Grants from the Milwaukee-based Fund for Lake Michigan have helped create over 800 news jobs in Wisconsin and boosted property values by $131 million, according to a new report.
The study from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater also showed $65 million in added economic activity from grants delivered by the fund in its first five years.
“Money invested through the Fund for Lake Michigan is an investment in the community, and our analysis shows the return on that investment is extremely high,” said Russ Kashian, UW-Whitewater professor of economics and lead author of the study.
Since its establishment in 2011, the Fund for Lake Michigan has provided $15 million grants to over 200 different projects throughout Wisconsin.
So far in 2016 the Fund for Lake Michigan has awarded $2.35 million in private grants to 31 projects aimed at improving water quality at beaches, reducing polluted runoff into waterways and restoring habitat.
Eleven of the projects directly impact the Lake Michigan coastline and near shore areas from Kenosha to Green Bay.
Project highlights include restoring popular swimming beaches such as Blue Rail Beach in Manitowoc, Eichelman Beach in Kenosha, and Bay Beach in Green Bay. Pollution forced the original swimming beach at Bay Beach Amusement Park to close more than 70 years ago, but thanks to recent investments in water quality in the Bay the beach is now safe for swimming.
Fisheries are also getting help from the fund this year. One grant will help Milwaukee County construct a rock ramp fishway at the dam in Kletzsch Park along the Milwaukee River, opening up fish passage to 25 miles of Milwaukee River, 29 miles of tributary streams and 2,400 acres of upstream wetland. Another award will support spawning Steelhead, Chinook and Coho salmon in Willow Creek in Sheboygan County.
With an eye toward maximizing future investments in fisheries, the fund for Lake Michigan and the Nature Conservancy are using a tool developed at the Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison that prioritizes the barrier removals that will have the biggest impact on fish populations.
“Fisheries are a tangible indicator of the health of Wisconsin’s waters and vital to our tourism industry and economic development. Monitoring the health of our fisheries and maintaining the habitat and water quality necessary to support fish and other aquatic species is a wise investment today and for future generations,” says Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin.
This most recent round of Fund for Lake Michigan grants builds on earlier successes and leverages an additional $7.7 million in federal, local, and private dollars, reinforcing Lake Michigan as an environmental treasure and economic powerhouse.
“We recognize that a healthy Lake Michigan environment and robust economy go hand in hand. These long-term investments will generate returns decades and centuries from now. We’re already seeing significant and valuable gains in beach accessibility and safety, water quality, habitat, and community revitalization,” said Steve Galarneau, Director of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resurces Office of the Great Lakes.