Leadership, like the outdoors, is never out of season

My 9-year-old asked me to pull our bikes off the winter bike hooks in the garage this past Saturday, marking the passage of another season and inadvertently leading to another weekend of youngsters reminding me of life’s important lessons.

Lorena and a friend wanted to go to the library and accidentally rode off with no locks and no adult supervision. When overly-protective dad couldn’t find the two girls until about 20 minutes later, I scolded them a little too roundly, accusing them of not having been where they said would.

It turns out they had been, but finished so quickly – returning and checking out items, then apparently reaching 9-year-old boredom thresholds – that they headed back home. Their dismay at the unfair scolding was evident, so I sought forgiveness with ice cream at Emy J’s.

There, they couldn’t decide whether to sit inside or out, or just to leave, and literally were walking around in circles, ice cream in hand.  After ignoring my request to show decision-making skill, they were stuck with my choice of table and – even worse – the inappropriately adult conversation topic of leadership, probably sealing their view of me as weird dad.

I couldn’t help it. The leadership of young people and others had been on my mind, particularly after the nationwide school walkouts earlier in the week.

It’s a bit early to worry about my daughter’s leadership skills, but never too early to teach them. And even though I don’t view leadership through the lens of gender, I realize that it’s good for my daughter to be aware of female role models, so I’ve been thinking about a couple of those who are tied to outdoor recreation.

One is long gone but leaves a legacy as sturdy as an alligator’s hide. Another is with us now in Stevens Point and deserves more credit for efforts to make the community a more attractive place for folks of all ages to work and live.

The first is Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a name most Americans have heard in the last month and namesake for the Parkland, Florida, high school where our latest mass shooting tragedy occurred. Not many, though, would recognize Douglas as the person perhaps most responsible for the creation of Everglades National Park.

A Minnesotan by birth who had a relatively privileged but still difficult childhood, Douglas became a Miami Herald society columnist in 1915, a Red Cross volunteer in Europe during World War I, and eventually a freelance writer and activist in both social and environmental issues.

Her book River of Grass, published in 1947, was crucial in galvanizing support for creation of the Everglades, and Douglas’ work has been compared in environmental importance to that of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring.

Douglas passed in 1998 at the age of 108, and it’s apt that the school named after her as become a wellspring of social activism. She might have been “Midwestern nice” by nature, but her tough-minded advocacy is memorialized in both the physical world of South Florida and the courage of young people forcing new discussion on a national issue.

Photo courtesy of Tori Jennings

Fast forward to the here and now, where Stevens Point Alderwoman Tori Jennings does important work promoting health and economic development, partly by advocating for wise transportation policy and infrastructure, especially when it supports biking and walking.

Her work is laudable when some folks in our community still take a backwards approach to these issues, fighting with misdirected stubbornness and misinformed understanding of the links between sustainable lifestyles, health, and economic well-being of communities.

The positive economic impacts of biking, for instance, aren’t surprising news. Bike-supporting infrastructure is cheaper up front than auto-centric systems. It is cheaper to maintain and brings tremendous savings that can be invested elsewhere.

As one example, Copenhagen, Denmark, expects $60 million annually in health savings alone once it finishes a network of 26 cycling “superhighways” throughout the city.

Jennings has taken political heat in Common Council meetings and in area media for supporting positive changes, and often even for making smart political compromises to help us get there. Such compromise is both useful and wise, rather than cause for critique.

Douglas also took heat and ruffled feathers on occasion, yet she persisted and gave us the Everglades. Jennings is doing the same.

That kind of leadership is never out of season.  Even if my daughter and her friends don’t appreciate it much now, I’m convinced they’ll have plenty of opportunity to celebrate it later.


This post originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, edition of The Portage County Gazette.

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