NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers announced Thursday that Kenneth Dubke of Hamilton County, known as "The Birdman," is the 2019 recipient of the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dubke, 88, a National Park Service's former district ranger at Point Park on Lookout Mountain until his 1991 retirement, received the honor at the annual Governor's Environmental Stewardship Awards event.
"Ken Dubke has been a champion for the study and protection of the avian species across Tennessee for more than 60 years," Salyers said in a news release. "His passion for birds and their future on the planet has been extraordinary, and Tennessee is indebted to his lifelong commitment to nature. He is most deserving of this honor."
A native of Minnesota, Dubke spent much of his professional career in the Chattanooga area and currently lives on Signal Mountain. But state officials say his career and efforts have made an impact from Upper East Tennessee to Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee.
His work spans from his University of Tennessee in Knoxville days as a student to organizing last year's osprey watch camp at East Ridge's Camp Jordan. Dubke has been instrumental in the preservation of golden eagles, osprey and whooping cranes in the state.
A U.S. Army veteran, Dubke later as a UT-Knoxville student joined the Knoxville chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. After graduation, he moved to Elizabethton, compiling reports on the migratory patterns of Sandhill cranes. He began work with the National Park Service in Hodgenville, Kentucky, in 1966 but soon moved to Chattanooga, where he joined the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and remained there until his retirement.
Dubke established public hawk watches at Signal Point on Signal Mountain as well as the first formal Eagle Days program at Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee. His work on the Eagle Days program made it the "pivotal location for bald eagle restoration in the state," according to state officials. His work led to a network of Tennessee wildlife viewing areas across Tennessee.
Dubke and his wife, Lil, since deceased, allowed placement of one of Tennessee's first osprey hacking platforms in their backyard on Savannah Bay of Chickamauga Reservoir. The property was purchased to provide habitat for ospreys and Sandhill cranes. Tennessee now has one of the largest inland populations of ospreys in the U.S., according to officials. Dubke has the largest private ornithological library in the state and officials say his passion for wildlife continues unabated.
The state's Lifetime Achievement Award is named after 19th and early 20th Century naturalist Robert Sparks Walker of Chattanooga.