- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Many area residents keep the Grand Traverse Bay close - in proximity, in heart.

But there’s only one official Grand Traverse Baykeeper, and that’s John Nelson. For a little longer, anyway.

Nelson, 72, will retire his position as The Watershed Center’s Baykeeper at the end of the year, the Traverse City Record-Eagle (http://bit.ly/1JlneJM ) reported. The former science teacher has held the job since its creation in 2002 after The Watershed Center joined the Waterkeeper Alliance, a grassroots organization with more than 240 waterkeepers worldwide.

“Everybody in the watershed is as much a Baykeeper as I am,” Nelson said. “They understand that the water is the reason they live up here and 99.9 percent of them do the right thing.”

Baykeeper job duties include advocating for the preservation and protection of Grand Traverse Bay and educating the public on important water-related issues. Nelson is a “visible” part of their group’s mission to uphold the Clean Water Act, said Christine Crissman, The Watershed Center’s executive director.

“He fields calls from homeowners, comments on our behalf at public meetings,” Crissman said. “We’re trying to learn everything we can from John before he goes.”

Nelson’s family has lived in the Leelanau County region for five generations. After earning a master’s degree in Science Education from the University of Michigan, Nelson served five active years in the U.S. Navy and an additional 15 years in the Naval Air Reserve while teaching in Maine. But he couldn’t forget the bay he grew up on and returned to Traverse City in 1997.

The Watershed Center will begin the search for a new Baykeeper in January 2016. His replacement won’t only have the technical knowledge required for the job, but also the personality for it, Crissman said.

“We need someone who understands the Clean Water Act, can drive a boat . things like that,” Crissman said. “But John has shown us that we also need someone who is outgoing and well-spoken.”

Nelson adds another requirement: a deep, sincere love for the land and the water that surrounds it.

“Whomever is Baykeeper has to have a passionate love for the region,” Nelson said. “This is such a special, unique and iconic bay and they have to understand that.”

The Watershed Center staff is going to be one of the things he’ll miss most about his job. But he’s not going too far - Nelson plans on staying involved with The Watershed Center and the Waterkeeper Alliance post-retirement.

“I’m going to stay in touch and stay involved through the board of directors,” Nelson said. “I’m not going to just totally go away.”

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, http://www.record-eagle.com

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