The treasures Marjie Tomter of the Town of Grafton finds and cares for are jewels of nature; eight of them connected with Lake Michigan will be on display in the Treasures of Oz tour she helps organize
Marjie Tomter said she isn’t someone who stands by and says, “Oh well.”
That explains the Town of Grafton woman’s commitment to various environmental causes in Ozaukee County the past several years.
After teaching in Cedarburg for most of her career, in addition to working at a correctional facility and for the cities of Milwaukee, Mukwonago and Racine, Tomter retired to a lifestyle that’s about as tiring.
Her most prominent project has been coordinating Treasures of Oz since 2008. As an eco-tour-meets-science-expo, the event offers tours of eight different sites in the county. It takes 100 volunteers to put together and draws up to 500 people per year.
The idea of Treasures, Tomter said, came about since many people had lost their connections and understanding of natural systems that keep the planet healthy. She wants to reacquaint people with their natural places.
“If people would get out and see what we have, people would think different things,” she said. “Putting chemicals on your lawn was not as good of an idea as it was when you just wanted to get rid of your dandelions.”
This year’s Treasures of Oz theme is Lake Michigan, highlighted by a newly designated natural area on land annexed by the City of Port Washington along Highway C just north of Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve.
The land was once targeted for an enormous upscale subdivision and resort, but the developer lost the land due to foreclosure. Another developer is proceeding with a scaled down project called the Cedar Vineyard and a winery adjacent to the 100 acres of lakeshore land purchased by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust before transferring ownership to Ozaukee County.
“It’s pretty exciting. This is about a mile of shoreline. There’s not much of that left near Milwaukee,” she said.
“It would have been really sad to see this beautiful open farmland turned into a resort. It excludes the people from getting a chance to see it.”
Tomter said she has been aware of the environment since she was a child.
“When I grew up, kids were outside more,” she said.
“I am rather fond of clean air and clean water and healthy soils for good food. I have seen them all damaged progressively since I was a little kid,” she said.
Today, Tomter walks the walk. On her 11-acre farm, she grows organic fruits and vegetables in her orchard.
“Soil is a big thing here. We love our worms,” she said.
Tomter has cats and two horses, along with wildlife roaming her land. She makes winter accessories from recycled wool. A friend keeps bees hives on her property, which in turn benefits her fruits and flowers.
“It’s a neat way to live,” she said.
In addition, Tomter serves on the Board of Directors of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, chairs the Land Conservation Partnership of Ozaukee County and is a member of the Town of Grafton Open Space Commission.
Tomter said her new career in environmental education has been helped by knowing “an awful lot of really smart scientists. I have learned so much by just being there, listening.
“I’m still a terrible birder. I know a little about a lot, probably more than most people know who aren’t connected to it.”
Since Tomter is good at connecting dots, she has found her niche in coordinating events and networks, like the Ozaukee Treasures Network, which sprouted from Treasures of Oz. The network includes about 90 organizations in the area and meets a handful of times per year to discuss environmental issues.
Andrew Struck, director of Ozaukee County Planning and Parks, has worked with Tomter on a few initiatives. He said Tomter is a treasure herself.
“She has a knack for bringing people together, getting everybody on the same page and coordinating partnerships,” he said. “She’s just been all around a great asset for our county.”
Tomter, who holds a master’s degree in behavioral science and a bachelor’s degree in social science, said if she had to do it all over again she would consider a major in soil science, environmental law or policy.
She said she wishes the environment was a bigger issue in the presidential primary.
“It should be the main issue,” she said. “If the environment is healthy, we have a chance at making everything else work.”
Tomter cited the Flint, Mich., clean water crisis, contaminated aquifer issues in Waukesha and the drought in California as examples.
“So many of the issues we deal with are due to lack of a healthy environment,” she said.
One of the biggest things is to not use herbicides and pesticides, she said.
“We’re poisoning our planet,” she said.
Years from now, Tomter said, this time period may be known for sickening people from its genetically modified crops, crop dusting and fertilizer.
That’s an awareness she wants to spread. Despite retiring from teaching, Tomter hasn’t really left education, though now she teaches children and adults.
“I am very much still in education. I want to turn the lights on,” she said.
Working with others on environmental organizations like the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Treasures of Oz and the Ozaukee Treasures Network keeps her going.
“It’s such an energy rush. There’s so much work that goes into this. I see all these people — they’re amazing people and they work their tails off.
“I think it keeps you really optimistic.”
Treasures of Oz is June 18. For more information, go to treasuresofoz.org.
Photo Credit: Marjie Tomter planted white cedar trees on her 11-acre Town of Grafton property last weekend. Tomter has an organic garden and is involved in several environmental groups and initiatives in the area. Photo by Sam Arendt