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DNR's Becky Humphries, Traverse City activist Ken Smith earn top environmental awards

Pair to accept honors at June 8 MEC event
Jun 1, 2011
Becky Humphries
Lansing – Rebecca “Becky” Humphries, who guided Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with vision and passion and Ken Smith, who was the linchpin of protecting the Grand Traverse region from devastating unplanned development, have won the state’s top environmental awards.

Former DNR Director Humphries and Traverse City activist Smith will be honored at a June 8 ceremony in Lansing.

Humphries will receive the Helen and William Milliken Distinguished Service Award, given annually to a person who shows outstanding leadership, enduring commitment and extraordinary public service in protecting Michigan’s natural resources. Smith will receive the Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership. It is given annually to a grassroots activist whose commitment, creativity and courage have inspired others to safeguard Michigan’s resources.

“Becky and Ken have distinguished themselves as thoughtful, passionate and effective defenders of the waters, landscapes and resources that define Michigan,” said MEC President Chris Kolb. “We are pleased to recognize them for their contributions to our state’s heritage, health and vitality.”

Becky Humphries
Humphries spent 32 years at the DNR during a career that began with a job as a field biologist and ended with a six-year tenure as the agency’s first woman director. She retired last year. She was roundly lauded for innovative programs, straight talk and transparency and inclusion in the agency’s decision-making. Under her tenure the DNR expanded outreach and educational programs, achieved dual sustainability certifications for state forests, undertook an intensive effort to connect the state via nonmotorized trails and earned praise for working efficiently with ever-declining revenues.

In 2010 the agency abolished the old window-decal permit system for state parks admission, replacing it with a new model that is expected to provide an increased and more stable funding base for park maintenance and operations.

Her even-handed approach to issues fraught with peril both environmental and political earned her praise and respect from all quarters.

“She is a true environmental champion,” said Kolb. “The respect, trust and admiration she received from people across the state was earned during a career of straight talk and pragmatic decision-making. Her steady hand at the helm of our state’s natural resources was invaluable during a trying time.”

Ken Smith
Smith dove into Traverse City politics in the 1980s when a proposed shopping mall threatened to separate Grand Traverse Bay from the Boardman River that is the centerpiece of the city’s business district. In the quarter-century since, he’s been a vital force for sustainable growth and the catalyst for forward-thinking planning in the Traverse area.

“Ken Smith is an unflagging advocatefor smart development decisions in one of the state’s most dynamic regions,” said MEC President Kolb. “Although he’s helped defeat some ill-conceived projects that would have ruined the character of the community, he knows that just saying ‘no’ isn’t enough. So he’s also been a vigorous agent for sustainable growth through proactive planning efforts. That work has created a blueprint that future generations will use to ensure a brighter future.”

Smith has been a leader with MEC member group Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council – which has matured into a formidable force for smart planning in Northwest Lower Michigan.

Smith and NMEAC recently concluded a decade-long successful fight against a highway bypass and bridge that would have ruined wetlands and torpedoed downtown businesses by fueling sprawl on the city’s outskirts. Pivoting off that effort, Smith helped lead the Grand Vision – a community effort involving input from more than 15,000 citizens to create a model for sustainable development.

“Ken was a force in turning a negative into an inspiring positive through the Grand Vision,” said Kolb. “He is a difference maker.”

Past winners of the Milliken Award are Steve Hamp, Peter Stroh, Peter Wege, Marty Fluharty, Peter Karmanos, Congressman John Dingell, Congressman Vernon Ehlers, Mary C. Brown, Bunyan Bryant, Ph.D., Lana Pollack and Faye Alexander Nelson.

Past winners of the Petoskey Prize are Debbie Romak, Alison & David Swan, Diane Hebert, Terry Swier, Michelle Hurd Riddick, Don A. Griffin, Lynn Henning, Carol Drake, Rusty Gates and Margaret Weber.
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