Extracurricular Activities: Beyond a career, a life of advocacy and activism

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time. HRWC strongly believes that what we do in the next decade to curb carbon emissions, and the subsequent impacts on our global environment, will define the future of our world. In her tenure at HRWC, Kris Olsson rooted our organization in work that combats Climate Change via land conservation, restoration, and advocacy for climate-forward policies at the local and state levels. For Kris, this goes beyond a career to a life of advocacy and action. Guest Author Mike Garfield of the Ecology Center shares more. This article is republished from our Spring 2024 Huron River Report, celebrating Kris’s retirement.

A person walks through a cattail marsh on a sunny day.
HRWC Watershed Ecologist Kris Olsson assesses a lakeshore cattail marsh, avoiding poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) at Mud Lake Bog.

I’ve known Kris Olsson before and after. Before she became Captain Watershed (or staffer at HRWC), we hired Kris for an internship at the Ecology Center, where she worked on our emerging Toxics and Environmental Health Program. This was in the early 1990s, and it was abundantly clear she was brilliant, committed, and effective—as later events would affirm.

Kris left the Ecology Center to start her legendary career at the Huron River Watershed Council, and I was lucky enough to work with Kris and HRWC on a number of major initiatives over the decades, including the establishment of the Washtenaw County Natural Areas Program, the Ann Arbor Greenbelt initiative, major land use campaigns, and more.

Kris’s Climate Activism

And yet, not content that she was doing enough good in the world through her work with HRWC, Kris has spent the last several years converting her “spare time” into becoming one of Washtenaw County’s most relentless climate warriors. She took the Al Gore training (about Climate Change communication), helped start and build the county chapters of the Climate Reality Project and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, chaired the County’s Environmental Council, and pushed the County to establish ambitious climate goals and a climate action plan to make these goals a reality.

It’s been my great fortune to work with Kris on climate activism through the Ann Arbor Climate Partnership, the campaign to approve Ann Arbor’s climate millage and other local efforts. She’s as effective, committed, and brilliant as ever, bringing a plain-spoken can-do spirit to everything we do. I’m going to miss Kris at HRWC a lot, but I hope this so-called retirement doesn’t also extend to her extracurricular activities.

—Mike Garfield, Director of the Ecology Center since 1993

HRWC asks you to please consider contributing to the Watershed Resilience Endowment Fund and join Kris’s fight for the protection of our watershed and river forever. Help us honor Kris’s thirty-one-year legacy as she retires from HRWC.