Today, March 26, would have been the 98th birthday of Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, whose leadership in the 1970s and 1980s put Michigan at the forefront of the 50 states in environmental protection. Born in Traverse City and raised close to Grand Traverse Bay, Milliken developed an early appreciation for Michigan’s majestic waters.
As Governor from 1969-1982, he advocated and signed into law the major statutes that are still the framework for Michigan environmental policy. A partial list includes the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Natural Rivers Act, the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, the bottle deposit law, what is now the Natural Resources Trust Fund, controls on sources of algae blooms in western Lake Erie, and the Wetland Protection Act.
By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair, and Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director
As we reflect on FLOW’s work, it seems appropriate to quote FLOW supporter, and author, Jerry Beasley. “What is fundamental about our relationship with water is a matter of the heart, ” writes Beasley. “If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved.”
FLOW’s 2019 annual report, which you can view here, highlights what we have accomplished during the past fiscal year.
All of FLOW’s programs are designed to protect our Great Lakes, surface water, and groundwater for all of us to enjoy and sustain ourselves. Together we are helping to restore the rule of law on Line 5 and in legal cases involving Nestlé’s insatiable thirst for Michigan’s groundwater. We are developing protective policies and environmental education campaigns and collaborating on water infrastructure solutions that are fair to all. In this age of climate change and high water in the Great Lakes Basin, we need to make sure that no one treats our water as a high-risk shortcut or a commodity.
Thanks to your generous support, FLOW in 2019 made significant strides in our policy work while celebrating our shared love of water. Our report details these key accomplishments.
We remain inspired by the legacy of environmental stewardship of a beloved and influential Great Lakes luminary, former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, who passed away in October 2019. We include a memorial tribute to the Governor in this report.
“In Michigan,” Gov. Milliken said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”
Developing a deep sense of stewardship for our Great Lakes also means celebrating the creativity sparked by these magnificent freshwater resources. In the annual report you’ll learn about several special moments in FLOW’s ongoing initiative to honor the space where Art Meets Water.
As we pause to reflect on our 2019 accomplishments, we are deeply grateful to the community of supporters who fuel our work. Thank you for your generosity, your passion for our waters, and your dedicated stewardship.
We look forward to increasing the momentum in 2020 and the new decade. Together, we’re moving forward with solutions to Great Lakes water issues based on science and law—solutions that inspire real hope for our water in all who love it.
We enter this consequential new decade heartened by your support and your confidence in FLOW’s ability to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. Our mantra in 2020, no matter what it brings, is to “just do the next right thing” for the love of water.
Gov. William G. Milliken, Traverse City’s native son and Michigan’s longest-serving governor, who passed away October 18 at age 97, left behind an important legacy of environmental protection, good governmental policy, and civility in public discourse.
As Michiganders, we’re deeply proud of Gov. Milliken and mourn his passing, too. FLOW senior policy adviser Dave Dempsey, who wrote Gov. Milliken’s biography, knew him and his wife Helen well, and authored this remembrance.
After he left office, Milliken summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”
It is the responsibility of FLOW and other environmental stewards to take up Gov. Milliken’s torch and carry it forward. We must preserve our Great Lakes, wetlands, and drinking water held in public trust for all of us, and stop polluters from soiling these most precious resources—which represents 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. We will help carry that torch both with honor and humility.
You can learn more about Gov. Milliken’s life in the family tribute posted here. FLOW gratefully acknowledges the Milliken family’s suggestion that memorial donations in Governor William G. Milliken’s name be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. We will carry on the Milliken legacy of environmental stewardship and hope for the future.
To donate to FLOW in honor of Gov. Milliken, please click on our Donate page, fill out all required fields, and write “Governor Milliken” in the bottom field. Thank you.
Michigan has many magnificent natural features, but none is quite like Hartwick Pines. A small remnant of the great white pine forest that spanned millions of acres of Michigan before the European arrival, the 49 acres at the heart of Hartwick Pines contain trees as tall as 160 feet and as old as 400 years. When, in 1992, a storm mortally wounded the tallest and largest of the primeval trees, known as the Monarch, it generated news headlines.
Another great tree has fallen. On Friday, October 18, former Governor William G. Milliken passed away at age 97 in Traverse City. The longest-serving governor in the history of Michigan, Milliken distinguished himself in numerous other ways, several of which seem especially important today.
Former Vermont Governor Richard Snelling in 1982 suggested that Milliken “will surely be recorded in history as one of the nation’s great governors.” The day after Milliken’s passing, the Traverse City Record-Eagle wrote in an editorial that, “We cherish our governor … for his most precious quality: his innate ability to set aside party, politics and partisanship for the good of all Michiganders”.
Perhaps the Governor’s most lasting policy legacy is the framework of environmental laws that came into being during his 14 years in office, from 1969 to 1982. It was a case of the right person at the right time. As public consciousness of a century of environmental neglect and abuse peaked, and a clamor for a new approach grew to a crescendo, Governor Milliken took the initiative to propose or support, and ultimately sign into law the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Wetland Protection Act, the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, the Sand Dune Management and Protection Act, and many more. When the Legislature deadlocked on a proposed recycling deposit on beer and soda containers, he helped lead a citizen initiative to put the proposed law on the ballot. Voters approved it by a two-to-one margin in 1976.
Even in the 1970s, the decade of the first Earth Day, it wasn’t always politically easy to push for a cleaner environment. When scientists identified phosphorus laundry soaps as a major contributor to the algae blooms in western Lake Erie and elsewhere, the proposed remedy was a strict limitation on phosphorus content. Major Republican contributors strongly opposed the change, but Milliken defied them and took aggressive action to bring it into effect. Within only several years phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants plummeted and Lake Erie began to recover.
Another important part of the Milliken record was his concern for the state’s great cities, including Detroit, which was deeply distressed during the 1970s. Working with Democratic Mayor Coleman Young, he invested state and federal resources in the city and won political support unusual for a Republican in the city. Today Milliken’s name crowns Michigan’s first urban state park on the Detroit waterfront.
Milliken’s regard for Michigan’s environment began early. His Traverse City upbringing (and a cottage in nearby Acme) acquainted him with woods and waters. Among his earliest memories were outdoor outings and swimming in Grand Traverse Bay. Deeply rooted in his home community, he frequently returned on weekends to his house on the bay while governor, finding peace and renewal.
But the Governor’s environmental record and values are not his only legacy. His style of governance—shunning the extremes, looking for solutions on which diverse interests could compromise for the public good—was the ultimate trademark of his service. In a time of divided government, when Democrats largely controlled the Legislature, he was able to enact his program through negotiation and cooperation.
Governor Milliken did not demonize his opponents. Public name-calling was foreign to him. And his civility worked. He remained in office longer than any other governor of Michigan in part because voters trusted him to do the right thing.
In researching and writing Governor Milliken’s biography, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, I was honored to spend many hours with him and his wife Helen Milliken, a major historical figure in her own right. They were in person as they were in public—unfailingly gracious, kind, and reflective. There was nothing false or inauthentic about them.
In our time together, both Millikens spoke repeatedly of their appreciation of Michigan’s beauty and the need to continue fighting to protect it. It should not be forgotten that it was Helen Milliken who alerted her husband to the controversy over oil development in the wilds of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and urged him to take a stand in favor of the forest’s conservation. She was a major influence on his environmental policies.
After he left office, he famously summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather, it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”
A part of Michigan’s soul passed from the scene last week, but thanks to Governor Milliken’s work, our soul will renew itself for generations to come.
A memorial service for Governor Milliken will be held in May 2020. The Milliken family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory and in support of his environmental legacy be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.
One governor of Michigan is remembered in large part because of his environmental ethic and accomplishments. William G. Milliken of Traverse City, who turns 97 on Tuesday, March 26, supported and signed into law most of Michigan’s modern environmental laws while he was the state’s chief executive from 1969-1982.
Governor Milliken said his environmental commitment was forged growing up in the water-rich environment of Traverse City. And water cleanup is a key feature of his record, including a ban on high-phosphate detergents that led to a sharp reduction in algae blooms.
Measures signed into law by Governor Milliken include the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, Wetland Protection Act, Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, and many more.
FLOW has wished the Governor a happy birthday before, and we do so again. His is an environmental legacy that remains evergreen.
On Monday, Traverse City’s own William G. Milliken, the state’s longest serving governor, turns 96. It’s an appropriate time to reflect not only on his outstanding environmental record — the best of any chief executive of Michigan — but also on his legacy of civility and decency, as scarce these days in public life as rainfall in the desert.
Taking office a year before the first Earth Day in 1970, Governor Milliken put environmental issues high on his agenda. During his nearly 14 years in office he was instrumental in crafting the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Wetland Protection Act, and the state’s nationally-renowned deposit law for beverage containers. He also signed laws improving management of hazardous and solid waste, protecting sand dunes, banning oil drilling in the Great Lakes, and creating the predecessor of the state’s monumentally successful Natural Resources Trust Fund.
He was the first governor to warn of the threat of Great Lakes water diversion, convening a conference on the subject in 1982. That led to Michigan law and regional policies banning most diversions.
It wasn’t always easy, or popular in the Governor’s own political party. He overrode objections from a key
party backer to support a rule reducing phosphate content in laundry soaps, leading to an almost immediate reduction in algae blooms.
Governor Milliken also considered the fate of Detroit closely linked to the vitality of Michigan. It’s regrettable that his strong support for mass transit in southeast Michigan — and the significant environmental and social benefits that would have resulted — was thwarted by skeptics.
The Governor credited his youth in northern Michigan as a major influence in his political support for environmental protection. He spent summers at his family’s cottage at Acme on the east arm of Traverse Bay. He enjoyed fishing, canoeing, and sailing.
Moderate in political philosophy, Republican Governor Milliken was statesmanlike in tone. He was willing and able to work with legislators of various political philosophies, and refrained from demonizing any. That, too, is part of his legacy.
“In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”
The Governor’s work goes on. It is the work of all Michiganders.