Water Everywhere: Benzie County Water Festival hopes to impart important messages about water issues, but have fun too.

Originally published in the Grand Traverse Insider.

By Colin Merry
Contributing Writer

Education, motivation, and family fun are the goals of the Benzie Community Water Council’s inaugural Benzie County Water Festival this upcoming weekend.

The festival will be held in the City of Frankfort, with water-related activities — ranging from live music and kids games to rain-garden workshops and discussions about invasive species — taking place on the 18, 19, and 20 of March.

“We want to bring up issues about the area’s water resources, like pollution and privatization,” said Josh Stoltz, member of the Benzie County Water Council. “But we wanted to do it in a way that people have a good time too.”

Stoltz said that the council also hopes to bring together multiple demographics to show that water issues don’t just affect one group of people; they affect everybody in the county in all endeavors, from the sports industry to the hospitality industry.

The Festival kicks off Friday, with the Great Lakes documentary Waterlife, which will be shown at The Garden Theater in Frankfort at 6 p.m. The Sub-Prim Blues Band will also be hosting a pre-festival performance at The Cabbage Shed at 9 p.m.

On Saturday, the 19, Water Fest activities will take place throughout the day. Discussing water-related issues will be Derek Bailey, tribal chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; Robert Karner, watershed biologist and biology teacher; Valerie Strassberg, director of the Water Resource Management for Energy Conservation; Carolyne Thayer; Carol Navarro, education director of the Benzie Conservation District; Cindi Roper, director of Clean Water Action; Hans Van Sumeren, director of the Northwstern Michigan College Water Studies Institute; and Thomas Kelly, executive director and captain of the Inland Seas Education Association.

Topics discussed in workshops will range from water quality and the possibility of an Asian carp invasion to responsible water use and the construction of rain gardens.

Musicians May Erlewine & Seth Bernard, along with Kirby Snively and Airborne or Aquatic, will provide the musical entertainment for the event.

Art exhibits, recycling workshops, and kids games, such as a snowman competition and story hours, will also take place at various locations throughout Frankfort.

Homemade soups, created from local ingredients, will be available for purchase.

Stoltz said the Water Council began planning the festival nearly a year ago, when the organization formed.

“This is our first major event,” he said. “It is the goal of the council to provide events throughout the year, bringing attention to water in and out of Benzie.”

The Benzie festival follows a long history of water festivals throughout Michigan. According to Stoltz, one of the first water festivals was held in Mackinaw City in 2006. A full bull of local musicians drew people to this first festival, which showcased all things water, from kayaking to workshops and seminars on water-related issues, similar to the events which will be seen in Frankfort. This first festival claimed a crowd of about 500 people.

Other city’s followed suit each year, including Kalamazoo, Marquette, and Grand Rapids, which held a festival boasting attendance of 1,500. Traverse City held a winter water festival several years ago.

Stoltz said a common tie between each festival was the involvement of Earthwork Music Collective, particularly musicians Seth Bernard and May Erlewine.

“They’ve been behind each one,” Stoltz said. “But it really depends on the community and the support they get.”

So far, Stoltz said Benzie County citizens and organizations have been very supportive of the festival. Several non-profit organizations have stepped forward to help make the inaugural event successful.

For more information on the Benzie County Water Festival, including the full schedule of events, visit the festival website at http://water-festival.org.

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