New director hired, web focus for SWUP

MARQUETTE – The grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. has closed its Marquette office, hiring a new executive director and taking its activist network to the Internet.

In a recent news release, the organization -known best in the local area for its opposition to Rio Tinto’s nickel and copper Eagle Mine project on the Yellow Dog Plains- said it had eliminated its Marquette office along North Third Street, following “a nationwide trend for streamlined, adaptive, grassroots organizations.”

Instead, the group will focus on its activities through its website.

“The website is a key part of our identity,” said SWUP board member Kristi Mills. “ receives a high volume of traffic, and is a clearing house for information about sulfide mining and diverse issues impacting natural resources in the Upper Peninsula.”

Jon Saari of Marquette, another SWUP board member, said some other environmental groups in the region a thriving without a central office.

“I will miss the sign on Third Street, but the change really makes sense at this time,” Saari said. “In the era of Facebook, the brick-and-mortar office model has become less advantageous and efficient.”

SWUP board member Kathleen Heideman said the group -which is dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula’s unique cultural and natural resources- is “thrilled to be taking this step.”

“It aligns really well with our base (of) concerned citizens who are widely dispersed across the Upper Peninsula, but easily reached via social networking,” Heideman said. “Nonprofits are always being challenged to stretch their resources. The decision to ‘go virtual’ means we’ll have more to work with; we’re allocating resources to fund our ideas.”

The group has hired Alexandra Thebert as its executive director. Thebert grew up in Marquette. She worked in Chicago for a national health care non-profit organization, but wanted to “move back home to the beautiful U.P.” She is a former organizational and communications consultant who has had experience working with political campaigns.

“We are poised to expand our efforts across the U.P. to educate and engage new people,” Thebert said.

Some recent activities of the group included meeting with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Director Susan Hedman and Michigan Department of Environemtnal Quality Director Dan Wyant to share concerns on the now-defunct Marquette County Road 595 project, sponsoring the 2012 “Water is Life” educational tour throughout the central and western U.P., and providing testimony at hearings for the proposed Copperwood Mine in Gogebic County.

Throughout the current year, Save the Wild UP’s “Keeping It Wild!” campaign will focus on environmental issues awareness, expanded educational forums, U.P.-wide community outreach and special projects integrating the arts with environmental concerns.

For more information, contact Save the Wild U.P. at: or 228-4444.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.