2018-10-06 / Top News

Great Lakes Islands Form New Alliance

Mackinac Island Will Host Summit Next Year
By Stephanie Fortino

Participants the second Great Lakes Islands Summit held on Madeline Island, Wisconsin, gather outside the Bell Street Tavern Tuesday, October 2. The group of 80 individuals represented more than a dozen island communities. They agreed to officially form the Great Lakes Islands Alliance Monday, October 1.  

Participants the second Great Lakes Islands Summit held on Madeline Island, Wisconsin, gather outside the Bell Street Tavern Tuesday, October 2. The group of 80 individuals represented more than a dozen island communities. They agreed to officially form the Great Lakes Islands Alliance Monday, October 1. With a charter in hand and steering committee to lead the way, the Great Lakes Islands Alliance (GLIA) is now a formal organization. A team of five island residents will work with the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes and Northland College of Ashland, Wisconsin, to recruit members, set priorities, and address Great Lakes-wide issues. The new organization will give a collective voice to island communities in the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Islands Alliance Steering Committee includes (from left) Kristy Beyer of Drummond Island, Bob Anderson of Beaver Island, Michael Childers of Madeline Island, Wisconsin, Mike Gora of Middle Bass Island, Ohio, and Joe Shorthouse of Manitoulin Island, Ontario. The Great Lakes Islands Alliance Steering Committee includes (from left) Kristy Beyer of Drummond Island, Bob Anderson of Beaver Island, Michael Childers of Madeline Island, Wisconsin, Mike Gora of Middle Bass Island, Ohio, and Joe Shorthouse of Manitoulin Island, Ontario. The initiative was spearheaded by Jon W. Allan of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, a governor-appointed position. As Governor Rick Snyder nears the end of his term, Mr. Allan may lose his job, but he vows to stay involved with GLIA.

“The world is watching you,” he told the island representatives gathered at the second summit, held this year on Madeline Island, Wisconsin.


The marina at Madeline Island, which is part of the Apostle Islands archipelago. The islands are one of the most sacred places for the Anishinaabe people. The marina at Madeline Island, which is part of the Apostle Islands archipelago. The islands are one of the most sacred places for the Anishinaabe people. The summit will move to Mackinac Island next year.

The mission of GLIA is to protect the long-term viability and sustainability of the island communities. The Great Lakes are the world’s largest collection of unfrozen freshwater, which face many threats from diversion to invasive species. But the human communities who share these waters are beset with other problems, as well, such as isolation, lousy Internet access, affordable housing, and transportation.Madeline Island is home to the Town of La Pointe. The island is known for being a sacred place for the Anishinaabe people and its many efforts to incorporate sustainable energy. Behind the Town Hall here are solar panels. Solar panels are common sights on the Island.Madeline Island is home to the Town of La Pointe. The island is known for being a sacred place for the Anishinaabe people and its many efforts to incorporate sustainable energy. Behind the Town Hall here are solar panels. Solar panels are common sights on the Island.

About 80 participants from more than a dozen islands gathered on Madeline Island Sunday, September 30, through Tuesday, October 2. Representing Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Ontario, the group discussed issues like housing, economic development, changing water levels, and sustainable energy.


From left, Anne St. Onge, Christine Rollins, Mike Olson, and Rick Linn represented Mackinac Island at the 2018 Great Lakes Islands Summit on Madeline Island. Mackinac Island will host the next summit in October 2019. From left, Anne St. Onge, Christine Rollins, Mike Olson, and Rick Linn represented Mackinac Island at the 2018 Great Lakes Islands Summit on Madeline Island. Mackinac Island will host the next summit in October 2019.

Those four key discussion areas were distilled from the many ideas presented at the first Great Lakes Islands Summit, which was held a year ago on Beaver Island. That was the first coordinated gathering of islanders. Since then, a core team of about 50 representatives has volunteered to participate in monthly conference calls, which are led by Matt Preisser of the Office of the Great Lakes.

Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud appointed a committee of four to work on GLIA. Mike Olson, the Department of Public Works director, serves as the committee chair and official Mackinac Island representative at the summit. Also serving are city treasurer Rick Linn, marketing company owner Christine Rollins, who works part-time with the fire department, and city librarian Anne St. Onge.

The harbor and ferry at Madeline Island, Wisconsin, Tuesday, October 2. The harbor and ferry at Madeline Island, Wisconsin, Tuesday, October 2. Other participants from the Eastern Upper Peninsula include Drummond Island, Les Cheneaux Islands, and Neebish Island. Sugar Island will also be invited to participate in GLIA, although a representative has not been identified.

GLIA is modeled after the Islands Institute, developed to provide support, resources, and expertise to the hundreds of islands along the coast of Maine. Karen Burns and Kate Tagai shared many examples of how Maine communities have taken advantage of the nonprofit organization, which now primarily serves to connect island residents with resources to solve problems. The Islands Institute also provides a unified voice for the committees through a magazine and newspaper, and it helps identify needs for the longevity of the communities, such as diversifying industry to include more than American lobster fishing.The Madeline Island Car Ferry navigates through a series of breakwaters on its way to Bayfield, Wisconsin. It can haul up to 20 vehicles. The Madeline Island Car Ferry navigates through a series of breakwaters on its way to Bayfield, Wisconsin. It can haul up to 20 vehicles.

Mr. Preisser will facilitate GLIA’s early development, and through the Office of the Great Lakes will spend about 25% of his time working on it. Brandon Hofstedt of the Center for Rural Communities at Northland College is also among the organizers, providing academic services, data collection, and other such resources.

In the future, Mr. Preisser said, GLIA will have to consider how it will sustain itself financially, which could be done through donors and grants.

The GLIA Charter and

Steering Committee

Participation in GLIA will be completely up to the island communities, Mr. Preisser says. He emphasized that the organization will not ask communities to change in ways the residents don’t want, adding that GLIA also recognizes that each island is unique.

“The first priority is to encourage relationships, share information, and leverage resources,” Mr. Preisser said.

Challenges faced by one island may have already been solved on another island, he said, and GLIA will serve as that formal connecting organization.

The acronym for the alliance also has a meaning, as “glia” is actually an anatomical term that refers to the connective tissue of the nervous system. The word has its roots in the Greek word for “glue,” he continued, which serves as the perfect metaphor for the alliance.

Those who attended the conference unanimously approved the four-page charter, which was drafted during the monthly telephone conferences and reviewed by island representatives before the summit. The charter describes the overall intent of GLIA and is intentionally vague, Mr. Preisser said, as details, such as the number of members serving on the steering committee and their term limits, should be decided by the members. The charter also includes two appendixes, to be updated over time, that include contact information for each island and an overview of demographic information. The charter is available on the Town Crier Web site, under the “General Documents” tab.

“It’s not a perfect document,” he said, “but it gives us a common road map forward at least for the next couple of years.”

The charter was adopted Monday, October 1.

The steering committee of islanders was another important task accomplished during the summit.

After a brief caucusing session Monday afternoon, the general membership decided five members will serve on the steering committee, which eventually will represent each Great Lake. Currently, there are no representatives from islands in Lake Ontario. Engaging communities there is among the committee’s first tasks.

The five island representatives include Kristy Beyer of Drummond Island, who will represent Lake Huron, Bob Anderson of Beaver Island, who will represent Lake Michigan, Michael Childers of Madeline Island, who will represent Lake Superior, Mike Gora of Middle Bass Island, who will represent Lake Erie, and Joe Shorthouse of Manitoulin Island, who will also represent Lake Huron and the Canadian islands as well. This group will work the most on implementing GLIA. One concern raised in the general discussion was how islands that aren’t on the steering committee will participate, and it was decided that other communities will initially report to the representative from their Great Lake.

The committee will also serve as the official voice for GLIA, Mr. Preisser said, and will speak publically on behalf of the membership and work with media. He noted that in the early stages of forming the organization, communities, especially out of state, were confused that he, an employee of the State of Michigan, was leading an initiative for islands.

“[GLIA] needs to be for islanders by islanders and the voice needs to be islanders,” he said.

Fall colors begin to emerge at Bayfield, Wisconsin, Tuesday, October 2, the mainland port for Madeline Island.Fall colors begin to emerge at Bayfield, Wisconsin, Tuesday, October 2, the mainland port for Madeline Island.

This online version differes from the printed story in that the spelling of Jon W. Allan has been corrected and additional photographs have been added.

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