Eat chili, preserve the Yellow Dog

Mike Klarin

The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve of Big Bay will be celebrating 19 years of protecting the natural beauty and wildlife of the Marquette region with a chili cook-off at the Ore Dock Brewing Company in downtown Marquette. The cook-off will take place Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Emily Whittaker, special projects manager for the Yellow Dog Watershed, said the preserve was founded in 1995 with the goal of keeping the Yellow Dog River beautiful and clean for generations to come.

“We envision an engaged community both here and abroad that actively participates in the protection of the beautiful area,” Whittaker said. “We spend a lot of time conducting in the field science, researching natural resource policy issues and developing strategic actions for our community to help achieve our mission.”

The cook-off will be made up of donated chili from 10 different restaurants in the Marquette area such as Dia de los Tacos, Donckers, Stucko’s Pub & Grill and Sweet Water Café. Visitors are invited to try as many varieties as they like before casting their vote for the best overall, Whittaker said.

Mike Walker, co-owner of Dia de los Tacos, said he was flattered to be asked to participate in the event. Walker is currently perfecting his recipe using locally sourced ingredients and paying homage to the event location by including some of Ore Dock Brewing Company’s own craft beer.

“I’d like to think that we can put out a slammin’ bowl of chili,” Walker said. “But it’s a great event and an awesome cause.”

Supplementing the chili competition will be a silent auction with goods donated by local craftsmen and artists, as well as a raffle with prizes donated by Patagonia in Chicago. Local musicians will be providing the music, ending with a set by the band Log Jam, Whittaker said.

While the preserve has held similar annual events in past years, Whittaker said the chili cook-off will be a new idea for the preserve and its 19 year milestone. The premise behind the event will be to get the community interested and involved in the work going on at the watershed, while recognizing the many volunteers from Marquette and the surrounding area who have already donated their time.

“The number of volunteers we have involved in our monitoring program is the highest it has ever been,” Whittaker said. “We will be specially recognizing these folks at the event and giving them a big thanks for the impressive work they accomplish.”

Whittaker said many of the volunteers who work in the preserve are students from Northern Michigan University, especially those studying biology or environmental science, though there is also a good mix of retirees and families who come as well.

Senior environmental science major Reed Saam has been a volunteer with the Yellow Dog Watershed for 3 years, helping to conduct macroinvertebrate surveys, water quality testing and habitat assessments. While Saam said he’s looking forward to the cook-off, he also emphasized the importance of the work that the preserve does.

“I really think they’re doing some fantastic work out there that’s necessary for the watershed preserve,” Saam said. “It’s just an amazing natural resource.”

While the Yellow Dog Watershed does offer membership, both members and non-members of all ages are welcome, Whittaker said. The event opens at 6 p.m. and entry cost, which includes all-you-can-eat chili, is $10 for non-members and $8 for members. Kids under 12 eat free and the proceeds from the event will fund the future work of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.