MaddieMy name is Madeline Caldwell, and I’m on the Great Lakes and Sustainability team at Shedd Aquarium.

My introduction to the Great Lakes was at my family’s summer cottage in Grand Haven, right on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Growing up, I spent every summer at our cottage; I played for hours on the beach, building sandcastles, swimming and body surfing.  

Maddie and familyEvery day at the lake had a new adventure or lesson to offer: I saw the bounty of the lake when I first learned to fish on the Grand Haven pier; I understood the power of the lake when I first experienced an undertow (or the dreaded “undertoad” as my sisters and I used to call it); I observed its vulnerability upon learning that zebra mussels were not really pretty sea shells, but rather a troublesome invasive species damaging the health of the lake. I witnessed its beauty as the waves turned hundreds of shades of brilliant colors in reflection of the setting sun every night. I felt like the lake was an escape from the “real world,” and it was time I could spend with my family, relaxed and carefree.

As I got older, my love for the Great Lakes expanded. Family trips to Mackinaw Island (in northern Michigan) and camping in the Upper Peninsula opened my eyes to the vastness and diversity of the Great Lakes region. I soon began to understand the true significance of this amazing resource—it wasn’t just a playground, but the basis of an economy, the nation’s largest supply of fresh water, an entire ecosystem full of rare and beautiful wildlife—something to be valued and protected.

SunsetEvery spring as I walk down our boardwalk to the beach for the first time in the season, I am shocked by how much the beach can change and by how much the lake levels have receded since the previous year. Watching this change instills a sense of urgency and importance for protecting the Great Lakes and all of the life that calls it home. This understanding was a key influence in my decision to major in environmental studies in college and to pursue a Great Lakes-focused career.

One of the best parts of my job is taking part in our Great Lakes Action Days (GLADs). Not only is it nice to spend a day outdoors, but it’s great to be able to make a positive and visible impact on the health of our environment. If you're passionate about the Great Lakes, looking to give back to the community, or even just looking for an excuse to get outdoors, please join us in a day of restoration and fun at our next GLAD! Whether it is clearing trash off of a beach or pulling pesky invasive plant species from a prairie, they provide an opportunity to connect with the Great Lakes, meet new friends and give back to this amazing resource that has given us so much. 

Maddie Caldwell, Great Lakes and sustainability