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A.J. Duggan Lights Up Crystal Lake

A.J. Duggan Crystal Lake Lights

Lakeside luminaries mark new 4th of July tradition

By Susan Koenig
Current Contributor

There is something upon which we in Benzie County—locals, lakies, snowbirds, tourists, Democrats, Republicans, oldies, youngies—can all agree upon: notably our love, in varying degrees, for the beautiful Crystal Lake.

But some of us put our money—or, in this case, energy and ingenuity—where our mouths are. That is, into action to defend and protect our lake, its beauty and safety, from pollution and degradation.

One such person is the inimitable 16-year-old A.J. Duggan, a “jock with a social conscience,” who has spent every summer at his family’s cottage on the east shore of Crystal Lake. That in itself may not sound remarkable, but because of the career demands of his parents, the family has moved five times in less than two decades, thus A.J.’s summers on the lake have provided a constant for him, which has increased his devotion to and appreciation for this beautiful natural resource.

A.J. is a charming and unassuming teenager who aspires to play Division 1 soccer through college and eventually become an engineer. Modest though he is, A.J. confessed, under pressure, to never having received “a B,” but he maintains that he “really isn’t very good at English.” (Check out his letter to the “Crystal Lake Lovers” below, and you may disagree.) A.J. loves boating, wake-boarding, and especially soccer. He is the middle child of a middle child—his older sister is now attending summer camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts for trombone and piano, and his younger brother is another avid soccer player.

A.J.’s generation is constantly being labeled as lazy and individualistic, but A.J. is a refreshing reminder that generalizations like this are unfair—there are many young people who are doing great things and want to get involved, but they sometimes need a spark to get them started.

All In The Family
A.J. hails from a family of community activists—for instance, his uncle, Mike Duggan, is the progressive mayor of Detroit. His grandmother, Joan Duggan, is no stranger to community action and is active in the Benzie Boosters and other causes.

Last winter, A.J. and his grandmother were lunching together and began to chat about what could be done to help guarantee the preservation of the lake that they both hold so dear. A.J.’s grandmother is an active member of the Crystal Lake Watershed Association (CLWA), which is always in need of creative fundraising ideas, so the pair came up with a plan to help.

According to the CLWA website, the association is a non-profit organization of concerned citizens who are committed to protecting the beauty and water quality of Crystal Lake and its surrounding environment. It engages in monitoring, education, and advocacy on behalf of the broad community for whom Crystal Lake is a vital economic, recreational, and aesthetic resource. Committees include fundraising, education, water quality, zoning and land use, as well as a partnership with other groups that are concerned with the “swimmer’s itch” cycle in Crystal Lake. (For more on this eradication effort, read our article from last summer online.)

The Plan
While attending boarding school in Georgia, A.J. participated in and was very impressed by a cancer benefit, which included a moving ceremony using candles, placed around a pond. He has expanded upon this experience, creating Crystal Lights, his luminary concept that is planned for the upcoming 4th of July celebration in Beulah.

He wrote a letter, addressed to “Dear Crystal Lake Lovers,” explaining his idea in the first paragraph: “As residents and visitors of Crystal Lake, we are asking you to join in an exciting new lake-lighting tradition, called Crystal Lights, to benefit the Crystal Lake Watershed Association. The event will take place on July 4th on the waterfront of Beulah, in conjunction with the fireworks display. 100% of the funds raised will be donated to the Crystal Lake Watershed Association. This will enable the association to continue their research and efforts to keep Crystal Lake pristine. All expenses are already paid for by anonymous donors.

In A.J.’s words, “the concept is simple, but could result in a dramatic visual effect around the village of Beulah’s shoreline.” His proposal is to place luminary bags, with two LED lights inside each, on the Beulah Public Beach and the entire Beulah waterfront from dusk until the finale of the July 4th fireworks.

The LED packets—20 luminary bags and 40 LED candles—will be provided for a donation of $20. Bags can be decorated by kids or other family members, and T-shirts will be available for sale at $15 each or $10 with a luminary package order.

“It is wonderful—and uncommon—to see a young person take this kind of initiative out of the goodness of his heart, rather than as a community obligation,” says Joel Buzzell, president pro-tempore of the CLWA. “We at the CLWA are thrilled that A.J. has chosen us to be the beneficiary of his efforts,” A.J. is looking forward to this first year of Crystal Lights, but he is already expanding his goals—his hope is to grow the Crystal Lights project to include the entire lake, so that, for future Independence Days, the whole lake will be entirely illuminated.

Here is one example of a great kid who cares about our environment, who saw a need in his summer community, and who is willing to spearhead a project that will have positive results—plus, it will look enchanting—for many years to come!

If you wish to pre-order the special T-shirt or LED packets, you may send your size and number to: dugganjoan@aol.com or call 734-623-3275. Your order will be delivered to your home. If high school students would like to participate, they are invited to send their name and phone number to A.J. at the number or email listed above, or to call the Beulah Boosters at 231-882-0262 and ask for A.J. Duggan, chairman of Crystal Lights.

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