Lake Michigan Day & Champions of Conservation Environmental Awards

Lake Michigan Champions of Conservation

Left to right: Bud and Vicky Harris and Jon Kukuk (Wisconsin Marine Association and Clean Marina Program), Cathy Pabich, Steve and Andrea DeBaker (Trout Springs Winery), Wendy Lutzke

Individual Award, Water Resources Protection:

This year, we awarded two individual winners, Wendy Lutzke and Cathy Pabich. Wendy, a professional educator in elementary classrooms and at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, spread awareness of the Great Lakes to thousands of students through the Watershed Ambassadors Summer Camp and many other initiatives.With co-leader Kim Kettner, she formed the Friends of the Manitowoc River Watershed in 2012, which has launched annual river and bi-annual beach cleanups, adopted Lower Schuette Park, offered educational seminars and river paddling experiences, and supported City beach improvement projects ever since.

Cathy organized brainstorming and strategic planning meetings with a wide range of area stakeholders to form the Friends of Crescent Beach in Algoma. She has advocated for beach health and improvement with all levels of government, educated local citizens, and launched cleanups and maintenance, as well as interactive events. The group was awarded the Algoma Utilities/WPPI economic development grant and named a community ‘Bright Spot’ by the Live Algoma health initiative in 2016. Cathy serves on the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership’s board of directors and as steering committee coordinator for her local watershed group. She is a member of the Bird City Algoma Committee and helped launch the ‘Bird Bistro’ movement with another committee member, and serves on two City of Algoma committees.


Business Award, Water Resources Protection: 

This year’s business champion is Trout Springs Winery. Located near Wayside, TSW is owned by Steve and Andrea DeBaker and is a division of Branch River Farms, Wisconsin’s only licensed private fish hatchery, plant nursery and winery under one roof. From 1995 to 2005, Steve — full time electrician and self-educated entrepreneur — transformed their five-acre horse pasture into a vineyard, and has continued to expand and refine their operations ever since. They’ve installed many energy-saving and energy-producing systems to meet their energy needs and reduced their carbon emissions by 68%. In 2016, TSW was granted Green Masters Program Certification from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council. Steve spearheaded the effort to establish the Wisconsin Ledge AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 2012, with help from Eric Fowle of the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. This AVA covers 3800 square miles in northeast and east central Wisconsin along the Niagara Escarpment.


Community Organization Award, Water Resources Protection:

The Wisconsin Clean Marina Program, the 2017 organization champion, is part of the Wisconsin Marine Association. The program provides guidance, training and education to 21 marinas and 14 others pledged to ‘keep Wisconsin’s waterways free of harmful chemicals, excess nutrients and debris…,’ all working toward best management practices.

They recognize how minimizing pollution helps protect resources essential to their livelihoods – clean water, air, and healthy fish and wildlife communities. They represent a wide array of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coastal communities.

General Manager Michelle Strider of Washburn serves as the organization’s chair. Jon Kukuk of Marinette, owner and operator of Nestegg Marine, is the program’s vice chair.


Policy Maker, Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration:

Senator Baldwin

Our honorary policy maker award goes to US Senator Tammy Baldwin for her extensive efforts to protect the Great Lakes and many other public policies and funding vital to the environmental needs of the Great Lakes region. She has consistently joined with colleagues on the US Senate Great Lakes Task Force to support full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been instrumental in advocating for GLRI funding. In 2016, Senator Baldwin joined by bipartisan Great Lakes Senators, introducing the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act (GLEEPA) that included authorization the GLRI at $475 million annually as well as authorization and funding for other key Great Lakes programs. Despite not passing, near the end of the last Congress, the GLRI was reauthorized in a provision included in the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), with Senator Baldwin helping to lead the fight to make sure the GLRI was strengthened in this legislation.

Additionally, Senator Baldwin has championed innovative solutions to challenges in the Great Lakes region, including introducing the bipartisan Digital Coastal Act and authoring the Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act. The Digital Coastal Act legislation will help shoreline communities along the Great Lakes better prepare for storms, cope with varying water levels and strengthen economic development planning efforts. The Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act will support community efforts to make the most of water resources by attracting water-dependent industries and investments that leverage water sustainably, revitalizing neighborhoods, and enhancing recreation and tourism.


In 2016, it was held at The Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Friday, August 12.

Check out the media coverage of the event

In 2016, the event featured keynote speakers Kim Marotta, Director of Sustainability at Miller-Coors and Todd Ambs, Director of Healing Our Waters. A panel moderated by Nicole Van Helden of The Nature Conservancy featured perspectives on water resource policies and technologies with Jerry Halverson (Manitowoc County Soil and Water Conservation Dept Director), Bill Hafs (NEW Water Director of Environmental Programs) and Rachel Rushmann (Wisconsin Dept of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection Nutrient Management Coordinator).

Vickie Elkin from the Fund for Lake Michigan presented the 2016 Lake Michigan Champions of Conservation Awards at lunch, followed by an afternoon presentation by the five mayors and city administrators from Manitowoc, Port Washington, Two Rivers, Mequon and Sheboygan, along with a representative from NOAA, offering their perspectives on the proposed Wisconsin National Marine Sanctuary. Throughout the day, 115 participants from throughout the lakeshore region and beyond helped make the 3rd annual event a rousing success.

Champions of Conservation Award Winners:


We congratulate our 2016 Lake Michigan Champions of Conservation, pictured above from left to right, Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada, Mark Weber of Lakeshore Tae Kwon Do, John Kennedy, Jon Gumtow and Melissa Curran of Stantec Consulting Services. LNRP Executive Director Jim Kettler and Todd Holschbach, The Nature Conservancy at far right, congratulated the Champions. Please see further details below. (Photo, Alisa M. Schafer, Herald-Times Reporter)

An inaugural tour of the new exhibit, Wisconsin’s Underwater Treasures, followed the program.

Lake Michigan Day showcases opportunities for continued restoration and protection of this vital resource and the broader Great Lakes region.


Champions of Conservation Awards with presented by LNRP and Lake Michigan Stakeholders


August 2016 awards:

  • Individual Award: John Kennedy, Water Resources Protection. John spent the last 12 of 29 years as Environmental Programs Manager with the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District where he launched, maintained and grew one of the largest freshwater databases on the Great Lakes.
  • Business Award: Stantec Consulting Services, Water Resources Protection. For many years, Jon Gumtow has been actively building private-public partnerships to help launch and carry out restoration projects to clean our waterways, improve access, remove invasive species and restore ridge and swale ecosystems and beach habitats. Melissa Curran leads a volunteer group at The Ridges Sanctuary to re-establish rare orchids in Door County and leads workshops.
  • Organization Award: Lakeshore Tae Kwon Do, Water Resources Protection. Since 2012, founder and instructor Mark Weber has engaged his students in Friends of the Manitowoc beach cleanups twice a year at Red Arrow Beach in Manitowoc, keeping hundreds of pounds of litter out of Lake Michigan.
  • Special Recognition: Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada for his extensive efforts to promote environmental stewardship and sustainability throughout his tenure, projects benefiting Lake Michigan and the area’s quality of life.

August 2015 awards:

  • Individual Award: Brian Russart, Land Use Protection/Habitat Restoration. Brian is the Natural Areas Coordinator for Milwaukee County Parks.
  • Individual Award: Will Wawrzyn, Water Resource Protection. Will is a Wisconsin DNR retired senior fisheries biologist.
  • Organizational Award:  Cat Island Advisory Committee led by Vicky Harris.
  • Special Recognition: US Congressman Reid Ribble. He has been a supporter for the full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and many projects in Northeast Wisconsin.
August 2014 awards:
  • Individual Champion of Conservation: Shawn Graff for his impressive achievements as executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, overseeing its extensive preservation projects and transforming the Squires Golf Course into the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve
  • Business Champion of Conservation: Tyco for its diligent cleanup and efforts of the Lower Menominee River in Marinette, helping it get delisted as an Area of Concern following soil, groundwater and river sediment contamination from its predecessor’s manufacturing practices from WWII to the 1970s
  • Special Recognition Champion of Conservation: US Congressman Tom Petri for decades of support for conservation

Spring 2013 awards:

  • Champion of Environmental Education and Outreach, and Champion of Champions: Charles “Chuck” Sontag and his 40 plus years of teaching, mentoring, and monitoring in southern Manitowoc County
  • Champion of Water Resources: Jim Knickelbine, Director of the Woodland Dunes Nature Center, for his significant efforts and dedication to improving the West Twin River and the many other waters of Wisconsin
  • Champion of Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration:  Charles Bouc for his lifelong passion and commitment to conservation practices on his farm and adjacent road banks and waterways

Spring 2012 awards:

  • Champion of Environmental Education and Outreach: Fred Depies and his work on the local food movement, grazing, and environmental networking
  • Champion of Water Resources Protection and Champion of Champions:  Ox Bow Sportmans  Club for their life long work on the Brillion Wildlife Sanctuary, Killsnake, and other tributaries of the Manitowoc River
  • Champion of Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration:  Ron Schaper for his most recent work at the LTC Old Growth Forest but also for helping establish the Fischer Creek Conservation Area and Point Creek Conservation Area

Spring 2011 awards:

  • Champion of Environmental Education and Outreach and Champion of Champions: Kelly Eskew-Vorron and her exceptional work in developing programming for Manitowoc County schools and community groups
  • Champion of Water Resources Protection: Vickie Mayer and her body of work across a wide variety of environmental issues in the Branch River Basin and the State of Wisconsin
  • Champion of Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration: Richard Becker and his life-long work in creating and enhancing Manitowoc County habitats

Spring 2010 awards:

  • Champion of Water Resources Protection and Champion of Champions: Carl Scholz and his body of work across a wide variety of environmental issues in Door County
  • Champion of Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration: Kay and Wayne Craig and their conversion of a farm to an organic grazing operation in Calumet County
  • Champion of Environmental Education and Outreach: Coggin Heeringa and her body of work at Crossroads at Big Creek in Door County

Fall 2009 awards:

  • Champion of Champions: Kewaunee County Groundwater Guardians and their work in educating youth and developing outreach materials for groundwater protection
  • Water Resources Champion: Chuck Wagner and his work on groundwater protection, woodland management, and commitment to civil service
  • Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration Champion: Terri Lyon and her work as the Beetle Lady in the fight against purple loosestrife in the Lakeshore Basin

Spring 2009 awards:

  • Champion of Champions: Russ Tooley representing Centerville Cares and their work on quality monitoring on Point and Fischer Creeks in southern Manitowoc County
  • Water Resources Champion: Carol Entringer and her work on English Lake in Manitowoc County
  • Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration Champion: Izaack Walton League of Brown County and their work on engaging youth in the protection of a 81 acre parcel on the East River
  • Environmental Education and Outreach: Armond Kueter and his long-standing contributions to the Conservation Education, Inc. (CEI)

Fall 2008 awards:

  • Champion of Champions: Helen Dicke-Krivacek for her life-long commitment to Woodland Dunes Nature Center
  • Water Resources Champion: David Pozorski and his single-handed restoration of Silver Lake in Manitowoc County
  • Land Use Protection and Habitat Restoration Champion: Bernie Brouchoud for founding Woodland Dunes Nature Center