A stop at the northbound I-75 rest area just south of Grayling this weekend reminded me of something most people don’t know about.

An historical marker at the rest area educates travelers on the remarkable recovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler. The warbler, which ought to be a Michigan‘s official state bird, since the bulk of its global population spends summers here, has become almost abundant by recent standards as a result of long-term habitat management and predator control. It’s another of those globally significant success stories Michigan once specialized in.

The sign is part of a chain of historical markers dedicated to conservation and environmental protection. The Michigan Environmental Council has background information on the Michigan Conservation Trail and the first three markers here.

Perhaps the most important piece of information in the MEC presentation is this: “Michigan’s environmental leaders are the people.”

One can’t think of conservation history without reflecting on how our predecessors succeeded in the Herculean task of reforming laws, cracking down on the worst pollution, and saving some of the most spectacular places.  Citizens, not solons.

By contrast, today, even the most fervent citizen lobbying activities to restore Lake Erie are having almost no impact on politicians even after the Toledo drinking water emergency of 2014. It’s remarkable.

Last week’s repugnant bloom in the Maumee River was impossible to ignore.  But odds are it will not result in major policy change.  Why is that?  I credit the sophistication of corporate communications and the diffusion of public opinion.  More on these in upcoming posts.

The point for now is that in 50 years we may not be able to put up historical markers commemorating individual environmental achievements for the common good.   Will the trail end?