Loreen Niewenhuis’ first professional path led her to science, working in settings from hospital laboratories to a bone marrow transplant team. But while she raised her two sons, Loreen began writing fiction.
In 2009, her short story collection, Scar Tissue, earned Niewenhuis finalist status for the Flannery O’Connor Award.
At the same time, she had always felt drawn to the Great Lakes. And so, she took on a new challenge setting out to walk the shores of Lake Michigan nearly every mile. The adventure resulted in a book, A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan.
Another book followed, this one about a thousand miles of walking along the shoreline of all five Great Lakes. The last in her trilogy, A 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Island Adventures, explores islands on all the lakes.
Niewenhuis says completing the trilogy gives her a huge sense of completion. “It feels odd not to be planning the next 1,000-mile adventure, but at the same time, it feels complete,” she says.
For her final book in the series, she chose islands in every Great Lake and many of the connecting waters. Niewenhuis began in the City of Montreal.
“It’s on an Island in the St. Lawrence River and it ends on Isle Royale. So, it goes from the most populated island on freshwater in the world to a remote island with moose and wolves. It sets foot on over 30 islands in the basin,” she says.
Niewenhuis wanted to delve into what makes an islander, people who choose to live in places “with watery edges.”
“The reasons people gave me were to stay close to nature and to be part of a close community, a very interwoven community. When you’re isolated and cut off, you do rely on other people more,” she says.
Washington Island, off Door County in Wisconsin, stands out as a very welcoming community. “It was very welcoming to me and my questions and probings,” Niewenhuis says.
She says her experience on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada was also fascinating. “About 40 percent of that island are First Nations people. So the native and nonnative communities are interwoven there and that was fascinating to explore.
Niewenhuis’ Great Lakes adventures spanned over 6 years. She says all of those experiences have resulted in a heightened sense of activism.
“When I began my first hike, I thought the first book would be about conveying how beautiful Lake Michigan is. And that was a big part of that book, but I was also astonished at how fragile the ecosystem and how we’ve messed it up over and over again. We need to be vigilant about these water,” Niewenhuis says.
She shares a tip for anyone exploring the Great Lakes. Turn off your phone and leave other distractions behind.
“As I was doing these adventures, I was always reading a lot and doing a lot of research. So having those days where I was just hiking along the shoreline that I had read about or the island I had just researched allowed me to process all that information and make connections with what I was seeing in person,” Niewenhuis says.
Even after finishing her Great Lakes trilogy, writer Loreen Niewenhuis continues to live and write in Michigan. She spoke and hiked with Susan Bence at South Shore Park.