VOICES: Conservation district administrator talks about environment

THE PERFECT JOB: Jordan DeVries has always loved the outdoors which is why he works as an ad-ministrator at the Mason-Lake Conservation District. (Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

SCOTTVILLE — As a child growing up in Saugatuck, Jordan DeVries loved spending time on Lake Michigan. Now, at the age of 28, his love of the outdoors has not waned. DeVries still enjoys spending his free time hiking, kayaking or canoeing; anything to spend time outdoors.

Appreciating nature is not only a hobby for DeVries, it also has penetrated most of his professional life, which includes his current job as the administrator and a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program technician at the Mason-Lake Conservation District.

After deciding to pursue a degree in fisheries biology from Grand Valley State University, DeVries became a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and was a founding member and president of GVSU’s first environmental club. After college, he started an organic landscaping company and worked for a composting company, among other jobs, before accepting the position at the conservation district a couple months ago.

Last week, The Pioner sat down with DeVries to speak to him about his passion for environmental advocacy and the unique way he spends windy days on Lake Michigan.

 

PIONEER: What made you purse a degree in fisheries biology?

DEVRIES: When I started school, I was doing pre-med. I was a lifeguard down in Saugatuck, and we had a couple days one summer when the E. coli level spiked so high that we had to keep everybody out of the water. It was in the middle of August so everyone wanted to be in the water. We had to tape off the beach. They could go on the beach, but they weren’t allowed within 10 feet of the water because the E. coli levels were so high.

That was between my freshman and sophomore year of college. (The event) was close to home and not just something you hear about. I had grown up on the Kalamazoo River and spent a lot of time outdoors, but I guess I never thought it would be something that would directly impact me like that. So then I got really interested in it.

 

How did you come to form GVSU’s first environmental club?

DEVRIES: I was actually in the Soil and Water Conservation Society student group, and we were doing stuff like ravine clean ups, roadside pick ups and advocacy, but a lot of it was tied to soil and water. We had some professors who worked with us in that group. One day, this professor was like, “Well you guys know that there is this big trash heap dump on the north end of the ravines on campus?” And we were like, “No way.” So we hiked out there and it was estimated there was 100 tons of trash. There were old cars, refrigerators and washers and dryers. … So we were like, “We have got to do something about this.”

It turned out that because the Soil and Water Conservation Society was working more closely with groundwater and everything, they really didn’t want to get into the environmental side of it. We petitioned the president of the school to let us down (in the ravine) to clean it up and then try to get funding for it. So we formed this other group that would be able to do that.

We did a lot of programs with off-campus recycling that we got established at Grand Valley, and we did a lot of environmental awareness. We also are a founding a group, and I sort of helped get Grand Valley involved, with the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition. Basically, (the group) is students from every school in the state, but it started out with just Grand Valley, Michigan State (University), University of Michigan and Central (Michigan University). We did a lot of work for environmental advocacy. We also did some work with getting schools to support renewable energy purchases, we had a little bit of success with that, and getting our respective presidents to sign on with green building for our campuses.

We ended up doing these big ravine clean ups. We would get all these student volunteer groups (to participate). We would get like 200 kids at a time. Eventually we got the school on board and they got a big crane out there and they lifted the heavy stuff out (of the ravine).

 

When you have time off, how do you like to spend your day?

DEVRIES: When the wind is blowing, I am out on Lake Michigan. I surf on Lake Michigan. I go out pretty much anytime except June through August when it is flat.

 

So you are mainly out there when the water is cold?

DEVRIES: Oh yeah, I have a wetsuit. It’s really not cold, unless you have a bad fall and your wetsuit flushes. I can overheat in a wetsuit, when the sun is out and beating on your back. On a stormy, gray and cloudy day — which is usually the days that we are out — you’re pretty good. But on those sunny days, even if the water is 30 degrees, you can overheat in your wetsuit.

 

Can you share a memorable surfing story?

DEVRIES: The one that is most popular is the one where a friend and me rescued a dog that got swept off the pier in Grand Haven. That one was all over the news. It actually aired on CNN. Someone got video of us rescuing the dog and it ended up airing on CNN. … We put (the dog) on our surfboards and rode a wave in to bring him in. A big wave came along and pulled the leash out of (the owner’s hand), and the next thing you knew, the dog was in the water with 10-foot waves.

 

Did you surf when remnants of Hurricane Sandy traveled over Michigan?

DEVRIES: Yeah, I surfed that day. Twenty-one-foot waves. It doesn’t really get that big, but everyone thinks it does. What ends up happening is the wind, after about 30 to 35 knots, just ends up being too strong for the waves and it blows the waves over.

 

What would you be doing if you weren’t working for the Conservation District?

DEVRIES: I would like to be doing something with urban farming. Not even necessarily urban, but something with local agriculture and make some push into improving the local food culture.

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