edith’s 1997 oral testimony to the International Joint Commission exemplifies why she is a deserving recipient of this award:

“We’ve made progress in the last 25 years. How much more can we accomplish in the next 25? Today, we need to share a vision or we will share the consequences. How much will it cost for a clean Great Lake? The right question is how much will it cost for children with three point lower IQ? Or more people on welfare or in jail? Or added health care expenses? To control the pollution in the Great Lakes so far we have tried to stop a waterfall at the top. There can only be frustration in our plans to clean up contaminated sediments while the same contaminants are released to our air,land and water… We need to think in terms of results and performance and measuring progress toward our goals – our Treaty obligation.”

Don_Griffin-cropDon Griffin started protecting water resources in the Great Lakes region in 1942 when he was involved in a conservation club with a theme of “Preserving the Great Lakes.” Throughout his life, Don was active in many organizations including the Friends of the Rouge, Friends of the Detroit River, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Conservation in Action Summit,” and many more.Because he was a creative thinker and dynamic personality, Don inspired people to volunteer to improve the quality of community life for present and future generations. He was generous in spending time and money or worthwhile causes. He wanted to see the Detroit River and its shoreline become the magnificent natural resource it can be. He also wanted to see the St. Marys River, the St. Clair River and the St. Lawrence all become International Wildlife Refuges. Don was an eternal optimist. He celebrated each success and his enthusiasm was contagious.

Projects on which Don actively participated included working to save Humbug Marsh in the Detroit River; working to establish the first and only international wildlife refuge, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge; and projects to limit the expansion of a landfill with harmful potential.

A friend observed that “his tenacity and “no-holds barred” commitment for [his] vision inspired others – individuals and groups to join together in making that a reality almost beyond belief. Not only was the National Wildlife Refuge created by Congress, but also the Canadian Government, equally inspired, created a refuge on the Canadian side of the river resulting in the formation of an International Wildlife Refuge.”

Don stated “I cannot wield a shovel or axe as well as I once could, but by writing, speaking and coordinating to the best of my ability, I may be able to be an effective advocate for the Great Lakes for many more years.”

We can’t do justice to this award without mentioning, as Don did when he accepted his award, that his wife Laurine has been with him in this work every step of the way. Thank you Laurine for all you have done for this cause over the years.

Don Griffin passed away in November 2005. We are grateful to have known Don and to have had the opportunity to learn from his extraordinary life of environmental work.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.