Extended Bios


Liz Rosan Kirkwood, Executive Director

Liz Kirkwood oversees FLOW’s program, staff and administration.  She manages FLOW’s professional staff and expert consultants.  Liz is responsible for fundraising strategy, strategic organizational planning, and directing policy research and programming.

Liz serves as the organization’s lead on numerous Great Lakes issues and education initiatives, and frequently serves as FLOW’s public spokesperson on critical issues.

She has developed and/or overseen FLOW’s work on key environmental policies and played a pivotal role in our work to decommission the dangerous Line 5 petroleum pipeline at the Straits of Mackinac.  Liz has been a leading force in shaping the Oil & Water Don’t Mix Campaign to address the 64-year-old pipeline. Often testifying or speaking before public bodies, she has made frequent presentations to community organizations and professional audiences on Great Lakes issues from Line 5 to Nestle to algal blooms to climate change.

An environmental lawyer with eighteen years of experience working on water, sanitation, energy, and environmental governance issues both nationally and internationally, Liz worked for USAID in Thailand as an environmental attorney to implement a regional environmental governance, water, and sanitation program in Southeast Asia. She also worked as an environmental litigator at Farella, Braun & Martel in San Francisco where she represented clients on natural resource and energy related matters. Liz graduated from Williams College with a degree in Environmental Studies and History, and received her J.D. and Environmental Certificate from Lewis & Clark Law School.


Jim Olson, Founder & President

Jim Olson has nearly 40 years of experience as an environmental, water, and public interest law advocate and champion, dedicated to protecting waters and ecosystems in the Great Lakes Basin.  He has developed a deep knowledge and understanding of public trust principles and law as they apply to the systemic threats facing the Great Lakes Basin. Jim currently contributes to FLOW’s legal and policy work, including policy analyses, law review articles, comments, reports, and other publications. He also speaks on behalf of the organization through presentations, lectures, and panel discussions. He has lectured at every major university in Michigan, authored dozens of articles on the public trust, and litigated many relevant cases.

Jim is a graduate of Michigan State College of Law (Detroit College of Law) and has an L.L.M. Degree in public lands, natural resources, and environmental law from the University of Michigan Law School. He received the Champion of Justice Award in 2010, one of the highest honors of the Michigan Bar Association, and was named a Michigan Lawyer of the Year in 1998 for his work on environmental and water citizen suit laws. Jim has lectured in Brazil, Canada, and the United States, and has authored numerous articles and essays and three books.  He was featured in two eminent documentary films on water, “FLOW: For Love of Water” (2008) and “Blue Gold” (2008).


Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

Dave Dempsey has 35 years experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission.  He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action.  He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.

Dave has a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in environmental policy and law from Michigan State University. He has served as an adjunct instructor in environmental policy at both universities.

Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director

As deputy director, Kelly works to grow FLOW’s reach, revenue, programs, and partnerships. Kelly has worked with FLOW since 2014, initially as a communications consultant helping to coordinate and support FLOW’s involvement in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to shut down the aging, cracked, and encrusted Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. Kelly’s experience includes research, writing, and organizing communities. His leadership skills include working with local, state, and national environmental campaigns. He served as volunteer co-chair of successful election campaigns to launch a countywide public bus transit system in 2006 and renew its funding by a 3-1 margin in 2011 in Benzie County. Kelly also helped to build and co-direct state and local coalitions to advance people-centered transportation policies and projects in Michigan from 1998-2005 while working with the Michigan Land Use Institute. For more than a decade thereafter, Kelly worked as a consultant at The Resource for Great Programs, a national firm working to strengthen foundations that support, and nonprofit law firms that provide, free civil legal aid to people in poverty across the nation. Kelly volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania, East Africa, where he and his wife Carolyn served as village-based volunteers for two years. He earned a Master of Arts in Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Michigan.


Lauren Hucek, Fund Development and Grant Specialist

After spending her childhood summers in Traverse City, Lauren decided to take the plunge and make the move here in 2013. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and seeking a quality of life change, the access to the Great Lakes and beauty of northern Michigan is what drew her to the region. Transforming her passion for the environment into a career was a natural next step and in 2014, she enrolled in Northwestern Michigan College’s freshwater studies program. Through her studies at NMC, she took Jim Olson’s water law and policy class and was inspired to champion our Great Lakes through policy. She is currently enrolled at Western Michigan University, graduating this December with a Bachelor of Science in Freshwater Science and Sustainability. Prior to joining FLOW, Lauren was an account manager at Oneupweb in Traverse City. 


Kate Bassett, Development Director

Kate Bassett has been a storyteller, community builder, and passionate advocate for the Great Lakes since moving to northern Michigan 18 years ago. As the editor of the Harbor Light Newspaper in Harbor Springs for nearly two decades, Kate has worked to connect people, celebrate a sense of place, and create partnerships to improve economic, environmental, and educational collaborations in the region.

A grassroots organizer at heart, Kate developed programs to raise funds for critical health and human service nonprofits, served as a founder for the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book, and served on numerous boards and advisory councils for area nonprofits before joining FLOW’s staff as Development Director.


Jacob Wheeler, Communications Coordinator

Jacob edits and publishes the Glen Arbor Sun, a seasonal, biweekly newspaper that celebrates and tells stories about Leelanau County’s unique characters and places: he founded the Sun when he was 18, partly as a way to pay for his studies at the University of Michigan. He also teaches journalism and advises the White Pine Press student newspaper staff at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.

Born in Denmark and raised in rural Leelanau County, Jacob holds dual citizenship and (on a good day) speaks four languages. On cold, grey winter days, he sometimes dreams of Guatemala, where he spent his mid-20s, living in a Mayan highland village, learning Spanish, hiking volcanoes, and writing a book, Between Light and Shadow (University of Nebraska Press, 2011), about the country’s child adoption industry.

Jacob’s favorite ways to cherish the Great Lakes include swimming (9 months a year!) in Lake Michigan’s holy waters or running or biking along her shoreline. The concept of the Public Trust—as policy, as a community, and as a spiritual rallying cry—resonates deeply with him.


Nayt Boyt, Operations Manager

Nayt Boyt grew up in Michigan and is most at ease in nature. From collecting frogs in his backyard to hiking all of the Sleeping Bear trails, he has always enjoyed being competitive and being outdoors. Over the years, he frequently went on camping and backpacking trips. In 2014, he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and in 2015, he thru-hiked the Superior Hiking Trail, a portion of the North Country Trail. He has since hiked several portions of the North Country Trail in Michigan and plans to complete the Grand Traverse NCT 100-mile challenge this year.

It is only logical that Nayt finds himself among those at FLOW, working every day to protect the natural resources that are so important to all of us. Nayt has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he was a member of Sigma Tau Delta and of the Lee Honor’s College.