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Longtime environmental advocate to be honored at Superior event

Superior City Councilor Bob Browne has a favorite saying: "Water is life. And the quality of water determines the quality of life." And the longtime "environmental conscience" of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, as friends call him, will be ho...

Bob Browne
Bob Browne addresses the crowd during the 2007 Lake Superior Day event in Superior. Browne, a driving force behind the annual Superior celebration, is being honored Sunday during the event he founded. (Photo courtesy of the Lake Superior Binational Forum)

Superior City Councilor Bob Browne has a favorite saying: "Water is life. And the quality of water determines the quality of life."

And the longtime "environmental conscience" of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, as friends call him, will be honored this weekend for his

advocacy at an event he championed.

Browne will be recognized for his efforts during the 10th annual Lake Superior Day on Barker's Island in Superior. The annual event, featuring food, music, kids' activities, vendors, art, student performances and informational booths, runs 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Barker's Island Pavilion.

The event also features half-price tours of the SS Meteor and free canoeing with University of Wisconsin-Superior Adventures.

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The Lake Superior Binational Forum recognizes local stewards at 1 p.m., followed by the blessing of the fleet at 1:15 p.m. Recreational and pleasure boaters are invited to decorate their boats and line up by 1 p.m. for the blessing.

The Rev. Leon Flaherty, an organizer of the blessing, told Wisconsin Public Radio that Bayfield has held a blessing for mariners for about 30 years, but he was not aware of any organized effort in Superior before now.

The forum planned to surprise Browne with the honors, including a proclamation from Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen declaring Sunday Lake Superior and Bob Browne Day in Superior, but Browne is in ill health in a hospital in Minneapolis, said Lissa Radke, U.S. coordinator for the Lake Superior Binational Forum. She said the organization, which guides policy and outreach for matters concerning Lake Superior in cooperation with a Canadian delegation, still plans to honor Browne's work even though he is unlikely to attend.

After all, it was Browne who championed Lake Superior Day and launched the first community get-together to honor the lake in Superior.

While a couple of groups celebrated a Lake Superior Day in the 1990s, Radke said "it was Bob who said we really need to set aside a day to celebrate and promote it regionwide."

The third Sunday in July was set aside to recognize the region's connection to Lake Superior, and Browne picked up the baton to create a celebration in Superior and Douglas County.

"Bob held the first program in Superior on Wisconsin Point in 2004, where he organized a drumming group and sunrise service and a beach cleanup, and arranged for local dignitaries to come," Radke said. "And he had free food donated by local businesses. And then for the next five years he organized a citywide event with free food and games for kids."

The Superior celebration is now the longest-running Lake Superior Day event, Radke said.

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Now, Lake Superior Day is celebrated regionally, with events held during the week leading up to Lake Superior Day including events in Duluth and along the North Shore.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, the Duluth Port Authority sponsors a showing of the "Mysteries of the Great Lakes," in the Underground movie theater at the Depot, 506 W. Michigan St., Duluth. Premiered in IMAX theaters around the country in 2009, the Science North Production takes audiences on a tour of the Great Lakes, including segments of Lake Superior.

Bruce Lindgren, U.S. chairman of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, said he first met Browne more than 10 years ago when Lindgren joined the forum in 2003. Browne joined the panel in 1998.

"He's been a really strong advocate for all our efforts with sustainability," Lindgren said. "He was deeply involved with our adoption of the natural step as one of the ways of characterizing sustainability. And over the years, he has -- more than anyone -- recognized the need for the forum to engage youth."

It's an approach Browne engaged in local government as well, giving youth a voice on the Superior City Council and Douglas County Board in 2003.

Then, Browne said gaining perspective from the community's youth could be beneficial.

"I see so many times we don't consider youth in our decisions, and they're our future leaders and taxpayers," said Browne, a Douglas County Board supervisor in 2003. "Just because we're older, that doesn't make us smarter."

Lindgren said Browne always has been the one to underscore the environmental issues in the work the forum does.

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For Browne, it was always about leaving the planet in good shape seven generations from now. He long advocated for ecological economic development and ideas that would have minimal impact on the environment.

Lindgren said Browne's involvement in the forum and local government, and the annual Superior Days lobbying effort only reflect a portion of the man to be honored Sunday.

"He is just so committed to the community and the ecology of the Lake Superior basin," Lindgren said. "It's important to honor him. ... He is everybody's best friend. His heart is so big, and he never hesitates to help people out when they need it."

Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Jessica Hamilton contributed to this report.

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