More than seventy representatives from twelve Great Lakes islands attended a summit in September on Beaver Island, off the coast of Michigan, to talk about the Great Lakes Island Initiative. The mission of this emerging organization is to support a coalition of Islands dedicated to forming a better understanding of shared problems and possible solutions.

The work to organize and launch a Great Lakes Islands Initiative is currently supported by the Northland College Center for Rural Communities, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, the Island Institute of Maine, and community members from Great Lakes islands. An Island Fellowship program is one component of the Initiative.

As part of their role with the Great Lakes Island Initiative, Northland College Center for Rural Communities has assisted Madeline Island in exploring the idea of implementing an Island Fellowship. Fellows are recent graduates who work for two years on a project identified by the community as a priority that needs extra support to move forward.

Based on positive feedback from other islands who have worked with fellows to address needs and build capacity, Madeline Island created a seven-person steering committee to explore the process.  Committee members include Jim Patterson, Lisa Potswald, Jim Peters, Max Paap, Glenn Carlson, Michael Collins, and Marina Lachecki. They held a community meeting on October 12 to start the discussion.

A second community meeting was scheduled for October 26. Due to bad weather and ferry cancellations, the community meeting was canceled. As the steering committee worked to reschedule, it became evident that this project should be postponed for the following reasons:

  • Several questions were raised by community members about the Great Lakes Island Coalition and an Island Fellowship. Postponing the fellowship will allow time to clarify the opportunity of having an island fellowship.
  • Funding for a fellowship position will rely on grants and foundation support. Many of the deadlines for 2018 funding sources have passed or will pass before we are able to engage community input.
  • The Great Lakes Island Initiative is in its beginning stages. There will be a benefit to having this coalition further developed to support Madeline Island’s fellow.
  • In fall of 2018, Madeline Island will host the Great Lakes Islands Initiative Summit, a gathering for leaders from Great Lakes islands. The Steering Committee needs to shift their focus to planning for this event.

The steering committee will be planning community listening sessions in 2018 to establish priorities for a Madeline Island Fellow. If there is strong community support, a fellow would start in 2019.

These listening sessions will build from feedback already gathered at the October 12 meeting, clustered into the following groups:

  • Conservation: Expand the island’s energy independence, access to local and healthy foods, and address waste. Priorities include scaling up solar installation, supporting the community garden, and developing a community compost program.
  • Childcare and education: Address lack of childcare and head start on island and support education. Priorities include researching and developing childcare and head start options and researching school districting options.
  • Aging in place: Create a plan for addressing eldercare needs on the island. Priorities include understanding needs and current resources available, providing access to medical care for all, and researching telemedicine and pharmacy options.
  • Community infrastructure: Address volunteer shortfalls, especially for EMT and fire. Priorities include supporting volunteer recruitment and researching opportunities for funding.
  • Communications: Increase communication for residents while they are on and off the island. Priorities include researching and developing an island radio station and developing strategies for effective communication.
  • Economic opportunities: Create a welcoming and supportive environment for a vibrant island economy. Priorities include job creation support, attracting young families, and addressing affordable housing needs for island workforce and entrepreneurs.

Community members also identified issues which were forwarded to the groups the steering committee felt could best address them. The Town Board was asked to review open container ordinance (especially glass), alternatives to address high property taxes, cooperation between the Chamber of Commerce and Town Government, developing an infrastructure capacity study, and developing a plan for responsible maintenance of the island. The Great Lakes Island Initiative was asked to consider how they may assist with cooperative lobbying efforts, Great Lakes water protection, and documenting the environmental footprint of tourism on island communities. The committee tabled ideas for a community center and a strategic plan for the future to align with the town’s planning process.

For questions about the Great Lakes Islands Initiative, please contact a member of the steering committee or the Center for Rural Communities at

More News