A Unifying Message: Get Involved! Show up! We’re all in this together!

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By Dave Dempsey

Today FLOW board member and Green Elk Rapids (GreenER) co-founder Royce Ragland will be inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame. The recognition is for a variety of environmental accomplishments, including most recently her work in promoting the Village of Elk Rapids as a statewide environmental leader.

Green Elk Rapids is a volunteer community group under the auspices of the Elk Rapids Village Council. Royce says, “One of our goals is to raise the community’s awareness of environmental concerns and to present Elk Rapids as one of the most environmentally progressive communities in the state.” Typical projects include an annual community recycling day, education on such issues as the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and straws, collaboration with local schools, educational films, and community hikes. The group has conducted restoration projects, promoted organic food plots at local schools, created community art projects out of recycled material, and regularly supported the progressive environmental efforts of their Department of Public Works.

As Royce wrote for Traverse Magazine in 2017, GreenER members’ vision for the future of their community is to encourage “people to understand the long-term impacts of today’s decisions, and the connections between the local level and beyond, be it water ordinances or climate change.” They take inspiration from guest speaker Josephine Mandamin, First Nations water walker: “Someday water will be more precious than gold. It is your duty to protect it.”

Royce’s nomination also cites her service on the board of directors for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy from 2004-2015, where she served as a member of their campaign cabinet, which launched an unprecedented $71.4 million land protection campaign in 2018.

“Royce has inspired people of all ages from around the region to act as stewards of the land locally and globally,” the nomination observes. “Royce possesses abundant energy and passion for the ecological health of her community and the larger Great Lakes system.”

Royce has a background in education and training, organizational development and economics. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and graduate degrees in corrections and economics. She has lived on what she terms the “East Coast, West Coast, and Third Coast,” and has been part of the Elk Rapids community for 30 years. She has been active on a number of boards and community groups, particularly Green Elk Rapids and the Elk Rapids village planning commission.  She and her husband Ken Bloem have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.

We asked Royce to chat with us about this honor:

What does induction into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame mean to you?

The induction is one of the highlights of my lifelong devotion to our natural environment. I am thrilled to be included with the people who share a reverence and love for our environment, and to share in their company, their dedication, their successes. They are the crowd that inspires me and that I love to be with.

What is the source of your commitment to, and passion for, the environment?

The source of my commitment is my childhood on our family farm in southern Illinois, and the community I grew up with. We were keenly aware of all the elements of nature… the seasons, droughts, floods, rain at the right times.

It was always about the land and the water. Land was our welfare… fields had to be managed, water was precious.

That life nurtured our land ethic, and also a perspective and appreciation for the value of emotional and physical well-being that we need for today. The understanding that nature is good for us, makes us happy, reduces our stress, nurtures our children. Science now supports those things we have always known in our gut. Those values and convictions inspire my support for the groups and individuals who work to preserve those parts of our world.

A special factor was my dad. He served two terms in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) starting as a 14-year-old, using the birth certificate of an older brother. He was influenced by instructors like Aldo Leopold, impressed by their education and farsightedness, and the things they could accomplish. He and my mother passed that reverence to all five of their children. My maternal grandfather was a farmer and my paternal grandfather was a coal miner. Environmental issues of one sort or another were always part of our dinner-time discussions.

That reverence shines in the work our conservancies and water organizations work so hard to promote… “love the land and pass it on”… ”our waters belong to everyone.” All these things give me a deep gratitude for our natural environment, through a thousand associations of the heart.

What do you think of as your most important environmental accomplishment?

Two personal points of pride/accomplishments: Raising our two daughters to be active environmentalists. Locally, making the connections and engagements with my community, steering a community group of volunteers to raise awareness about our environment and promote local stewardship, seeing our efforts gain traction, modeling local cooperation.

In that same vein, working with our village trustees and commissioners, other existing groups, seeing perspectives change.  Creating a vehicle to engage, educate, and talk with each other, working beyond politics to get the job done. 

What is the secret to getting things done to protect the environment?

I think one way to get things done is through local efforts and working with your community wherever and however you can. Making connections and creating engagement. Empathy is vital to understanding other perspectives. Find ways to talk with each other in ways people can hear you, trying to listen, asking for help. Ways that promote civility seems to be a key. Engagements may ultimately be more successful than statistical studies or legal victories when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of our communities, and actually moving forward.

What would you say to young people who are just getting started on environmental issues?

Get involved! Show up! I applaud the recent student protests. I thought it was smart and bold. I would like to see more local engagement and direct push in their everyday life, in the schools, recycling in school cafeterias, composting, promoting solar panels on schools, attending and advocating at council and commission meetings, protesting our state ban on banning single-use plastic bags, etc. Using their influence in their local communities, where people know them, care about them, and take pride in their activities.

Are you hopeful about our environmental future?  Why or why not?

Yes, hopeful, but concerned. I think we need to be very open as to how we engage and make decisions to win hearts and minds on a grand scale, and to send the message that we are all in this together. Gary Raven is quoted in the Washington, D.C., National Museum of the American Indian: “Everything has a spirit and everything is interconnected.”

That is our guide.

FLOW senior advisor Dave Dempsey was, himself, inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014.

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