The Benzie County Water Festival seeks to attract, entertain, educate, and activate individuals and groups within the community. We will proudly feature world-class Michigan musicians, speeches from water luminaries, interactive multi-media projects and presentations, artisan foods and beverages, workshops, visual art, theater and dance, children’s activities, and connections to campaigns and projects to protect our water locally and address global challenges. The Water Festival is an event put on by the Benzie Community Water Council (BCWC).
About Benzie Community Water Council
The mission of the Benzie Community Water Council (a 501c3 nonprofit organization) is to ensure that the waters of the county and the northwest corner of the state remain subject to the public trust doctrine and are thus preserved and protected for the common good of the peoples and ecosystems that they serve. It is our intent to work with any citizen groups and government entities that are committed to the common purpose of maintaining safe, clean, and plentiful water for the equitable use of people, animals, and plants.
Our Board Members
Josh Stoltz, Chair
Josh was born in Traverse City and raised in the woods and wetlands of Benzie County by his city-hippy dad and farmer-redneck ma. After graduating from Central Michigan University with a degree in Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts, Marketing, and Advertising, he moved out West to chase his own tale and soon discovered his knack for building relationships. During his 20s, Josh opened several companies throughout Arizona and Florida before calling it quits just prior to turning 30. He spent the next couple years semi-retired, living on a school bus named “The Future” that was painted like the Earth, and traveling the country.
After returning to Benzie County, Josh married Christina, purchased a home in Frankfort, and worked as Site Coordinator for SEEDS After School until 2014, when he was hired as Grow Benzie‘s first full-time Executive Director. In his spare time, Josh likes to volunteer his spare time.
“I like being a part of the Water Council, because our board members shape the festival around what they have time and passion for,” Josh says. “I love the water for fishing and recreation, so I have helped to organize fish-related activities, like tournaments and Take A Kid Fishing, in the past. When I was an after-school coordinator for SEEDS at Benzie Central, I had the time and resources to organize a water-themed high school science fair and art competition. As our lives change, so does the time that we [the board] are able to invest, but it doesn’t change our enthusiasm to celebrate and educate people about water — that was the purpose of starting the Benzie Community Water Council in the first place.”
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Jordan Bates, Vice-Chair
Jordan lives in a warm basement somewhere in Benzie County. He graduated with a degree in General Studies from the University of Michigan, where he focused on English and religion, but also dabbled in whatever tickled his fancy.
He has worked in the restaurant industry, and he taught himself to code websites and SEO. Jordan is currently the co-owner, designer, and web manager for The Betsie Current; he also is JV coach for Frankfort Panther Volleyball and a coach for NorthShore Volleyball. Jordan is also a board member of the Friends of Betsie Bay, as well as various side-projects, and other activities.
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Emily Votruba, Board Secretary
Both of Emily’s parents are from Traverse City. After growing up downstate and living in New York City and upstate New York for 15 years, Emily moved to Elberta to be by the Big Lake in 2010. She practices water conservation on her property with little to no mowing (more like occasional surgical strikes with an electric weed-whacker), native plantings, rainwater collection, biodegradable detergents, and zero use of chemical pesticides. Emily is a freelance editor and founder-coordinator of MIFiberShed at Grow Benzie, which aims to reduce clothing and fabric waste and to raise awareness about the damage that fast-fashion and synthetic fibers do to the earth’s watersheds.
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Aubrey Ann Parker, Outreach Coordinator
Aubrey attributes her enthusiasm for all-things-water to her Northern Michigan upbringing. Although trained in the sciences, Aubrey made a sudden switch to journalism at the end of her college career, and (so far) she isn’t looking back. In 2008, she completed a BA in Chemistry from Kalamazoo College and followed it up in 2010 with a BSE in Chemical Engineering and a BS in Spanish from the University of Michigan. Aubrey also spent seven months volunteering and studying abroad in Ecuador, where she not only took college classes but also taught high school chemistry and environmental ecology. As a Graham Institute Scholar of 2009, Aubrey traveled to Patagonia, Chile, where she studied relationships between hydroelectric development projects and aquatic ecosystems. Also in 2009, Aubrey spent two weeks blogging for the Detroit Free Press while attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
Her past data-analysis internships have included watershed-erosion control practices, as well as algae fermentation for use as a biofuel. For six years, Aubrey worked as the managing editor and data analyst for Circle of Blue, a Traverse City-based organization reporting the global freshwater crisis. Since 2015, however, Aubrey has focused on telling stories closer to home — she is co-owner and editor of The Betsie Current. She also runs Facebook/social media campaigns for several local businesses and non-profits. Additionally, she is a portrait photographer. You can visit her personal blog here.
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Nancy Kasperzak, Emeritus Board Member
Nancy has been committed to projects of the “Commons,” including organizing and developing citizens groups for Stuyvessant Park, New York; Metro Parks and Clear Water, Toledo; and Benzie Community Water Council. Nancy is also president of the Foundation For Performing Arts. She was a founding member of the Benzie Community Water Council, and she remains a trusted adviser. We love you, Nancy!
Suz McLaughlin, Emeritus Board Secretary
Suz wandered the Earth for countless years, experiencing new places and interesting people but always knowing that, when she finally set her roots in her future soul-home, she’d be bound there forever. More than three decades ago, Benzie County became that soul-home, as Suz had finally found that place to set her roots, binding herself to this land.
In setting her roots, she found that the need to enjoy, celebrate, and protect this beautiful environment and its residents has become a life-long calling with many community faces. Fighting for the good of any cause is to have a vision of the future world that one really wants to see and to become a part of that vision. Life and warp-speed changes can make that a bit intriguing, but a talent for juggling many life challenges usually keeps her out of trouble and very engaged in our community. Suz was a founding member of the Benzie Community Water Council, and she remains a trusted adviser. We love you, Suz!
Sarah Louisignau, Emeritus Board Member
Sarah grew up in Northern Michigan. She spent some time working through her undergrad, and finally realizing that was not where her spirit thrived, finished at Kalamazoo College with 3/4 degree in Fine Art Photography. She spent much of her twenties exploring a variety of interests and passions, and after eight years in the Pacific Northwest and Utah, she found herself back home during the fall of 2009. Pivotal experiences out West include three years as assistant director for a Grassroots Organizing Office for the Public Interest Research Group in Seattle and as conference coordinator for the Global Nuclear Legacy Project, a project through Hanford Challenge, the Seattle-based whistle blower protection non-profit.
Through working in the social justice/NGO realm, Sarah discovered and refined her skills in community and media connections and organizing. Throughout her activism career, she has stayed focused and centered with a regular yoga and meditation practice. Through this practice, she discovered her strength in mind/body connections and has been a certified yoga teacher since 2008. While living in Northern Michigan, Sarah taught yoga and telemark skiing and practiced permaculture in the Frankfort and Traverse City areas. She now resides in Colorado, however, and thus felt the need to give up her seat on the board. We miss you, Sarah!