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Great Lakes Article:

Thousands show up to celebrate refuge
By Paula Evans Neuman
Heritage Newspapers

Three thousand people showed up at Lake Erie Metropark in Brownstown Township Saturday to "discover the wild side" of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

They came to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

They came to show their appreciation for the officials - public and private, federal, state and local - who made the nationís newest refuge possible.

And perhaps most of all, they came to play outside.

The celebration, one of four being held nationwide, featured art, entertainment, exhibits and lots and lots of chances to learn and play.

People brought their children, and that was especially pleasing to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, a featured speaker during the opening ceremony.

She spoke before the event of how "inspirational" it was to see the "partners" - government, business and environmental groups - working together to create a wildlife refuge in an urban area.

And she said how happy she was to see so many children there, developing an affinity for conservation that would last them all their lives.

During the event, she spoke of "the new vision of cooperative conservation" epitomized by the Detroit River refuge.

"This administration is wholeheartedly behind the public-private partnership," Norton said. "We hope that other urban areas will take note of the great things being done in Detroit."

All of the islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals and riverfront land along 18 miles of the lower Detroit River from River Rouge to the Ohio border are included in the refuge.

"How do you build a refuge when the land and wetlands have been developed?" Norton said. "The answer was to put the refuge here anyway."

Detroit Edison Co. demonstrated exactly how the "public-private partnership" works, and signed over to the refuge more than 600 acres of woodlands and water near the Fermi 2 plant in Monroe.

The land will be managed jointly by Edison and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said Steve Williams, director of the service, who also was on hand for the ceremony.

"We think the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is a real treasure for the future," said Gerard Anderson, president and chief operating officer of DTE Energy, Edisonís parent company.

Detroit River Navigator John Hartig talked about partnerships as well.

"Thereís a change happening in southeast Michigan," he said. "Our citizens are calling for more conservation and protection. In many cases, our industries in the area are leading the change to return this area to its endemic grandeur.

"Southeast Michigan is recapturing the natural beauty and wonder that earned it the designation, the Great Lakes State."

The refuge was the shining star of the day, but U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-15th District, was singled out for praise as well. He came up with the idea for the refuge and wrote the legislation that created it in 2001.

K. L. Cool, Michigan Department of Natural Resources director, was among those who praised the venerable congressman during the ceremony.

"Any conservationist nationwide would consider it an honor to share a stage with John Dingell," Cool said.

He noted that Theodore Roosevelt, who began the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1903, is known today as the "conservation president."

"John Dingell is the conservation congressman of the century," Cool said.

He presented Dingell with a plaque for his "five decades of outstanding support" of conservation.

"We are proud of what has been accomplished; more is yet to be done," Dingell told the crowd. "All of this is about vision."

He, in turn, honored the vision of the late Peter Stroh, a Detroit businessman who was instrumental in the creation of the refuge and in the Detroit River being named as an American Heritage River.

Dingell dedicated Saturdayís event to Stroh, whose family was on hand to enjoy the day.

"Peter would have been very proud and very thankful to be here," said his widow, Nicole Stroh.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced a $50,000 grant Wayne County has received to pay for design work on the refuge headquarters, which will be in Trenton on former DaimlerChrysler land.

Wayne County will match the grant with an additional $50,000, Ficano said.

In a day of happy announcements for the refuge, Ken Schmitt, director of the Essex Region Conservation Area in Ontario, Canada, added one from the other side of the river.

"We anticipate the donation within a year of a significant wetland on the Canadian side," he said.

After the ceremony, the park filled with families and children - playing outside.

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