By Jan Worth-Nelson
On a gloomy late January evening when the national airwaves were flooded with endless reasons to despair, one of the award winners at the annual celebration of the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC) stood up and offered a startlingly different view.
“I promise you, I have never been as hopeful as I am right now, right here,” said Linda Berker, a Davison attorney and mediator, named board member “emeritus” Thursday in honor of her 23 years of FRWC service. Active in the environmental movement all her life, Berker was a founder of the watershed organization in 1996.
“The Flint River Watershed Coalition gives me hope, and you all in this audience give me hope,” Berker said, smiling at the 200-plus watershed staff and supporters assembled for the event–part party, part awards ceremony, and part fundraiser — at Factory One.
“You understand that we are a part of a living world around us,” she said. “Nature is under our feet, in our lungs, in our veins. The more diverse and sustainable, the less managed nature is, the stronger and more resilient nature is, and the stronger we are.
“When we accept our connections to nature, nature becomes personal to us. We are a part of nature, working for the planet that gives us joy. and we work for the planet because we are the planet, we belong to life.
“Now, when climate change is becoming apparent to all those people around us who aren’t here, it’s our time–now is our time. Now is when our actions, our words, and our dollars mean the most.
“Go out with strength and gladness in your heart.” Berker said, “and when the opportunity arises, tell your friends that you stand for the earth, for clean water, for clean air, against the fossil fuel industry, for biodiversity. for clean and renewable energy,
“Tell your friends and your colleagues and anyone you come across that you stand for nature, that you stand for our earth. Thank you for giving me hope,” she concluded to a standing ovation.
The annual “Voices of the River” celebration this year was built on the theme “Celebrating a 20/20 vision for the Flint River Watershed.”
FRWC Executive Director Rebecca Fedewa declared, “We’ve grown a whole lot and accomplished a lot,” in work over the years to preserve and protect the 142-mile long waterway. Among a list of 20 prized accomplishments she highlighted are:
- Removal of the decrepit and dangerous Hamilton Dam on the river downtown.
- Transformation of the former Fisher Body plant site and brownfield known as Chevy in the Hole into Chevy Commons.
- Development of the Flint River Trail, drawing thousands of cyclists a year.
- In collaboration with community groups, sponsoring and supporting “Love Your Lakes” activities and cleanups at Flint Park Lake and Thread Lake.
- Successful completion of a state-based Patronicity matching fund program and subsequent construction of the Paddlers Landing at the Mott Park Recreation Area.
- Launching the Kayak Flint Livery, bringing more than 600 kayakers in its first year and sponsoring the annual Flint River Flotilla and 80s in the Hole, bringing thousands downtown.
- Winning federal NOAA grants and subsequently launching FlintRiver GREEN Bridges Pogram for student education, resulting in a 2000 percent increase in participation.
- Monitoring the water quality and health of the river for more than 20 years.
- Reintroducing sturgeon into the river over the past three years.
- Achieving state water trail designation and creating water trail maps and signage.
Other honors bestowed at the celebration were as follows:
S. Olof Karlstrom Impact Award to Ridgway White, president, CEO and chair of the C.S. Mott Foundation.
Joe Leonardi Leadership Award to Leyla Sanker, program manager with the UM – Flint office of University Outreach
Dr. Gary Pace Volunteer of the Year Award to Molly Dallaire
FRWC Service Award, in addition to Berker, to Cheryl McHallam
Golden Gloves Award for the most interesting item found in river cleanups: Erin McKenna, for finding an ultrasound photo at Vietnam Veterans Park.
As described on its website, the FRWC is devoted to “Partnering to Protect, Promote, and Improve the Flint River Watershed.”
The site further states, “The Flint River Watershed Coalition is a membership organization that promotes citizen stewardship of our natural resources by providing our members with the sources, knowledge, and capacity necessary to protect local water quality and watershed habitat.”
More information about the Flint River Watershed Coalition is available at www.flintriver.org or firstname.lastname@example.org. Headquarters are at 1400 Bluff St. in downtown Flint overlooking Chevy Commons.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.