Former directors of the Minnesota State Park Division of the Department of Natural Resources, Bill Morrissey and Don Davison each received the award. Together they led the state parks division for a total of 30 years from 1973 -2003. During Davison’s term as director, Tettegouche and Wild River state parks were added to the system. Accomplishments during Morrissey’s term as director include adding 46,000 acres and 10 new units to the systems.
“Don and Bill have been strong partners over the years,” said Dorian Grilley, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota executive director. “Not only were they responsible for tremendous additions to the state park system, they professionalized park management and developed tremendous education resources for our park visitors. Don and Bill were critical to building the state park system we have today that is envied around the country.”
More about Bill Morrissey, the “go to” person for Minnesota parks and trails
“Bill Morrissey was a fierce, tenacious, effective advocate for parks who understood the political process and the management culture of DNR,” said Steve Thorne, former DNR deputy commissioner and president of Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota. “He built strong relations with parks staff and supporters and made major improvements to the management of the park system, maintaining a high level of service and protecting the priceless treasures of our state parks in the face of constant budget pressure.”
Born and raised in St. Paul, Morrissey attended Cretin High School and attributed his love for the outdoors to spending time at the family cabin in Forest Lake. While attending the University of Minnesota in 1968, he was drafted into the army and posted to Germany. After discharge, Morrissey returned to the University of Minnesota, completing his degree in forestry. He started his career with the DNR as the grants-in-aid coordinator for recreation, where he worked on snowmobile trails.
In 1987, Morrissey was named the director of parks and recreation for the DNR. He met with Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota leader Sam Morgan and became one of Minnesota parks’ leading advocates. During his tenure with the DNR, Morrissey was faced with state budget deficits in 1999 and 2003. He had to make difficult decisions that included closing campgrounds and laying off naturalists.
Morrissey retired from the DNR in 2003 and was named Wisconsin’s Park Director the same year. He held that position for two years. Morrissey is credited with helping bring about 10 Minnesota state parks (with a total of 42,000 acres added) and being an early proponent for state trails.
Morrissey’s position with the DNR was taken over by Courtland Nelson, a good friend of his since the mid-1980s.
“His friends were really important to him and he took lots of time to take good care of his friends,” Nelson said. “He had a broad group of folks he considered his good friends that sustained him through his tough times.”
Morrissey focused on park visitors as well as acquisitions. He successfully found funding for new visitor centers, access to diverse areas and interpretive centers.