No matter where one goes in the Madison area, the blue of water is never far from view. In fact, the lakes are so present they can become almost commonplace to some.
Dianne Jean Aldrich is out to change that. For the past several months Aldrich, who owns a yoga studio in Monona, has been busy organizing a community event that she hopes will help people connect again with the waters that make Madison unique.
Her idea is as powerful and basic as water itself — a walk. She has put the event together along with The Natural Step Monona, a community group that encourages sustainability.
Scheduled for the weekend of July 6-8, the Lake Monona Water Walk will be a three-day celebration that culminates in a walk around the second largest of the Yahara lakes. Thanks to Aldrich’s efforts, the walk will be led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibwe elder who gained fame for her walks around each of the Great Lakes. The walks, portrayed in the award-winning documentary “Waterlife,” attracted worldwide attention for both Mandamin and the plight of the lakes.
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Aldrich remembers being moved by both the simplicity and the power of Mandamin’s statements. Mandamin started the walks in 2003, worried about threats ranging from invasive species to climate change. She frequently walked alone, carrying a staff and a copper pail of water to symbolize the role of Ojibwe women as water keepers.
Mandamin said she wanted to tell people that “the water is sick ... and people need to really fight for that water, to speak for that water, to love that water.”
Aldrich said she hopes the 13-mile Lake Monona walk will bring that same awareness and appreciation for our local waters and the threats they face. Having grown up on Madison’s East Side and whiled away many long summer days as a child on the beach at Olbrich Park, Aldrich said she has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from local government, businesses and individuals for the walk and surrounding events.
That enthusiasm, Aldrich said, is a sign to her that Madison and communities such as Monona are bringing a newfound enthusiasm to the task of cleaning up the Yahara lakes. Though weeds and algae still sometimes appear to have the upper hand, people seem empowered in a way they haven’t in past years, Aldrich said. She said people seem to understand that saving the lakes isn’t something that can be pushed off into the future.
“Right now is the moment,” Aldrich said.
Others agree. The lake walk comes at about the halfway point of what Monona Mayor Bob Miller has declared the “Year of Water” in Monona and he said he’s been impressed with the response, especially from individuals and businesses.
“It’s just better when citizens are pushing events rather than bureaucrats,” Miller said.
Miller cited numerous other efforts, from Dane County’s work on phosphorus to reports sparked by groups such as the Clean Lakes Alliance and neighborhood efforts such as the carp removal project undertaken by Friends of Lake Wingra.
He said these and other initiatives make this a unique and important time in the history of the lakes.
“We seem to be getting beyond the studies and actually doing things,” Miller said.
And so it is with Aldrich and her lake walk.
She said she has tremendous respect for all of the work undertaken in the last few years by government agencies. But the walk, she said, is a way to bring everyday people to the shores of the lakes to hear the inspirational words of people such as Mandamin and to connect with our own waters on a basic, perhaps even spiritual, level.
“The idea of the walk is to take the conversation out of the government buildings and literally into the park, into the neighborhoods,” Aldrich said. “We’re taking a moment out of life to appreciate the water.”