What Can You Do?

Using love for the Great Lakes to make change happen

January 2022 Feature Emily FitzPatrick

Have you ever read a hot and heavy romance novel? I haven’t either (no judgment toward those of you who have if that’s your thing), but that’s where my mind immediately went when I saw the word “romance” in the title of Mary McKSchmidt’s book Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes.  

As I turned the pages I kept expecting to find your typical romance – a couple, in this case McKSchmidt and her husband, falling irrevocably in love over pancakes after some short and witty banter, or perhaps even a steamy make-out scene. Instead, the romance I found was much different than the one I expected.

Yes, the romance between McKSchmidt and her husband Reuben is still there, singing softly in the background, but it’s accompanied by something of much greater importance – McKSchmidt’s love affair with the Great Lakes.

The Beginning

“It all started when I discovered the lakes were not as clean and pristine as I thought they were,” shard McKSchmidt. “When I saw all that brown, murky, sewage laden river flowing into this lake that I’ve loved since I was a child, I decided to learn something about it. And that was in 2005.”

Why is it important that McKSchmidt’s attention was drawn to the Great Lakes in 2005? In 2004, President George W. Bush declared the Great Lakes a national treasure and commissioned a study to determine the health of the Great Lakes. This meant the region and its health drew more attention than ever before.

“I happened to see a little loose paper announcement that there was going to be a public hearing in Grand Rapids at the Foundation church. I went and listened to that and I was so horrified that I decided to write about it,” recalled McKSchmidt.

From there, McKSchmidt’s interest in the Great Lakes and their well-being snowballed. Like many Michiganders, she fell in love with the lakes as a child, but had no idea what dangers her precious waters faced. So when she discovered the conflict, she did what she knew best – she began to write.

The Conflict

“The wonderful thing about the Great Lakes and our water is that it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s not a conservative or a liberal issue. It is an issue of life and health: our lives, our health,” McKSchmidt pointed out.

This doesn’t mean we don’t try to make it as such sometimes, but the truth is the protection of the Great Lakes is something that benefits the entire nation.

“Fresh water is one of the scarcest natural resources on the planet with lots of people needing access to it, so we have to learn to listen to each other and elect leaders and support leaders and be leaders in our own lives to try to find the balance amongst all of these people who need access to our lakes and to our water.”

The Resolution

There seem to be a million and one problems that need solving in the Great Lakes region, leaving many boaters overwhelmed and wondering what they could possibly do to help. However, McKSchmidt has compiled a short list of things you can do to fight for the well-being of the Great Lakes.

1. Call Your Representatives

“What I learned through this whole process is we do set the priorities in this country. So that is my hope, that people recognize the health of the lakes is in their hands and that they have the power to do something at a minimum to contact their elected officials.”

Reluctant callers will be overjoyed by the next piece of advice McKSchmidt has to share: “You don’t have to worry about anything you say. They actually don’t write down anything you say. They seriously put a little check mark, and then they use it to get a barometer of what’s important to their constituents. And almost every person wants to get re-elected, so they do pay attention to what people say and if people check out I guarantee you the big lobby organizations are not checking out.”

2. Get Involved With Organizations

“Find out who is doing what in your community and that’s as simple as paying attention to water issues and see who is speaking on behalf of the water and support them, whether it be doling out $20 or $30 or signing their petitions.”

There are plenty of wonderful organizations fighting on behalf of the Great Lakes, including Alliance for the Great Lakes and Oil and Water Don’t Mix. Find them and donate, even if you don’t have the time to get as involved as you wish.

3. Use Your Talents

“Use your talent, passion, and what you learn about the water to get engaged. There are these guys that paddleboard across the Great Lakes to raise awareness and raise money. There are all of these people who are using their talents, their passion, and their interests to try and make a difference.”

The truth is that everyone has something to contribute. McKSchmidt uses her writing to draw attention to the Great Lakes, while others use their love for paddleboarding to start a campaign or their determination to make the calls that no one else will.

There Is No End

McKSchmidt’s story has an ending. You reach a point where you are left with no more pages to flip through, but the conflicts occurring in the Great Lakes region are never-ending. This might seem tiresome, but the truth is we always crave a sequel at the end of a good novel. So it’s time to ensure this sequel is a good one.

Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes

Written in a voice that is charming, witty, and honest, Uncharted Waters shares the stories of a Fortune 500 executive learning to sail, learning to love, and learning to fight for the water and life she holds dear. Mary McKSchmidt is an adventurer—a woman who wanders across southern Africa, achieves success in positions typically held by men, hikes, bikes, and camps alone up the eastern coast of Lake Michigan, and joins her fun-loving, equally-adventuresome husband on voyages across the sometimes treacherous, always unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan. In the presence of this lake, she gains clarity, finds inner strength, and hears the whispered musings of her heart.

When she discovers Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes are at risk, potentially damaged beyond repair, she replaces her briefcase, calculator, and business suit with a notepad, camera, and foul weather gear and embarks on a new adventure, this time to help create the political will necessary to clean up and protect the lakes. Captivating, heart-warming, and insightful, Uncharted Waters serves as a reminder that while we can live without a lot of things, clean, safe drinking water is not one of them.


  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Send to your friends!

Welcome to Great Lakes Boating!

Try our NEW digital version of the magazine for FREE!

Take a Look!

Already a subscriber? Please check your email for the latest full issue link.