After watching in dismay as Fourth of July revelers trashed a local lake, three Michigan men decided they needed to do something to raise awareness about the health of freshwater lakes, big and small.
The result was Stand Up for Great Lakes, an initiative to paddle across the Great Lakes as a fundraiser and raise awareness for the health of the ecosystem.
On June 19, Kwin Morris, Jeff Guy and Joe Lorenz landed on Catawba Island near Sandusky, Ohio having paddled 112 kilometers across Lake Erie. The journey, which included fighting against unexpected headwinds for nearly 20 of the 24 hours they were on the water, raised $16,000 for the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research.
Stand Up For Great Lakes has crossed four of the Great Lakes during the past four years, raising nearly $50,000 for a variety of causes related to the world’s largest freshwater lakes.
Guy, a 33-year-old financial advisor from Traverse City, Michigan, said his connection to the water started when he was a child.
“I spent a lot of time going to Lake Michigan as a kid to go swimming, fishing and boating,” he said. “As you come into adulthood, you see some of the problems facing the lakes. We’re at a point where we need to do something to stop these things before it gets bad.”
While the crossings have been on the Great Lakes, the trio is quick to point out that all freshwater lakes need to be cared for because of the vital role they play in the ecosystem.
In 2016, Guy, along with 33-year-old Lorenz and 31-year-old Morris, crossed Lake Michigan to raise $10,000 for the Great Lakes Alliance. The following year they took on Lake Huron, raising $7,000 for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In 2018, they took on the mighty Lake Superior, raising $15,000 for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
To decide when to paddle each year, the group works with a meteorologist from a local news channel in Michigan. But sometimes the Great Lakes have their own ideas.
“We give ourselves a week or nine-day window, and as we get closer, we try to make the decision,” Guy said. “I thought Erie was going to be our hardest one because of stuff I’ve read about the lake and people who boat out there say it’s known to be choppy, but it was our second-hardest.”
He said Lake Huron, which took 28 hours to cross, proved to be the most challenging. The weather was ever-changing and Guy fell in at one point while his drysuit was open, allowing freezing water to fill the legs. The group always has safety boats nearby but carries their own supplies for the trip, such as food and water.
“Michigan was the third-hardest and, strangely enough, Superior was the easiest because we had such good weather,” he said.
With four lakes down and only Lake Ontario to go, Lorenz, Guy and Morris are now close to becoming the first people ever to have paddleboarded across all five Great Lakes.
The tentative plan is to cross Lake Ontario in June 2020, but the focus remains about the project being bigger than just making history.
“Crossing all five is a personal goal for all of us, but growing the organization and continuing to build is more important,” said Guy, adding he hopes Stand Up for Great Lakes can raise enough to hire a part-time staff member to start working on writing bigger government grant requests.
“Yes, we just raised almost $20,000, but the Great Lakes get $300 million from one grant from the U.S. Government,” he said. “At some point, we would like to get to a place where we can have more of an influence on that type of money. And make sure it’s used well.”
For now, the group is working on its plan for Lake Ontario and is focused on running smaller events such as beach cleanups and teaching kids to paddle.
Paddling addicted journalist Dan Dakin worked as a sports reporter for 12 years before becoming a full-time freelance writer.
On June 19, 2019, Jeff Guy, Kwin Morris and Joe Lorenz paddled 70 miles across Lake Erie. Their effort raised $16,000 for the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. | Featured Photo: Stand Up for Great Lakes