Inland lakes partnership brings Michigan water enthusiasts together

Michigan Inland Lake Partnership recently celebrated its 10th year of bringing together academics, government agencies, tribal groups, conservation groups and private industry.

Jo Latimore standing in front of a lake
Jo Latimore

With so many questions to answer and problems to solve in preparation for a Michigan Inland Lakes Convention, organizer Jo Latimore got an unexpected question – should we order a special cake?

Latimore, an aquatic ecologist in the Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and an outreach specialist with MSU Extension, didn’t realize the Michigan Inland Lake Partnership was celebrating 10 years of existence.

Latimore has been involved in the partnership since close to its inception and said it’s been a rewarding and challenging whirlwind. The partnership is a collective of around 10 organizations and a dozen affiliated partners representing groups as varied as academics, government agencies, tribal groups, conservation groups and private industry.

Partners get together quarterly to discuss the pressing issues and needs of inland lakes stewardship. With more than 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan and water conservation and recreation as drivers of Michigan’s economic vitality, a lot of perspectives are needed.

“We’ve got the thinkers, the doers and the rule makers all at the table,” Latimore said.

Involving all those perspectives is exactly why the partnership was formed. The goal was to create a space where everyone with a stake in advancing lake protection in Michigan could be heard.

“It’s the open dialogue that makes me the most proud,” Latimore said. “These diverse perspective and the fact that everyone has found this valuable enough to stick together for 11 years now, and make sure they are at the table— that’s special.”

Those quarterly meetings cover a broad range of topics, from recreation and invasive species to possible policy changes. The group also holds the Michigan Inland Lakes Convention every other year, which brings up to 400 people together to talk about lake issues. The meetings and conventions have a wide appeal because they cover so many needs. Conservation groups learn about the latest research and best practices, government officials get professional development opportunities and a chance to interface with those who would be directly affected by policy changes, and industry groups ensure that they can plan ahead for any changes that might affect their business.

Even more valuable, though, is just being there and creating a space for valuable networking.

“We get to know each other as people and as colleagues. These personal relationships allow us to have open conversations even when things get tense – and things can get tense when you’re talking about water in Michigan,” Latimore said.

Yes, it’s a lot of work for Latimore and her colleagues in the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership, but it continues to pay off in big and small ways.

“When you’re sitting at lunch among 400 people and you look over and see an angler, a fish biologist and an Extension educator sitting together discussing issues, you know it’s all worth it,” Latimore said.

This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Eileen Gianiodis, editor, at gianiod1@msu.edu or call 517-355-1855.

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