Perspective: Celebrate Water

Door County’s unique geography makes our water vulnerable. As a peninsula situated on the Niagara Escarpment, our thin soil layer, combined with the vertical and horizontal fracturing common in our bedrock, makes protecting our water a priority. Healthy water is essential to Door County’s human, environmental and economic health.

Honestly, it wasn’t until about four years ago that I learned enough about water to be able to write that last paragraph.

It was around that time Coggin Heeringa walked into the offices of the Door County Community Foundation to say we needed to be doing more to call attention to the threats to our water. I had known Coggin for several years by then, both as a friend to the community foundation and as the executive director of the environmental learning center Crossroads at Big Creek. More than anything else, Coggin is an educator. While she has taught most of my children, apparently the lessons in my family weren’t passing from the child to the parent so Coggin decided it was time to educate me directly.

What I learned is that my mother-in-law was right. I am part of the problem.

I absolutely love hiking through Newport State Park with my wife, walking north along the shore of Europe Bay then returning south along the banks of Europe Lake. We store our kayaks on a pulley system in our garage so we can quickly lower them onto the roof of the car, drop them in the water at Otumba, then spend many an early summer evening kayaking along Potawatomi State Park after a long day at work.

Water is an enormous part of our life and one of the things we love most about Door County. Yet we rarely thought about it. Like the fish in the sea that doesn’t think about the ocean precisely because it is immersed in it, I never thought about this magnificent natural resource precisely because we live on a peninsula surrounded by it.

If people like me who love being on and around the water don’t work to protect it, then who will?

Ultimately, Coggin’s passion found a kindred spirit in Annie Egan. With Annie stepping forward to chair this effort, on May 5 our community will formally launch a year-long adventure called Celebrate Water.

Administratively, Celebrate Water is an initiative of Healthy Water Door County, a fund of the Door County Community Foundation. That already sounds like a lot of players, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Celebrate Water is the banner under which an incredible number of charities and businesses are coming together to work to protect one of Door County’s most precious resources.

The first phase of Celebrate Water lives up to its name. It begins with a series of celebratory events and activities to remind ourselves just how much water means to life on this peninsula. It involves concerts at Birch Creek and Midsummer’s Music, exhibitions at Edgewood Orchard and Margaret Lockwood Gallery, performances at the Steel Bridge Songfest and the Peg Egan, educational opportunities at the Peninsula Players and Björklunden, and too many other events to list here.

Virtually every significant arts and culture group in Door County is hosting some kind of activity as a part of this first phase of our effort to Celebrate Water. Look for the Celebrate Water logo in program brochures and playbills everywhere, or visit for a list of events. It’s being updated all the time.

That’s just phase one of Celebrate Water. Later this year will begin phase two, an exploration of the threats facing this critically important natural resource. We’ll help the community understand the vulnerabilities facing our water and how our failure to protect it could impact life in Door County. In fall our community will host presentations from scientists and journalists. Documentaries and discussion groups will pop up. Stories will appear in the local media. Our goal is to encourage a real community conversation about water’s importance to Door County and help people understand how much it needs our vigilance.

Then in 2019 the conversation will shift to phase three, inspiring people to take action to protect our water. We’ll learn about the best practices in the field. We’ll hear about how other communities are dealing with the issues we face. Then the entire effort will culminate in the first week of June 2019, with a Water Summit.

Celebrate Water is not a partisan nor ideological effort. Neither will Celebrate Water advocate for any particular legislation or course of action. Yet in this time of heightened political sensitivities and righteous indignation, it’s been asked whether our community can actually have a civil conversation on such a topic. We can if we begin by recognizing the one thing people on all sides of the political aisle have in common in our community.

We all love Door County. We need to have faith that each of us is trying to do what we think is best for our family and our community.

This is the fundamental principle that will be central to every event or activity that occurs. We intend to create safe spaces for differing ideas to be explored, discussed and even debated. While we want people to passionately advocate for policies in which they strongly believe, our goal is to foster a civil discussion in which each of us remains respectful of one another.

We have faith the people of Door County can have a civil dialogue on any issue when our conversation is rooted in our shared love of our families and this beautiful peninsula we call home.

Join the community at the kickoff of Celebrate Water on Saturday, May 5, from 1 to 2 pm at Sawyer Park (36 S. Neenah Ave.) on Sturgeon Bay’s west side.


Bret Bicoy is president and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. Contact him at [email protected].

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