Notes from a Change Maker: Empowering people to influence local decision-making

HRWC’s Change Makers program empowers community members to become advocates for local policies that protect the environment. The program provides resources, training, and support to individuals interested in running for local office, joining their zoning board, or influencing ordinances that govern land use and development. One such person, Guest Author Kay Stremler, describes her experience as a Change Maker in this blog. It is republished from our Spring 2024 Huron River Report, celebrating HRWC Watershed Ecologist Kris Olsson’s retirement.

A person wearing hiking clothes sits on a large rock.
Kay Stremler is one of HRWC’s Change Makers and has lead numerous water protection efforts on Webster Township’s Planning Commission.

In 2018 I became interested in Webster Township’s land-use policies. I started attending township meetings and was rather overwhelmed by the policies and laws that protect our natural features. So, I jumped at the chance to participate in HRWC’s Change Makers program led by Kris Olsson. She and co-leader Jason Frenzel gave me many new insights into the connections between woods, wetlands, natural areas, and waterways. They helped me understand how engaged citizens, such as myself, play a critical role in creating local land use policies.

It seems that everybody knows Kris. Whether at our Township Master Plan visioning session with residents, Township Board meetings, or talking with volunteers in the watershed, Kris patiently shares her expertise and listens to all. Her efforts over the decades have played a key role in protecting the Huron River and water quality throughout the watershed.

Guiding Master Planning and Zoning Ordinances

Kris does not include pressure with her guidance. Rather, she is realistic and understands that each community context is somewhat different. She understands our community and environmental landscape. She appreciates small steps towards larger goals.

For three decades at HRWC Kris has been providing customized input and feedback for our community Master Plans and Zoning Ordinances. We also appreciate that Kris proactively provides key information to inform land use decisions, such as gravel road capacities, impervious surface impacts, and green infrastructure planning. Kris has substantially supported our community efforts to protect natural features including waterways, which in turn supports our community goals to retain rural character and the long-term sustainability of small farms.

In 2018 Kris and Jason revamped and reinvigorated the HRWC Change Makers Program. Through analysis and exploration during the Change Makers Master Plan workshop, I gained critical knowledge that helped prepare me for our own community Master Planning process. The Change Makers program has reached over 100 people directly, and these participants pass on their knowledge and these resources with others, further expanding Kris’s impact.

Forming a Natural Features Committee

Most recently, Kris has supported our community process to create a citizen-led committee focused on educating and engaging residents about natural features in our Township. She shared the goals and activities of other HRWC-led groups, which helped us define the focus for our newly formed Webster Township Natural Features Committee.

Kris’s legacy carries forward in the watershed through the environmental concepts and policies she has shared, as well as in the people she has influenced deeply.

—Kay Stremler, Huron River Natural River District and Webster Township resident

HRWC asks you to please consider contributing to the Watershed Resilience Endowment Fund and join Kris’s fight for the protection of our watershed and river forever. Help us honor Kris’s thirty-one-year legacy as she retires from HRWC.