In March, Andy Kendall stepped down as president of The Trustees of Reservations after 12 years of extraordinary leadership. For this month's Kendall's Corner, we took a moment to ask him a few questions.
Twelve years ago, The Trustees were considered the “best-kept secret” in Massachusetts. How did that change?
When I started, there was a strong desire among our staff and volunteers to raise our profile. We knew that if we were going to truly accelerate the pace of conservation in Massachusetts, we couldn’t do it alone. We needed more members, more volunteers, more partners. Being the “best-kept secret” wasn’t going to get us where we
needed to be.
We had such a strong presence on the North Shore that many people associated us only with that region, even though we had spectacular properties in the Berkshires, around Boston, and in Central Massachusetts. So we looked at other parts of the state to see how we could become more active and raise visibility for our name and our work. We stepped up our work with partners and in cities so that we could broaden our footprint. And, we moved our staff from one office in Beverly to three, with the opening of offices in Leominster and Sharon, which has helped to make us more active and visible members of those communities.
You talked about needing to accelerate the pace of conservation – how has that idea evolved?
We recognized that we needed to do more than protect acres – we needed to get more people involved our work, so that they would be motivated to speak up and act for the special places at risk in their own community. That has provoked our focus on engagement in recent years. We realized that our reservations didn’t need to be the ends in themselves, but they could instead serve as the beginning of a conversation with individuals, communities, volunteers, and partners. It’s a longer-term proposition, because, rather than us doing the work, we’re fostering communities of people and partners that are taking up the mantle of this work themselves. But when it works – and we’ve seen it work over and over again – the impact can be so much broader and more rewarding.
One theme of the past 12 years seems to be affiliations and partnerships. Why is this so critical?
We’d always recognized the strong and important role that The Trustees play in assisting communities and other organizations to meet their goals, rather than always being out in front on every project. But in the past decade we’ve really been able to see how these collaborations are helping us to meet our goals.
It didn’t happen overnight, of course, and we needed to experiment and even have a few partnerships that didn’t work. But today, we’ve seen partnerships and affiliations succeed over and over again – Boston Natural Areas Network, Hilltown Land Trust, Boston Urban Gardeners, the Bay Circuit Alliance and Appalachian Mountain Club, Westport Land Conservation Trust. These are just a few of the partnerships that have show that, when working together, we’re able to accomplish so much more, more effectively.
The Trustees have emerged as a leader in sustainability, particularly through our “green” buildings. What prompted that commitment?
The Trustees are known for preserving and protecting buildings – we don’t build them. But in 2002, we were presented with the amazing opportunity, thanks to a generous donor, to express our real values as an organization by building the Doyle Conservation Center from the ground up. There really was no alternative for us other than building a “green” building and seeking LEED certification. The Doyle Center was one of the first Gold-rated LEED-certified buildings in state. Today, the Doyle Center anchors our community park in Leominster and serves as an example of what sustainability can really mean. Later renovating two historic buildings – the Bullitt Reservation farmhouse and the Old House at Appleton Farms – once again gave us the chance to lead by example by taking existing buildings and transforming them into public spaces that are uniquely “green” and sustainable.
As a conservation organization, we’re expected to lead in sustainable practice, and really practice what we preach. I think that we can demonstrate leadership in the areas that we’re known for, such as land conservation and management of our properties, but also in areas such as considering novel uses of conservation land for renewable energy – that’s stepping out a bit of that traditional conservation role and doing something a little unusual.
How have food and farming emerged as a core part of our work?
The Trustees had long played a role in protecting farmland in Massachusetts. But to actively manage and cultivate farmland was new for us. The approval of the management plan at Appleton Farms was my very first act at my very first Board meeting. That was a big step – we were launched on a journey at Appleton, one that we all know well by now, and one that was, of course, the beginning of an even bigger journey.
And, of course, our affiliation with Boston Natural Areas Network led us in a new direction in terms of local food, also establishing urban areas as a priority for us.
It’s been wonderful to realize the power of food – whether at a suburban farm or an urban community garden – to connect people to the land, to each other, and to their community. People have rallied around these farms and gardens because they understand the value they bring to their neighborhood and their town. It’s introduced us to so many new volunteers and partners, too, outside of the traditional conservation world, allowing us to reach into new communities in new ways.
What are the biggest challenges facing The Trustees as we move forward in the 21st century?
If the goal 12 years ago was to accelerate the pace of conservation, then the goal today is to accelerate the number of people involved in conservation. We haven’t become relevant to enough people yet. Our challenge – and our opportunity – is to become more welcoming and relevant to a broader segment of society.
We’re uniquely capable of doing this because, by definition of our mission, we’re a place-based, community-focused organization that connects people to special places in their backyards. Once we invest in a place, our commitment to that community is permanent, long term.
Twelve years ago, we determined that about half of Massachusetts’ population lived within ten miles of one of our reservations. That was an important achievement. But what about the other half? In looking at that map, we realized that almost all of the people we were missing lived in metropolitan areas and cities – places where we had not historically been active.
So we have been trying to fill those gaps, working directly or through partners to protect places that are accessible, visible, engaging, inspiring – and above all, welcoming – to more people in more places. And we want those places to reflect the diverse cultural and natural identity of our communities. We’ve made progress, but there’s much more to do. There is no alternative – we need more people to care and to see themselves as a welcome part of this movement.
If you had to choose, what’s the one reservation that everyone should visit?
(Laughing) I couldn’t pick just one. If anything, I would say to people to get out of your own backyard, go see a reservation in a totally different part of the state. Take the opportunity to go see a part of Massachusetts that you don’t see every day. Just enjoy exploring.
Published: March 2012