Town hall launched: dialogue and engagement sought from 42 million residents

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    MADISON, Wisc. – Imagine what it would be like if you could gather everyone concerned about the future of the Great Lakes into one room. You’d not only need a really big room, you’d also be certain to hear a lot of diverse opinions. Yet this was the vision of the Madison-based Biodiversity Project, which recently announced its online Great Lakes Town Hall.

    Great Lakes Town Hall is a web-based resource [www.greatlakestownhall.org] that seeks to provide a forum for the rich diversity of residents of the Great Lakes region. Together, the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces are home to more than 42 million people. The new website was designed to connect the many voices, opinions, ideas and experiences that shape this regional identity.

    Governments and citizens across the region are debating major new proposals to promote water conservation and ban water exports, and provide billions of dollars in new public funds for restoring the health of the ecosystem. It also comes at a time when the lakes are under renewed threat from invasive species, sewage overflows, habitat loss, chemical pollutants, climate change and other problems.

    "The Lakes are both magnificent and vulnerable," said Jeffrey Potter, Biodiversity Project’s director of communications. "It’s more important than ever to engage our community in the future of our Great Lakes."

    A noted author and Great Lakes expert, David Dempsey, who served as an advisor the Michigan Governor Blanchard’s administration and was appointed by Bill Clinton to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, is co-moderator of the Great Lakes Town Hall. Great Lakes Town Hall includes a variety of resources, opportunities for interactive discussions, networking, and more. The site also includes lighter fare in its "Celebrate the Lakes" sections, including Great Lakes arts news, photos, tourism suggestions, and more.

    Jerry Dennis, award-winning author and Michigan resident was the first weekly "guest speaker" on the Great Lakes Town Hall. His most recent book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), has received numerous honors.

    "Each week we invite grassroots activists, artists, officials, physicians, parents, young people and others to offer insightful commentary on their Great Lakes experiences and views," said Paige Wilder, manager for the Great Lakes Town Hall. "Of course, we also invite site visitors to comment on their thoughts. We are thrilled that Jerry agreed to be our first guest contributor."

    Biodiversity Project hopes that its web-based town hall will help Canadian and U.S. residents and grassroots groups showcase their achievements, broadcast their views, connect with each other and reach the decision-makers whom they seek to educate on Great Lakes matters.

    "The best town hall traditions are inclusive and facilitate the expression of all perspectives," Potter said. "Our only agenda is increasing public engagement in the future of our remarkable, yet vulnerable, Great Lakes."

    Visit the Great Lakes Town Hall at www.greatlakestownhall.org. Visitors can read and respond to daily postings from Dave Dempsey, guest speakers like Jerry Dennis, and others from throughout the Great Lakes. Participants are encouraged to start their own topics in the "Your Turn" section. You must register to comment – a free and simple process that eliminates the threat of spam and advertising.

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