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GLIN==> Great Lakes Commission honors dunes advocate Lee Botts

Title: Great Lakes Commission honors dunes advocate Lee Botts

Contact: Christine Manninen, Great Lakes Commission, 734-971-9135, manninen@glc.org.
Photos available at www.glc.org/announce/07/05bottsphotos.html

Great Lakes Commission honors dunes advocate Lee Botts

Indiana environmental leader Lee Botts, a powerhouse of a woman who played a crucial role in the establishment of one of the nation’s first urban national parks in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, was honored Monday for her contributions on behalf of the dunes and the entire Great Lakes by being presented with Great Lakes Commission Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Truly, Lee Botts is the Lady of the Lake,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, vice chair of the Great Lakes Commission, in introducing her. “Her voice has been a strong advocate for decades. We commend her vigilance and advocacy for the Great Lakes.”

Botts’ other contributions include founding the Lake Michigan Federation, now known as the Alliance for the Great Lakes; working for the Chicago office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and chairing the former Great Lakes Basin Commission, an agency dedicated to the protection of the natural resources of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system.

“It's appropriate on this day after Mother's Day that we honor a woman who has watched over our Great Lakes over the last 50 years,” said presenter Kari Evans, chair of the Indiana Delegation to the Great Lakes Commission. “Lee has nurtured our lakes and taught us all to be responsible stewards of our natural resources and treat them with the respect they deserve.”

Along with the honor, Botts was presented with a $500 donation for the Indiana Dunes Education Center, which she helped establish and is based at the National Lakeshore. The presentation was made at the opening day of the 2007 Semiannual Meeting of the Great Lakes Commission in Indianapolis.

“I see many here that I have worked with in the past and, in some cases, I have disageed with on some issues,” Botts said in receiving the award.  “But we are all truly on the same side because we all want to protect the magnificent Great Lakes… I am honored by this award and will treasure it always.”

Growing up in Oklahoma, Lee only discovered the freshwater coast in the years after WWII when her then-husband attended the University of Chicago through the newly created G.I. Bill. Trips to the Indiana lakeshore quickly became a tradition. To her, the lakefront was more than just a favorite suburban destination. To her it was a resource in desperate need of attention.

In 1959, she joined the newly formed Save the Dunes Council and, as part of the group’s board of directors, became involved in the push for Congress to authorize the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, fighting an uphill battle against a widespread belief at the time that economic necessity dictated the continued industrialization of the Indiana shoreline. She and the rest of the Save the Dunes Council found a loyal ally in Illinois Sen. Paul Douglas, who introduced his first bill to preserve the dunes in 1958 and saw the effort through to the end, when President Lyndon Johnson authorized the lakeshore — one of the country’s first urban national parks — in November 1966.

Lee then continued to crusade for the dunes through her new position in environmental education for the Openlands Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving public open space in and around Chicago. In the spring of 1969, Lee and Openlands Project head Gunnar Peterson held a conference at the University of Chicago for conservationists from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, the four states with Lake Michigan shoreline. All agreed that a single organization was needed to represent the interest of the lake, and the consensus led to the proposal for the Lake Michigan Federation. Lee strongly believed that the Federation’s mission should be to provide information and energize citizens’ groups in the four-state region.

She worked for the Chicago office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1970s, developing support in Congress for the Great Lakes and raising awareness of the need for phosphate detergent bans. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Lee to chair the Great Lakes Basin Commission, an agency dedicated to the protection of the natural resources of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system (later folded into the Great Lakes Commission). In the 1980s, she was offered an appointment at Northwestern University to study toxic contaminants and later served as director and consultant at the City of Chicago’s Department of the Environment.

Although she officially retired to the Indiana dunes in 1990, Lee’s work was far from over. With help from Congressman Pete Visclosky and Sen. Richard Lugar, she began plans for the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center in 1997. The Center, which opened in 1998, is a private, not-for-profit partnership between the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes Environmental Education Consortium. Located within the National Lakeshore, the learning center offers year-round environmental education programs for students — mostly fourth- through sixth-graders — and teachers. More than 5,000 students come to the center each year.

After living within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for 17 years, Lee recently returned her land to the park as part of a lease-back agreement. The Botts family, and hundreds of other families who let go of pieces of the shores in order to make that grander whole possible, are gentle heroes. Their legacy is that untold thousands may come to love these places, too, walk the same trails, play on the same beaches, and love them enough to want to pass them on whole, to their own descendants.

She continues to reside in northwest Indiana.


The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes­St. Lawrence region and its residents.  The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators and agency officials from its eight member states.  Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.”  The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests.  The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Great Lakes Commission

The Hon. John D. Cherry, Jr., Chair; Tim A. Eder, Executive Director

Eisenhower Corporate Park • 2805 S. Industrial Hwy. Suite 100 • Ann Arbor, Michigan • 48104-6791

734-971-9135 • Fax: 734-971-9150 • Web: www.glc.org

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