Loren King - Open Water Swimming to Protect and Improve the Great Lakes

July 11 2016

We recently found out about an open water swimmer named Loren King who is planning to swim across Lake Ontario to help protect the Great Lakes watershed. Intrigued and inspired by his grassroots activism, we decided to dive into his initiative to find out more about him and his mission.

KK: Let’s start out with an easy one: who is Loren King?

LK: I’m a husband to a talented scientist and teacher, a dad to three great kids, and a professor at a small university in Canada that lies between the watersheds of three Great Lakes (Huron, Erie, and Ontario). I’ve been swimming since I was a kid, but only recently discovered open water swimming. I grew up on Lake Ontario, and it has always held a special place in my heart, even as I’ve lived in and explored other parts of the world, and swum in other great bodies of water.

KK: What are the threats currently facing the Great Lakes and what can be done to address them?

LK: It’s hard to overstate the economic and cultural importance of the Great Lakes to the Canadian provinces and US states that border them. Millions of Canadians and Americans depend on their waters. Indeed, the Great Lakes basin accumulates a significant portion of the planet’s fresh water, and the entire vast ecosystem is a critical bellwether for troubling changes worldwide.

Some of the problems facing this watershed are fiendishly difficult: industrial pollutants and especially the scourge of plastics in our waterways, are two examples of seemingly-intractable problems we have inherited.

The issues facing the Great Lakes aren’t partisan ones: clean water matters to everyone, and access to our shared heritage in these beautiful waters shouldn’t be left to either the play of markets or the whims of political interests. Yet on the Great Lakes as elsewhere, safe and ready access to clean water and healthy shorelines is becoming an expensive and uncertain privilege, rather than a right we all share, and a heritage we desperately need to maintain.

KK: Can you tell us more about your swimming initiative to help raise awareness and funds for the Great Lakes Trust?

LK: I am attempting the famous Marilyn Bell route across Lake Ontario, named after the pioneering young woman who first crossed the lake in 1954, to give back to the Great Lakes and our communities. By raising funds and awareness with this swim, I want to not only establish a ‘forever fund’ that can address the serious problems facing the Lakes, but also highlight the things we’re doing right: the small steps we’ve already taken toward a better future for the Great Lakes.

As for the swim, the Marilyn Bell route across Lake Ontario is a beautiful and challenging line: a direct fifty-two-kilometre route across the lake from the mouth of the Niagara river to just west of downtown Toronto.

Lake Ontario isn’t the largest of the Greats, but it is very deep and can exhibit a range of conditions familiar to ocean swimmers: sudden and dramatic temperature changes, stiff currents, large swells. So, the challenges are myriad, but for me, sudden changes in water temperature and surface conditions rank high on my list of worries.

KK: Can you tell us a bit more about why you helped create the Great Lakes Trust?

LK: Over the years I’ve watched talented scientists, scholars, artists, and committed advocates struggle to find funds to pursue wonderful ideas that cross boundaries between creative expression, public education, and civic engagement on critically important issues: land rights and the urban commons, pollution and watershed management, climate change, justice for indigenous communities, to name just a few.

As an open water swimmer, I am part of an extraordinary community of adventurers worldwide. The one thing we all share is a deep sense of stewardship, not just of our home waters, but of all these special marine places that ought to be available for future generations to enjoy, to find the same restoration and inspiration that keeps bringing us back.

I wanted to bring these two parts of my life together. So, it isn’t just about swimming; it’s about giving back to the waters and the communities that have given so much to us.

KK: What or who has been the biggest inspiration in your life as an activist?

LK: In the process of establishing and building this trust I’ve discovered so many remarkable people, working tirelessly for vitally important causes. As someone who has spent so much of my life simply studying problems of social justice and environmental stewardship, the experience of learning from these incredible people  –  who are actually solving the problems I study – has been both gratifying and humbling. It's been similarly humbling working with the many talented and experienced swimmers who have mentored swimmers like me and so many others.

KK: How can people take action in their own communities and/or support your cause?

LK: Get out there and find ways to support your home waters! Our partner charity, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has a motto: working for a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future, for your lake, river, or ocean. That can be as simple as getting out on the water and having fun, showing people how to get back in touch with our home waters.

KK: Lastly, why are you a fan of Klean Kanteen and its products?

LK: Two words: elegance, simplicity. No chemicals and plastics that will eventually degrade and seep into our waters, no fancy contrivances involving parts that inevitably break and end up in landfills. Klean Kanteen bottles are a model of efficiency, grace, and sustainability.

To learn more about Loren's initiative and help support his cause, please visit the following link: http://bit.ly/29M70ev