Green pied piper
Michael Patton’s transition to early retirement still lets him preach his passion.
Michael Patton takes photos to document protected Oklahoma green space.
Michael Patton is still trying to save the planet; he’s just doing it in a different way.
The former executive director of the Metropolitan Environmental Trust is nearly two years into serving in the same role with Land Legacy, a nonprofit with a mission to conserve, enhance and restore urban and rural lands and waters.
“I’m still a tree-hugger,” Patton says during an interview in his office on the eastern edge of downtown Tulsa.
At the MET, “Recycle Michael” recalls having “a big green team and a whole lot of people who wanted to share that green dream.”
However, in 2015, he took early retirement and stepped aside.
“I paid my dues in recycling, and I needed to move on,” Patton says.
As it turned out, another opportunity to “preach the green gospel” was waiting for Patton. Land Legacy was looking for a new leader, and Patton was the right man for the job.
“They needed a zealot,” Patton says of the recruiting pitch that won him over. “My previous career was leading me to this career.”
The Tulsa native’s passion for the environment can be traced to his childhood. On Earth Day 1970, he helped clear McClure Park of trash. That sent him on a path marked by love of the land and hatred of litter.
According to Patton, he spent the 1980s “obsessed with trash.” In 1990, Patton says “me and a handful of crazies” convinced the City of Tulsa’s then-new council form of government to let the group devise a recycling plan.
Patton became the face of recycling in Tulsa, a self-described “Green Pied Piper” and “con man for good” whose timing was perfect to lead the city into the modern age of conservation.
With Land Legacy, Patton finds himself fighting for the same green cause. He spends a great deal of his time convincing landowners in the state of Oklahoma to contractually agree to preserve their land in exchange for tax breaks and the knowledge they are preserving green space indefinitely for future generations.
“These contracts are forever,” Patton says. “This is more important than keeping milk jugs from getting thrown in the trash.”
Patton, 58, is married to Tulsa City Councilor Anna America. He doesn’t rule out living somewhere else someday but says that will not happen soon. “We’re both involved and embedded here,” he says.