By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 14, 2004 at 5:41 AM

{image1}The Great Lakes are important to Barbara Spring. Not just because she enjoys living near them, but because they also provide the inspiration for her work. Spring is a writer and the lakes have been the focus of her two very different works, published by Independence Books.

"The Dynamic Great Lakes" is a non-fiction look at the always-evolving system of lakes that includes Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, "The Wilderness Within" is a book of poems and travel stories that draw inspiration from the Great Lakes, as well as far-flung locales like Mexico, Africa and the Galapagos.

"The Great Lakes have inspired me many times," Spring says from her home in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I wrote my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes because I love these lakes so much. I want people to learn about them and feel empowered to do something where there is a problem. After all, water is life.

"I just returned from a trip to Traverse City, Mich. I woke up early and the sky was a rosy hue and the lake reflected the deep pink of the sky. A little later we saw an eagle standing on a sand bar, and then a swan and several wading birds. Later in the day we watched lake trout spawning on the rocks near shore. The lake is deep aqua blue then deep marine blue farther out. Such beauty and abundance of life inspire. The inspiration may result in a poem, an essay, a painting or a book."

A teacher and journalist, Spring has learned a lot about the lakes over the years, especially through research for "The Dynamic Great Lakes." So, what does she think about all the recent sewage dumping issues here in Milwaukee?

"The lakes will not be able to cleanse themselves of sudden sewage overflows for quite a long time," she says. "We need to help by upgrading our municipal systems. This is a serious health problem for drinking water and even contact with the lake by swimmers, jet skiers and the like. We have the same problem here in Grand Haven where the Grand River empties out into Lake Michigan with the effluent from Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan overflowing during heavy rains.

"Grand Rapids needs to separate storm and sanitary sewers so this does not happen. Also, the holding tank at the sewage plant was not built large enough to take care of the outfall from heavy rains. I believe Milwaukee needs to do the same. People need to let their local governments, state government and congressmen and representatives in Washington know that money should be spent on infrastructure for water since this is a serious health threat. There have been deaths."

In fact, according to Spring, we are the greatest threat to the long-term health of the Great Lakes.

"Pollution," she says is the culprit. "Both municipal wastes, agricultural wastes from large scale farming operations, and the toxic wastes from industries. The Davis Besse plant on Lake Erie came close to a melt down and nuclear power plants produce waste that could destroy the greatest freshwater system on this planet for untold generations. There are several nuclear power plants on Lake Michigan that are aging. Their wastes should not be stored anywhere that they could get into the water. Presently nuclear waste is stored on our shores.

"We need better oversight of nuclear power plants as well as a clean up of other wastes that threaten the health of all living things. People need to work on their local level as well as state and federal levels to make things happen. Go to meetings. Speak out. Nothing will happen if citizens do not get involved."

Despite more than a century of man abusing Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, Spring sees hope for the future.

"The Great Lakes inspire by their majestic presence," she says. "Nature has given us much. We need to care for what we are given or it will be taken away. It's not too late to do whatever it takes to preserve them for generations to come."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.