Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
As executive director, Liz oversees FLOW’s policy, legal, technical and communications work. After working as an environmental lawyer in both the U.S. and oversees, she has returned to the nonprofit sector because she is mission-driven and passionate about protecting the Great Lakes. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: The magic of the Great Lakes lured me to permanently move here after years of summering along the shores of Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan.
Favorite place in Michigan: This is it. This whole region of northern lower Michigan is my favorite place. I just am angling for more time to explore and adventure with friends and family.
Fun fact: I still dream of being a photographer. I spent most of high school in a photo lab developing silver gelatin photographs.
Jim Olson, Founder and 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. 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. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: Polling a home-made raft with my brothers up and down the shore of the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. I was fortunate that my parents moved their family—two girls, three boys—to Traverse City, by the time I was 5 years old we lived on the Bay, so, we grew up in and on the bay, felt its cold and warm temperatures, sensed its sweetwater smell, moods, its seasons and cycles, seches’ that flooded the beach, tore out docks, flipped over moored boats, ice skating, fishing, watersports, dressing up like pirates and pushing each other off row boats into the water.
Favorite place in Michigan: There are so many places that are “favorites,” it’s hard to say—Michigan’s beauty is soft, gentle, rough, rugged, and diverse from the ends of both peninsulas to the other ends. A few places-- Cathead Point, Lake Michigan’s Dunes, and vistas from the worn down mountains, cliffs and beaches that rim Marquette and Lake Superior.
Favorite Great Lakes fact: The distance from the border of southeastern Michigan to Ironwood and the Wisconsin border in the UP is almost 650 miles-- an 11-hour drive! Perhaps, longer than any distance within any state in the lower forty-eight! With lots of shoreline, rivers, lakes, creeks, wetlands, wildlife, pastures, farms, hills and ridges, Great Lakes shoreline all the way.
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. Read more here.
Favorite Great Lakes activity: Watching sunrise from southern Lake Huron.
Favorite Great Lakes book: Freshwater: Women Writing on the Great Lakes, edited by Alison Swan.
Favorite Great Lakes fact: It takes 173 years for nature to replenish all the water in Lake Superior.
Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director
Kelly plays a lead role in strategic communications and overall program development and implementation. Kelly is a wonderful communicator, researcher, and community organizer. His leadership has enabled him to work successfully on a diverse array of local, state, and national environmental campaigns. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: My wife, who grew up near Lake Michigan.
Favorite place in Michigan: Any place in Michigan where land meets water. There’s so much beauty here! My family and I highly recommend camping in the Western Upper Peninsula’s Porcupine Mountains.
Favorite Great Lakes fact: Half of all Michiganders, from Mackinac Island to the Motor City, rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, as do more than 48 million Americans and Canadians in total.
Lauren Hucek, Fund Development and Grants Specialist
Lauren is currently a student at Western Michigan University, studying freshwater science and sustainability. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: Childhood summers spent swimming in Grand Traverse Bay and kayaking the Crystal River in Glen Arbor.
Favorite place in Michigan: Empire Bluff Trail, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Fun fact: I was a former competitive figure skater for 10 years and currently coach for the Traverse City Figure Skating Club.
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. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: Lake Michigan is my reset button. When I moved to this area 18 years ago, I found myself pulled to the water almost every day, in every season. Ice songs and deep summer dives— I don’t know the precise moment it happened, but these waters are stitched into my bones.
Favorite place in Michigan: I have too many to list! Sturgeon Bay is a favorite. Warm water temps and a great beach— plus I love pulling up to see cars stretched the length of the road, knowing almost everyone who hikes over the dunes gets the magic of that place.
Fun Fact: I always carry a river or lake stone in my pocket.
Jacob Wheeler, Communications Coordinator
As part-time Communications Coordinator, Jacob helps to plan and produce FLOW's electronic and print communications for all audiences, including supporters, prospective donors, officials, and the general public. A journalist, Jacob seeks out stories that show the positive impact FLOW has on our communities and our water. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: I grew up in Leelanau County near the shores of Lake Michigan. I have lived on three different continents but have always had a sixth sense for where I stand in relation to the nearest body of water.
Favorite place in Michigan: An undisclosed location in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where I swim, play, and submerge my toes in sugary sand.
Fun fact: My favorite months to swim in Lake Michigan are November or April, when I have the water to myself.
Nayt Boyt, Operations Manager
After attending Western Michigan University for writing and spending time in nature, Nayt decided to focus on what should be a priority for everyone in the Midwest: the Great Lakes and public water. Read more here.
What connected you to the Great Lakes: Growing up in Traverse City, I spent most of my time less than a mile from a lake and less than five miles from Lake Michigan. More than anything else, the Lakes represent a physical home.
Favorite place in Michigan: A backcountry camper never reveals his secrets. Traverse City is pretty great, which is why I still call it home.
Fun fact: I currently hold two high scores on pinball machines at the local arcade, The Coin Slot.