Thank you, Kris for your many years of work protecting the Huron River watershed

Photo of Kris Olsson with rescue dog
Kris and Justin from Last Day Dog Rescue, one of the many dogs fostered by Kris.

Read our spring edition of the Huron River Report to learn how one person, with focus, humility and perseverance, can change the world—one watershed at a time. We dedicate the issue to Kris Olsson who will retire from HRWC this spring after 31 years of service to our mission. Anyone that knows Kris, knows that she is among the most quietly impactful residents of Washtenaw County. Her decades of work toward a healthy Huron have resulted in real change and enduring programs both within HRWC and beyond.

A few people who have worked with Kris over the years shared in the newsletter how she has created real change, one relationship at a time. Kris has deep roots in our watershed communities. She teaches by doing. She arms people with knowledge that allows them to make informed decisions. She leads from behind, which in my years of working on environmental issues, I’ve seen to be the most effective. Kris understands that there is power in numbers, and naturally builds the allies and champions in all of us.

It is hard to imagine HRWC without Kris. Her institutional knowledge and broad network are invaluable. Her humor brings levity to our staff meetings. Her willingness to help has brought many new staff members up to speed quickly. Her drive brings focus to our mission. She is our historian, our inspiration and our north star. She will be missed.

But Kris’s legacy will remain. The foundational programs and initiatives she developed and nurtured over the years will live on. Kris has been working with our growing team to transfer her knowledge and relationships. And in doing so, we are in a great position to provide continuity of service to our local governments, partner organizations and watershed residents that engage with HRWC to protect land, enact river-friendly policies and become water advocates.

As Kris describes in her own words, her breadth of work at HRWC is united by the overarching goal of protecting the remaining natural lands within our watershed. Land protection and responsible land use planning are essential to protecting water quality and combating Climate Change in our local communities. Many members of our team are poised to carry on this mission.

Photo of Kris Olsson looking at a wetland
Kris explores a wetland.

Kris has been mentor to Kate Laramie, nurturing her interest in the connections between land and water. Kate has worked with Kris for several years, running our natural areas assessment program—learning plant identification, volunteer management and landowner stewardship. Reciprocally, Kate has improved the efficiency of our data collection and report generation with new technology. Together they have evolved this program area to be durable in the face of change. I look forward to seeing it persist under Kate’s leadership.

The addition of David Lossing as Government Relations Director increased our capacity to work with local governments. As a former mayor and planning commissioner, David is no stranger to how municipalities work. A grant from the Erb Family Foundation supports the modernization of many of our resources on water-friendly policies. David has been learning from Kris how she engaged with city councils, township boards and planning commissions to ensure that our local governments protect the Huron River. David will carry the baton of policy support to our local governments.

Change Makers creates river champions. It is one of my favorite HRWC programs. The more people that know how to affect change on behalf of the river and natural environment, the more effective we will be at achieving our mission. Jason Frenzel will continue to run this program along with support from David and others.

Andrea Paine leads our community engagement efforts at HRWC and in that role will serve on the team that provides direct support for local governments. Dan Brown will continue to advance HRWC’s work on climate change and building climate resilience in the Huron River watershed.

Kris has created a legacy within the organization that will endure long after her retirement. It is the sign of a successful career. I will miss Kris very much and am excited by what the staff at HRWC will do as they carry her work forward in the coming years. There is no replacing someone like Kris so we will not try. Instead, we will honor her by keeping her priorities, our priorities. Because she has it right—rivers are only as healthy as the land in the watershed, and trust-based relationships are the key to getting the work done.

Rebecca Esselman, HRWC Executive Director

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.