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New ‘Freshwater Innovation Center’ At Northland College Aims To Expand Great Lakes Research

$10M Endowment Comes From Family Foundation With Environmentalist Ties To The Area

Courtesy of Northland College

Northland College in Ashland has received a $10 million endowment that will support a freshwater innovation center on campus to conduct research on issues facing the Great Lakes.

The Forest Lodge property will be managed in partnership with the Northland center. Courtesy of Northland College.

Environmentalist and author Peter Annin will co-direct the research center. Courtesy of Northland College.

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The Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota awarded the money to support freshwater research at Northland and at a former home of the Burke family, Forest Lodge in Cable.

Northland College President Mike Miller said they’re partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the family’s property.

“The earnings from that endowment each year will go to fund the institute, the positions and the work of studying water and communicating about that, doing policy work and doing a lot of educational activities in addition to the research on the site itself,” Miller said.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Spokeswoman Hilary Markin said the partnership expands environmental research in the area.

“It really helped build its potential to be what the Burke family wanted it to be,” said Markin.

Northland researchers plan to expand on climate change research in the Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior through the center.

Peter Annin, author of “Great Lakes Water Wars” will co-direct the center. Annin said northern Wisconsin is a good place to do this kind of research.

“Water scarcity I think is really going to be one of the hot-button issues for this century. I think that water-rich regions of the world like the North American Great Lakes are going to be areas that people look to in the future,” Annin said.

Annin said water will replace oil as the most important natural resource in the world, calling the Great Lakes region the Saudi Arabia of water. He said people living near the Great Lakes need to increase their water literacy and become thought leaders on the challenges facing fresh water, such as water diversion.

Annin has been managing director of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative since 2010.

Northland College’s Randy Lehr will co-direct the center as the Mary Griggs Burke Distinguished Professor of Environmental Science and Management. Lehr described the project as “a way for us to expand and broaden the work that we’re doing.”

“We’ll be continuing the work that we have been doing related to a lot of the climate change adaptation and water quality management work in our area,” said Lehr. “That will continue to grow and then it will transition into the freshwater center.”

Lehr said they hope to hit the ground running at the end of the summer.

Marvin Pertzik is the executive director of the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, the group responsible for the endowment. Mary Griggs Burke died in December of 2012. Since then, Pertzik said there’s been very little environmental programming at Forest Lodge.

“The purpose of this grant was to facilitate the operation of programming and development of an environmental center on the property known as Forest Lodge,” said Pertzik. “That property was in the family over 100 years and acquired initially by Crawford Livingston, Mrs. Burke’s grandfather.”

Mary Griggs Burke had a great interest in the environment and also Northland, which extended her an honorary degree, Pertzik said. He said Northland will have control over the programming that’s developed on campus and at Forest Lodge.

“Mrs. Burke spent parts of the year at Forest Lodge since she was a child. She had a profound love for the area. She was very interested in the communities surrounding Forest Lodge, as was her mother,” he said. “I’m just hoping that Forest Lodge, which is just a beautiful place will have a very active program that will benefit not only Northland College but also the surrounding area.”

The U.S. Forest Service obtained the Burke family’s roughly 900-acre Forest Lodge property in Cable in 1999 after Congress passed an authorization bill.