As a young boy growing up in the small town of Midland, Michigan, he spent his summers fishing, water skiing and swimming. Now, as a 68-year-old biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, he still very much enjoys the outdoors.
Hal Harrington, who works on ecosystem restoration projects, feels his life has come full circle as he prepares to retire and spend his time fishing once again, only this time with his grandkids in tow.
“I have had a good life,” he said in his deep, calm voice. Harrington beams with pride over the fascinating career path he has had over the past 40 years.
After enjoying his position as a biologist for the Detroit District since 2009, Harrington plans to retire in a couple years.
Through the years, Harrington has held various positions, both civilian and military.
“I'll miss the staff and the work challenges, but there comes a time when the baton needs to be passed,” said Harrington.
He began his professional career in 1972, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineer Branch in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After 30 years of service, he retired from the military as an engineer brigade commander. He also held various positions for the Michigan Department of National Resources and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality while he was assigned to a Michigan Army National Guard unit.
“I met lots of great engineers, worked military construction across the world and had lots of experience reading blueprints, computing bill of materials and critical path,” said Harrington. “My most fun and challenging position was as an operations officer of the 46th Engineer Group out of Flint, Michigan that scoured the world for annual construction missions.”
Today, Harrington is the Detroit District’s lead on ecosystem restoration projects and the point of contact for the development of a project’s habitat values. He reviews restoration design plans and coordinates those designs with other agencies to ensure that the restoration projects will meet the requirements of the natural environment.
“Hal is a huge outdoorsman, which helps him stay in touch with natural resource issues within the state of Michigan and surrounding areas,” said Harrington’s supervisor, Charlie Uhlarik, chief, Detroit District Environmental Analysis Branch. “He brings that knowledge base to work, which helps him understand how our ecosystem restoration projects need to be designed to gain the desired outcomes. I have learned every day from his vast amount of knowledge on aquatic ecosystems to state law and policies.”
Harrington is typically working on four to six projects at a time and with his infectious smile, it is easy to tell that he takes a lot of pride in his job.
“This is my dream job,” said Harrington as he sits lounged back in his well-pressed, pastel green dress shirt with matching tie. “We are working on these habitat restoration projects that make a difference and are truly habitat enhancing and beneficial to the overall ecosystem,” said Harrington. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather work on than something like that.”
“The concrete removal at Menomonee River in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that opens up 18 river-miles for fish spawning and 100 acres of emergent marsh for northern pike is one of many meaningful projects,” said Harrington.
Other projects that Hal holds close include the Pike River Ecosystem Restoration project in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, plus several Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service high value sea lamprey projects. He looks at these projects as “an exciting opportunity to end a career working with such great staff and on such projects that really make a difference to the ecosystem.”
“Hal is a huge asset to the district,” said Harrington’s co-worker, Paul Allerding, biologist, Detroit District. “When something needs to be done, Hal makes sure it gets done.”
Harrington’s hard work and dedication have been recognized throughout his career by way of noteworthy awards and recognitions. In the mid-90s, he received the De Fleury Medal from the Engineer Association for Military Construction Work. In 2011, he was named the Detroit District employee of the year and in 2012, he was awarded a Fisheries Professional Certificate from American Fisheries Society.
“He is a natural-born leader and has a great outlook on life,” said Allerding. “He would make an excellent chief, but he prefers to do fishery reviews and evaluations.”
Hal will tell you that he was most fortunate to have great mentors, both in the military and civilian world and now he can pass along information and knowledge to help others grow, which will pay dividends long after we are gone.
“We have great staff from all of the disciplines in the project development teams, especially our younger staff that bring so much of the new technology and design information to the projects,” said Harrington, downplaying how inspiring and accomplished he is. “I'm just one piece of the puzzle and without the team, my contributions would amount to nothing.”
Harrington, with his honest demeanor and sense of humor, is recognized by his peers as a leader and expert in his field. His fellow employees in the district will continue to enjoy working with him until he decides it is time to spend his days fishing with his grandkids.
“If one wants to better themselves in life, then you surround yourself with truly intelligent, compassionate, and selfless people,” said Uhlarik. “I have had the honor to do that on a daily basis by being around Hal.”
Until the day of his retirement, Harrington will continue doing the job he loves, evaluating the habitat benefits for ecosystem restoration projects across the Great Lakes.
“I couldn’t have had a better crew to work with at my dream job,” said Harrington as he adjusted his metal-framed eyeglasses. "I am still having fun working on some of these great restoration projects that I believe will make a difference for future generations."