Thursday, March 31, 2022

Abundant Waters: Our Relationship with Michigan’s Most Precious Resource

 By Gillian Macdonald 

Entrance to the Clarke Historical Library

Among a host of other exciting things happening in 2022, the Clarke Historical Library’s new exhibit explores a topic close to the heart of every Michigander…water and its value to our society. Abundant Waters: Our Relationship with Michigan’s Most Precious Resource tackles an important question: how often do we actually think about our relationships with this most precious resource? With water at the forefront of our minds in today’s climate, the abundance of freshwater in the Great Lakes State is an aspect of our lives that we often take for granted. The Clarke Historical Library’s exhibit explores the many ways that abundant freshwater defines Michigan through five themes—politics, recreation, commerce, disasters, and the spirit nurturing aspect of water. Highlights include the construction of the Mackinac Bridge, canoe manifests from the fur trade, the pollution of the Pine River watershed and the ongoing clean-up, and Hemingway family scrapbooks showing a young Ernest Hemingway and his family enjoying Walloon Lake and the Little Traverse Bay region.

"Political Waves" Wall
Water is arguably Michigan’s defining feature. The Great Lakes State is surrounded by and encompassed in an abundance of water, freshwater to be exact. In Michigan, you are never more than six miles from a lake, stream, or waterway. Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes, 76,000 miles of rivers, 6.5 million acres of wetlands, and more than 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline. For thousands of years, the Great Lakes—and Michigan’s water in general—have provided people with freshwater for survival, spiritual rejuvenation, a means of travel, and a place to have fun. In the last few decades, conservationism has reinforced the importance of these natural wonders. Abundant freshwater is at the root of why many choose to live, work, and play in the Great Lakes State. Explore the relationships that connect us to these bodies of water through recreation, politics, commerce and transport, our defining geography, early tribal histories, nurturing water springs, and through environmental stressors.

In researching and designing the exhibit, we had to first decide on a mission statement and then themes that would best illustrate this. For all intents and purposes, this is the hardest part. What does this exhibit need to project and what is the goal? The Clarke’s voluminous collections actually answered this question for us. The sheer abundance of water and activity connected to the water found in the books and manuscript collections illustrated that all aspects of life in Michigan have a relationship with the water. Although most of us have a general awareness of the water around us—many would even proclaim a deep love for the Great Lakes State’s water—how often do we truly contemplate our relationships with it? 

Installation of Recreation wall panels

Our ideas and imaginations came to life thanks to the capable hands of John Metcalf of Good Design Group. His striking designs help tell the stories of our relationships with water. I would like to thank not only Bryan Whitledge, Kathy Irwin, and Marian Maytn for their editorial help and suggestions, but also Colleen Green, Director of the Office of Native American Programs & Student Transition Enrichment Program, for her guidance, and members of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe for their participation. The production of the exhibit wouldn’t be possible without Rebecca Zeiss, the CMU Sign Shop, CMU Facilities Management, and everyone in between. Installation of the exhibit was made all the more enjoyable and efficient with the helping hands of our capable student employees, Camille Dixson, Nova Moore, David Wright, Maggie Gipe, and Ben Ackley. 

We officially opened the 2022 exhibition on February 22. As part of the Speaker Series, Jim Diana retired director of the Michigan Sea Grant, kicked off the exhibit with a discussion about the effectiveness of Great Lakes environmental regulations in protecting our incredible ecosystem. 

Intrigued? Please come and visit us! Explore how we are connected to water through recreation, politics, commerce and transport, our defining geography, early tribal histories, nurturing water springs, and environmental stressors.

Installation of the floor graphic

In true Clarke fashion, we have also started construction on our digital exhibition. This project is being designed and created as a complementary counterpart to our physical exhibition at the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. Under construction since February 2022, the digital exhibit is a platform dedicated to Michigander’s relationship with their water resources. One particularly important theme we are exploring is the future of Michigan’s water. Crowd-sourced videos and audio answers to these important questions can be found on our exhibit website. 

Participants responded to one or more of these questions:

1. How can we protect our most precious natural resource?

2. Why is protecting Michigan’s freshwater so important?

3. What does it mean to be a good steward of the water?

4. What does the future hold for the Great Lakes & water in Michigan?

5. What are you doing to protect the water? Should we be doing more?

6. How do you see our policymakers helping to preserve this resource?

Digital Exhibit

If you would like to participate in our digital exhibit by responding to one or more of these questions, please get in contact with us at: clarke@cmich.edu. Check back for news about the public launch of our Abundant Waters digital exhibit in the coming weeks.

The Abundant Waters exhibit is funded, in part, by an award from the American Library Association as part of the ALA’s American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries program.