Cindy Overmyer
pedestrian, cyclist, kayaker, environmentalist
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 13 December 2007
Temperature: 30 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: snow-dusted
Wind: SSW at 7mph

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TT with HD: Cindy Overmyer

Matt Naud Argo Dam Teeter Totter
Totter 2.0 on location: Argo Dam

[Ed. note: While HD was setting up Totter 2.0, CO walked past Argo Dam on her way to the NEW Center for a Stewardship Network cluster. At HD's invitation, she stopped back by on her return trip for a ride.]

HD: Hey, welcome to the teeter totter!

CO: Thank you!

HD: You know, I have to say, thank you so much for climbing aboard, knowing so little about this enterprise!

CO: [laugh] Well, you don't see a teeter totter very often anymore.

HD: Not out in the wild.

CO: No.

HD: And we are certainly sort of here in the wild out by Argo Dam. So, is this a place you walk by with some frequency?

CO: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I come out here with my bicycle a lot. I'm out with my kayak quite bit.

HD: Oh, really?

CO: Yeah. I stay healthy distance away from the dam. But you still come right up to it--about to the railroad trestle, and that's about as far as you want to go in a boat.

HD: So you don't go right up to those orange pontoon things?

CO: No. I suppose you could, especially in summer when the river is slow, but I wouldn't want to chance my luck that much.

HD: So how long does your kayak season last? I mean, you wouldn't be out like today, for example, in your kayak, would you?

CO: If I had the right gear, I probably could. I know people who go out on a New Year's Day paddle as long as the river is not iced over.

HD: Really!

CO: But they have the very fancy and the very high-tech gear, the dry-suits and the ...

HD: ... like that neoprene and whatnot?

CO: Yeah, and I don't have that kind of thing, so. I'd generally start going out in March if the weather is warm enough, and I quit right around now.

HD: Yesterday might have been a decent day.

CO: Yes, it would have been. And it is interesting to see the river in the winter, because the bones of the hills are visible, and the trees have lost their leaves and the snow dusts a little bit, and you can actually see the hills and their structure.

HD: Yeah, today would actually be a great day to look at stuff like that with the dusting we got. I was looking at the weather forecast and it seemed like it was going to be a real slog through the wet slop, but we didn't seem to get as much as they forecast.

CO: The weather forecasts, they tend to be kind of overblown for this area in the last few years.

HD: You know, I think I have noticed that trend as well! So maybe it's not just me. My theory on that is that they are afraid of a under-hyping--they are more prepared to deal with people who might complain that it didn't turn out to be as bad as they said, than if people say, Hey, why didn't you warn us that there was this huge ice storm coming?

CO: Yeah, I suppose. I suppose that's part of it. You have these forecasts that are based on either statewide radar or statewide stuff, but it doesn't take into consideration the geography and geology of a specific area. My mother did the same thing. She called me yesterday from Minnesota, and she had been watching the news and seeing all these pictures of the ice storms in Oklahoma, and Iowa, and she gets the Detroit News and Free Press online, and she looks at it and the headline is: Ice Wreaks Havoc on Roads! I said, Mom, that's fine, but again, that's Detroit's weather, that's the metro area's weather, that isn't our weather. And it just isn't that bad here. The Great Lakes mediate a lot of that--for most of this part of the state, anyway.

HD: So where do you get your weather information, mostly?

CO: I listen to the radio reports on WUOM or WEMU, and then I take it kind of with a grain of salt, so to speak, because again, the Ann Arbor area is kind of a bowl and it's quite protected, if you don't have to go too far out. So, I just look at it and say, Okay, well, it'll be slippery on Zeeb Road or something, but in town it will be fine.

HD: So, when you passed by here earlier you said--I guess I was confused because you mentioned that you were going to the NEW Center and I just assumed that you worked there, but ...

CO: ... no, it was for a Stewardship Council meeting. Part of the Stewardship Network that NAP and all these other areas belong to--they have a lot of meetings online that you can tap into about land preservation and about wilderness and land- parks-management. And then they also have these Stewardship Network Clusters--where you just go and sit with a bunch of people over bagels at Brueggers in the morning on Tuesdays, or out here over lunch. And you just sit and talk about your problems with maybe how to use a pesticide or an herbicide. Or if you have a park in your neighborhood, how you get people involved in working in it, and that kind of thing. It's very informal sessions, and they're fun! You meet a lot of nice people that way.

HD: So these meetings, in both locations the Brueggers Bagels and at the NEW Center, is that something the NEW Center is actually sponsoring, and making happen?

CO: I don't think that the NEW Center does anything except provide the venue. But the Stewardship Network, when it got started about two or three years ago, I believe, they met in the NEW Center, and the NEW Center sponsored them for a little while. At least, that's what I remember. So it's the other venue if you don't want to meet at a restaurant. [laugh]

HD: So, the Stewardship Network is a non-profit in its own right, then?

CO: Yes.

HD: Okay. So, it's not kind of like an arm of the NEW Center or something like that.

CO: No, I believe--now I don't know if this is right--but my impression is that it sprang up because the areas that NAP and the City would do for parks stewardship, the City was trying to move its way out of the funding of it--and NAP particularly, the Leslie Science Center, same way--they have all become sort of independent, non-profit organizations.

HD: Yeah, Leslie Science Center was spun off just this last year, right?

CO: Mmm hmm. Yes.

HD: Whatever 'spin off' means. It's easy to say, Ah, it was spun off! But if you said, Dave, now what is that mean exactly, to spin something off? Beyond the City of Ann Arbor doesn't pay for it anymore, I'm not sure what I could say what that means.

CO: That was, I think, the biggest thing. Again, because I belong to these things, but I'm not in the organization of them, I don't really know all the formal ramifications of 'spinning off'. But I do know they don't get City money anymore. And they knew that might happen, so they decided to incorporate, and prepare for it by becoming their own non-profit.

HD: So, how long a walk did you have this morning to get over here?

CO: Oh, about 25 minutes.

HD: Wow, okay. So, I mean, that's not a trivial walk.

CO: No, but it's not too bad. You know, this is sort of my lunch hour. And I work up at the North Ingalls Building. We're just up the hill from here, so it's not that far.

HD: Now, the North Ingalls Building, is that a University building?

CO: Yeah, it is now. It used to be the old St. Joe's Hospital.

HD: Okay, alright. So, you are festively attired today, I think it's fair to say.

CO: Yes! For the holidays!

HD: Indeed. Is it a fair assumption to make that you celebrate Christmas?

CO: Yeah, I do.

HD: You looking forward to getting anything this year? I mean, is there anything you have your heart set on that you're really hoping that somebody you know will actually have the sense to give you?

CO: [laugh] Yeah, I have my heart set on a lot of things, but most of the time I don't get them. [laugh] So, not particularly. I just would like to have been able to go visit my family, but it didn't work out.

HD: And where do they live?

CO: They live in Minnesota. So it didn't work out, I'll have to go visit them later in the year. But one of the things that I did and do want for Christmas is just to be with friends. And that's worked out. I've got friends inviting me to various places ...

HD: ... so you've got a holiday schedule plotted out?

CO: Yeah, yeah. Because with everybody getting the break, it's about the only time during the year you have to see each other.

HD: So, I was given a flask--you know those vest flasks for brandy or whatever?

CO: Oh, yeah!

HD: They have a nice curve--a few months ago for my birthday. And what I noticed was it's very hard to fill.

CO: Yes!

HD: You absolutely have to have a funnel or a pipet or something. So I was hoping that this obvious gap in my needs would be noticed.

CO: [laugh] [laugh]

HD: And that this would be given to me as a Christmas present. Just to make sure, I went as far as to actually say so out loud. And I was informed that I was getting something else for Christmas. So I think I'm just going to have to go to--I don't know where ... [Ed. note: the gap, and the flask, have now been filled through some kind of pre-Christmas miracle.]

CO: ... probably the hardware store ...

HD: ... yeah, I was gonna say the hardware store. I don't know where you get a funnel that tiny, though. I don't know that I have seen any hardware store carry something that tiny.

CO: Well, that Ace Hardware that used to be--the one that's by Arbor Farms on Stadium--they have been notorious for having just about anything you could possibly want. So I'd bet you could find one there.

HD: Actually, my preferred hardware store is Stadium Hardware, but for this kind of thing in particular, I think you're right, that probably I would have a better shot at it, going to Ace first. Because they have the whole housewares department.

CO: Well, they have so much stuff in there, and it's a great hardware store, because it's got something for everybody.

HD: Their new store, which is not that old really, right ... ?

CO: No, it's only a couple years old.

HD: Yeah, it feels a whole lot less cramped than their old location.

CO: Now, is your flask one of those calfskin ones?

HD: Oh, no! It's metal, it's stainless steel, so it's like this brushed silver. I really like this flask. But now I'm really geeked to actually use it. I want to be in a social context where I can just sort of nonchalantly reach in and and grab it ...

CO: ... and whip out your flask!

HD: And offer somebody a snort.

CO: [laugh] Just like in Prohibition!

HD: Well, you know, Matt Naud and I were just talking about Argo Dam and its future and I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on that. Just a gut reaction to the idea of removing that dam?

CO: Yeah, my gut reaction is, Man, where is that water going to go? What will it do? And I'm thinking, because I'm on the river a lot, and I see it from the water, it might be good for the river to do it.

HD: It might be good as a kayaker, it would give you something more interesting to do then float along a pond. I mean, I don't think it's going to be like white water rapids or anything really like that kind of challenge, but maybe a little more interest just flat water like it currently is.

CO: I'm kind of torn, really, honestly. Even as an environmentalist, because it might be better for the river, but this is such a beautiful place. This open water is very pretty, and a lot of people use it. I mean, the rowing kids use it. It's just a big open space in a valley that doesn't have a lot of open space. It isn't all that awful to be on as it is now. So I'm kind of torn, really. Because I really like it like this. It would be interesting to see what it would do. You know, there are stretches of the Huron that are not behind a dam that you can get to if you want a really interesting stretch of river. And as a parks standpoint, I can understand why people are kind of ambivalent about it.

HD: Sure.

CO: But my first thought was, Heck, that's a lot of water, where is it going to go? [laugh] Is it going to cut a new channel?

HD: I sort of figured they will have modeled that appropriately. Matt was actually talking about the kind of 3-D computer simulation and models that they are in the process of putting together and would be putting together, if they were actually to make a decision to take it out. So I would trust that they will have a handle on that. One thing that I don't really accept, I guess, as a valid argument, is that dams aren't natural. Because, human beings, we build them, and human beings are natural. I mean, that's what we do. That's what we feel compelled to do naturally. We want to build stuff like dams, we want to dominate the rest of the environment. I mean, it's not like we're external to the natural environment. We are natural creatures of the environment. I don't think it's fair to just say that dams aren't natural. I think it's fair to say that they are a product of human building, that's for sure. But human building, that's part of nature in some sense, so I don't think it's enough to just say, it's a product of human building, therefore it's not natural, and anything that's not natural needs to go.

CO: Well, sometimes dams show up in places that were narrow anyway. I mean, the dam forms naturally by rocks flopping into a certain twist of the river, or the sediment building up or wherever. And I think perhaps a lot of these dams were put in, when they were built, they looked at the river and a noted places ...

HD: ... so they put them in logical places?

CO: They put in the logical places, yes. So they are not all that foreign. It's just that they are not being used anymore for what they were intended to be used for. And they cost a lot of money to maintain, and it's better to be proactive--you don't want to let it deteriorate to the point where it breaks and then you have an emergency to deal with. But, I don't know, dams, bodies of water, particularly rivers seem to create their own dams, so it's not like a dam is always a foreign obstacle to the water.

HD: Did you follow the story in the paper about the earthen embankment that holds back that race or sluice that's a bit downstream, where I'm pointing.

CO: By the power station?

HD: Right. The DEQ, I'm not even sure what that stands for--do you know? Is it Department of Environmental Quality?

CO: Department of Environmental Quality.

HD: Okay. I guess they have alerted the city of Ann Arbor to the fact that there may be some issues with the toe drains on that earthen embankment that need to be addressed.

CO: Oh?

HD: Yeah.

CO: Yeah, I didn't see that.

HD: There was a big article in the paper, actually, maybe two weeks ago.

CO: I have read on the internet--there are couple of sites that talk about dams that have been removed, and the before and after. There were a couple of them on the Pine River up north.

HD: Huh.

CO: And a couple up in the Upper Peninsula. And actually it did improve the whole landscape and improved the water quality.

HD: By removing the dam?

CO: By removing the dam, yes. Because the Huron, above this dam, is starting to almost silt over. And there's this big wetland that starting to go right out in there, and that is one of the reasons why they're thinking of doing it. Just any change is hard. And it's just hard to imagine what it would be like.

HD: So, are there coworkers back at the--is it the North Ingalls Building?

CO: Mmm hmm.

HD: Who are going to ask you, So, what took you so long?

CO: [laugh] Today?

HD: Yeah.

CO: Maybe. Maybe not. You know, we've got holidays, people have already left ...

HD: ... yeah, so you've got people zipping out and then coming back in doing holiday errands and what not?

CO: Our schedule is relatively flexible, so I can go back and work now for the rest of the afternoon. And I don't think anybody will mind that much.

HD: So, do you have anything on your plate at work that you are especially looking forward to tackling for the rest of the day, or maybe especially dreading?

CO: No, I helped put together the department's Christmas party, the holiday party, that was yesterday. Or two days ago, yeah, today's Thursday.

HD: So it's post-party let-down?

CO: Yeah, it was a lot of work, and a lot of fun.

HD: Yeah? Was there singing involved?

CO: No, no, we didn't sing.

HD: Imbibing of alcohol?

CO: No, we're not allowed to do that.

HD: Okay, then, you're going to have to convince me that it was fun.

CO: Yeah, we had it during the day, and on the University property and you can't have alcohol. But we did have a good time. We had a little gift exchange and a big pot luck. We had probably about 50 people.

HD: 50 people contributed to the pot luck?? Wow.

CO: Yeah.

HD: So, what it you make?

CO: Made quiche. Quiche Lorraine. And the real men even ate it!

HD: [laugh]

CO: So that was a lot of fun. The decorations are still up. We're going to leave them up for little while longer so that we can enjoy them.

HD: Oh, yeah!

CO: After that, I feel like I don't really have that much more to do, so I can take a little break.

HD: Well, that's good. So is there anything else you wanted to make sure that we talked about here on the teeter totter, that you wanted to make sure you got it on the record on the teeter totter?

CO: On the teeter totter record. Well, it's just that there are so many beautiful natural areas around Ann Arbor, and I've been involved in one way or another in many different ways in trying to keep them natural. And it's a good fight. It's just a good thing to do, because you don't realize it when you stay here for while, until other people come, and they say, Wow, look at the woods here, look at the river here, oh, this is so beautiful! And, We don't have anything like this where I come from. So again, is just something that's real important to keep on keeping on with that stuff, even though it gets kind of daunting, when every one says they don't have any money, or you're going to your umteen-millionth Council meeting.

HD: Is that something you do on regular basis? Actually physically attend Council meetings?

CO: I have done that. I have had to cut back in the last few years, because I've had other things going on. But in the past I have done that.

HD: You ever watch them on CTN?

CO: Yes.

HD: So, do you have a digital television already? Or are you going to have to get one of those converters? Because you know, they are switching the channels to a different number ...

CO: I'll have to get the converter, I think. I don't watch that much network television. I have all these TV's, but I usually just watch video and DVD's. But I'll get the converter, because my TV is still good for a while. But yeah, I do watch them. Not as regularly as I used to, but I do watch them. And it helps to go to them every once in a while.

HD: I most likely will turn the meeting on when it starts [7pm], but once regular network programming comes around 8 o'clock, I will be toggling back and fourth. And typically, you know, you toggle back to the Council meeting and you think, Oh, my god, are they still talking about that?? You've got to be kidding me?!

CO: Yeah, it's a major time commitment, because although people do watch on TV, it's the bodies present that draw attention to certain things.

HD: So you figure that actually has an effect, people being there in the audience, not necessarily speaking at the public commentary?

CO: Yeah, just to show up.

HD: Just to be troubled enough to care enough to show up to get out of their easy chair?

CO: What's best, of course, is if they let you speak, but even if they don't--because a lot of times the comment period is very short, and in some instances they pre-select who gets to talk and who doesn't.

HD: Now, I thought that public commentary, you can sign up, and if you signed up then you're guaranteed a slot.

CO: Yes, in the City. I'm thinking of a meeting with the DNR there was a fight to make Pickerel Lake a no-gas-motor lake.

HD: Which Lake?

CO: Pickerel Lake. Off Hankerd Road, in Pinckney Recreation Area. The first preliminary meeting for that was sponsored by the DNR, and they actually made you fill out a slip, and say who you were, and what you thought. And then they picked from the slips instead of looking at people's hands. I don't think the City works that way.

HD: Yeah, the City, it's fairly regimented, actually. If you have something you want to get off your chest, the City here in Ann Arbor, boy, they have a mechanism for you to actually be able to do that.

CO: But it always helps to come, even if you don't get a chance to talk.

HD: I think it's valuable, if people have seen your face, if they have seen you around before, then when you have an issue that you really care about, that you really want them to act on, it's not like you're coming out just because of this issue. You have a track record of general interest. I think maybe that holds more sway. It would certainly hold more sway with me if I were on Council--just putting myself in their position. Oh yeah, I've seen you here since I started serving on Council, I've seen you occasionally there, so I recognize that you care enough to be involved generally, as opposed to just this one thing that you don't want to happen in your particular neighborhood.

CO: Yeah.

HD: Well, listen, thank you very much for riding!

CO: Oh, thank you for having me!

HD: I had no idea I was going to actually complete two teeter totter rides today. But golly, now I have a lot of work to do transcribing!

CO: [laugh] Well, thank you for the opportunity.