By Steven Maier
Representatives from multiple Great Lakes-based organizations gathered recently in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for happy hour.
“It’s just sort of a casual thing that happens a couple of times a year,” said Kristin Schrader, a communications manager for the Great Lakes Observing System, a regional data-sharing partnership based in Ann Arbor.
It started six years ago, when Schrader was working for Ducks Unlimited. She thought the organization would benefit from conversation with members of other organizations–something which only happened at infrequent events with scheduled programs. Schrader wanted an event conducive to casual conversation.
And the Great Lakes Happy Hour was born.
The gathering creates “cross-pollination, in a casual way,” she said. Individuals from nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private firms, even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have attended. And the soirees feature a mix of political leanings–evident in the distinction between self-identifying “conservationists” and “environmentalists.”
Both groups advocate for preservation of natural resources, though environmentalism is often associated with left-wing political ideologies and conservation with those of the political right.
Though onlookers might expect some tension there, they won’t find it, said Drew YoungeDyke, a communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.
“We’re all looking out for the Great Lakes,” he said. “We’re all about the resource, though we may have come to appreciate that resource from a different perspective.”
Poor weather at the most recent event forced a last-minute change of venue from a beer garden to a local brewery, and drew a smaller crowd than usual. Fewer than 10 were in attendance. although the event has drawn audiences of up to 30 in the past.
Representatives from the Great Lakes Observing System, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Great Lakes Commission and Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research attended, Schrader said.
Members of Ducks Unlimited, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the private environmental science firm Limnotech have come in the past, she said.
“We get together and have a beer, and just kinda discuss the issues that are going on,” YoungeDyke said. “Pretty informal, but a good spot to kind of get in the loop on what’s coming up.”
The next happy hour gathering will likely take place in a few months, Schrader said.