MUSKEGON— Growing up in Stanton and attending Central Montcalm High School, it was only natural Gregory Patten would develop an affinity for the outdoor life. The bucolic acres of corn and potatoes, the fallow fields, rivers and streams, they all spoke to Patten’s love of nature.
So perhaps it’s only natural that, well over three decades later, he should be named Shikar-Safari International’s Wildlife Officer of the Year.
Shikar-Safari is an international hunting organization that each year recognizes the service of important natural resources officials in the United States and Canada.
Patten, a 28-year veteran of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was this year’s Michigan recipient. All 28 years of Patten’s DNR career have been in Muskegon County. Before that, he served as an officer for a little over a year with the Stanton Police Department. A four-year stint with the Muskegon Police Department followed.
But the chance to work out of doors while still doing police work was exactly what Patten had been hoping for and when the opportunity to work for the DNR came along, he grabbed it.
“This is an outdoor job, depending on what activities are going on,” Patten said. “This time of year a lot of our focus is on marine and fish enforcement and off-road vehicle enforcement. Along the lakeshore we get detailed into state parks as needed. For instance, last week I worked one day at Silver Lake State Park and then on the Fourth I worked in the evening at Holland State Park and then on Saturday on Muskegon Lake patrolling fireworks.”
In part, it’s this constantly changing scenery that appeals to Patten. Though the job has changed over the years, he says, the traditional role of the conservation officer in large part remains the same, enforcement of fish and game regulations.
There are never enough officers to monitor all the state’s lakes and hunting areas, Patten notes, but that’s always been the case and is in no way exclusive the the DNR’s enforcement division.
And of course the paperwork end of the job tends to eat up a lot of each officer’s time. For the most part, however, Patten feels he’s found his “dream job,” the one he intends to make his life’s work.
“The best thing (about the job) is being able to work outdoors and have the freedom to do what you choose, at least some of the time,” Patten said. “You have that freedom to address what needs to be addressed. When there’s not something pressing, you get to choose what you’re doing each day.”
Taking the Shikar-Safari Wildlife Officer of the Year award is considered a major honor among DNR officials. Patten was nominated for the award by his immediate supervisor, Sgt. John Jurcich, who noted he had a reputation as an “all-around outstanding conservation officer.”
Following an awards ceremony on June 12 at the meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Lansing, Gary Hagler, chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division, praised Patten for his long service to the department.
“I want to commend Officer Patten on receiving the 2013 Shikar-Safari International Officer of the Year Award,” said Hagler. “Greg is a role-model officer and a great asset to the DNR. Greg is very deserving of this honor.”
For his part, Patten says he is honored to receive the award.
“It’s probably the top award you can get other than lifetime achievement,” Patten said. “It’s not that many people who get one, just one from each state and each Canadian province every year. It’s an honor.”
Despite all the excitement over the nomination and win, however, Patten maintains that the best part of his job is still the job itself. Being able to work in Michigan’s great outdoors, even after all these years, is still something he considers a privilege.