It’s just a short walk from the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute through the streets of Ashland, Wisconsin, to the shoreline of Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. Since its founding, the Institute has recognized the unique value and wonder of Lake Superior, and the fall 2002 issue of the Institute’s Horizons newsletter featured a number of its programs dedicated to promoting and protecting Lake Superior.
The first of these programs was the Lake Superior Binational Forum, which was founded in 1992 to serve as a public advisory committee for the Binational Program to Restore and Protect the Lake Superior Basin. The forum had twenty-four volunteer members—twelve from Canada and twelve from the United States—representing diverse perspectives, professions, and communities from throughout the Lake Superior watershed. A Canadian coordinator for the Forum was housed by Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the United States coordinator was housed at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.
Initially, the Binational Forum focused primarily on convening regular meetings of forum members to discuss environmental issues facing Lake Superior and to make recommendations to state, federal, and provincial government agencies. The recommendations of the Forum were always rooted in the shared belief that “water is life and the quality of water determines the quality of life.” Forum members also recognized that the Lake Superior region cannot have a sound economy without a healthy environment.
In time, the Forum expanded its activities, hosting an Environmental Stewardship Awards Program, sponsoring Lake Superior Day on the third Sunday in July, and organizing a Lake Superior Youth Symposium. Although Environment Canada discontinued funding for the Binational Forum in 2011 and the US Environmental Protection Agency followed suit in 2015, Lake Superior Day continues to be celebrated each July, and higher education institutions by the lake host the Lake Superior Youth Symposium every other year. In April of 2023, the Symposium will return to Northland College for the fifth time since its inception in 1995.
A second Lake Superior program featured in Horizons was a 2002–2003 speaker series co-sponsored by Minnesota Sea Grant. That series, Superior Science for You, featured lectures on Lake Superior water levels, sediment research, fisheries research, invasive fish and plants, pollutants, and food web dynamics. The content of these lectures was collected in a 2004 publication titled Superior Science: Stories of Lake Superior Research.
A third program highlighted was the Lake Superior Studies workshop, which was funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In this five-and-a-half-day workshop, teachers and students explored Wisconsin’s south shore of Lake Superior while learning about environmental ethics and land stewardship. They also participated in outdoor activities designed to foster appreciation for Lake Superior and its Wisconsin shoreline. The youth portion of the program was led by Northland College outdoor education students, and participants visited the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Apostle Islands, Copper Falls State Park, and the Tribal lands of the Bad River Anishinaabeg during the workshop.
Today, Northland College students continue to immerse themselves in studies of Lake Superior through the College’s Superior Connections program, which offers multidisciplinary, Lake Superior-focused courses and weekly field trips for a cohort of first-year students. Superior Connections culminates each year in a journey around Lake Superior during the College’s May term. The College’s Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation, which has its origins in the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, also engages students and furthers our understanding of Lake Superior through a number of its research initiatives.
The Institute will continue its focus on Lake Superior this spring when it hosts a Great Lakes Science for Parks Symposium just a few blocks from the shore of Lake Superior.
Registration for both the Great Lakes Science for Parks Symposium and the Lake Superior Youth Symposium will open in the near future. Sign up for the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute’s email list get the details via email when registration goes live or watch for them to be added to Northland’s events calendar.