How are Piping Plovers and petri dishes connected?
In the game “Six Degrees of Separation” players are challenged to find the links between two seemingly unrelated people or things with the fewest steps possible.
In west Michigan, there is a very strong connection between petri dishes and plovers – and the Land Conservancy is right in the middle of it! Here’s how it goes:
- Every year, the migratory and federally endangered Piping Plover visits the shoreline around the Kalamazoo River mouth, resting and feeding at the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area or Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
- Both of these natural areas were created with the help of the Land Conservancy, or as it was known when Saugatuck Dunes State Park dedicated its Natural Area, NACOWMI – the Natural Areas Conservancy of West Michigan.
- One of the founding board members of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan was Dr. Grace Eldering.
- In Grand Rapids in the 1930s, Dr. Eldering and Dr. Pearl Kendrick successfully worked to find a vaccine for whooping cough (pertussis) – and that involved collecting and studying “cough samples” from children with the disease – and plating them on petri dishes.
Dr. Grace Eldering: Founder of a vaccine and our land trust
Not long ago, there was a wonderful article on MLive about the two women scientists.
I immediately recognized Dr. Eldering’s name from the Land Conservancy’s articles of incorporation, but I had no idea that she was such a remarkable woman.
I called up John Will, who was responsible for pulling together the founders of NACOWMI and is in his own right, remarkable. He remembers Dr. Eldering as giving the development of the Land Conservancy “as big a boost as anybody”. He said that she “had a brilliant mind” and could “ask a simple question that suddenly brought everything together”.
Dr. Eldering left a tremendous legacy to west Michigan – not just as a medical researcher, but also as a volunteer and supporter of the Land Conservancy – one that can be seen every time a Piping Plover stops at Saugatuck’s natural areas on Lake Michigan.