Michigan native Loreen Niewenhuis has always loved the Great Lakes but says it was a mid-life crisis that pushed her to become an explorer and author.
"I wanted something that sort of scared me and Lake Michigan is my favorite place," she says. "So I thought I would get to know it step by step and record it in my muscles and bones."
She successfully hiked the perimeter of Lake Michigan and wrote a book about it, called A 1,000-Mile Walk On The Beach.
“That was a transforming experience on many levels for me,” Niewenhuis says.
Then, there was no stopping her. “Each adventure has seemed to lead to the next," she says. "With the first experience of hiking Lake Michigan, I thought the next should include all five Great Lakes, so I spent time on the shorelines of all five Great Lakes; and during that adventure I made it to some of the islands.”
There are more than 30,000 in the Great Lakes Basin. Some of them are the subject of Niewenhuis’ next book due out in 2015. Niewenhuis stopped in Milwaukee earlier this month on her way to one of the islands – Isle Royale on Lake Superior.
“I’ll be helping with the moose wolf study. We’ll be hiking the island for a week with the researchers, gathering moose bones and taking them back to the researchers.”
The study is in its 56th year. Niewenhuis says it is the longest running predator prey study ever done.
She also assisted with a piping plover study on South and North Manitou Islands off Leland Michigan. The plovers are endangered. Niewenhuis says scientists are doing more than merely counting the shorebirds.
“They also locate the nests and and cover them with an exclosure, rather than an enclosure. It allows the parents birds to get in but keeps predators out.”
Niewenhuis earned an MFA in writing in 2007, but her first career focused on medical research. That knowledge base comes in handy as she writes about Great Lakes issues.
“I’m able to read scientific papers and make that information accessible to readers who don’t have a Masters of Science like I do and I enjoy digesting all of that information,” she says.
She hopes when readers consume her work, they care more and are more aware.
“The thing that really struck me when I walked around Lake Michigan was that even though this is a vast body of water, it’s fragile," Niewenhuis says. "It takes very little to mess it up. You throw the zebra mussel in there, it changes it completely and forever. I walked through many sites that were Superfund clean up sites really close to the lake and I’m astonished that that was allowed to happen. So we need to be more vigilant over our water.”
When Niewenhuis completes her Great Lakes island book, she plans to end the series.
“It is a trilogy and these three books take you on a journey on one Great Lake to all five Great Lakes and then to the islands," she says. "And I think to do a fourth adventure, I would begin to repeat myself.”
Niewenhuis did just produce her first eBook, Best Lake Michigan Hikes. It comes out today.
“So many people asked me at my events ‘where can I take a two mile hike’ or ‘where can I hike with five women all over 50 and one of them has a bad left knee’. So in this book there are hand-drawn maps of my favorite ten spots along Lake Michigan to hike," she says. "Three of them are on this side of the lake; there is one on the Upper Peninsula and the rest are on the Michigan side.”