On our 20th anniversary, then chair of the Development Committee, now Lands Committee member, Norm Rodrigue wrote the cover story for our Spring 2008 newsletter, exploring what the future held for our organization. Some of his predictions were spot on, but what we did not know then was that we were on the brink of the financial crisis and great recession. This summer, Kirsten Brewer, Director of Membership and Programs, sat down with him to follow up.
KB: Let’s go back in time, what were you up to in 2008?
NR: I was still working. Within the KLT world, I was still on the board and we were trying to take a long view of raising funds to make sure KLT was in good financial shape. We were making investments in technology at that time. We were scratching the surface of becoming more professional. It was all volunteer, except for Theresa, who was the Stewardship Director at the time.
KB: You wrote, “We will need more professional support and full time staff.”
NR: Pretty much Theresa was doing everything, despite her title. And soon we called her what she was, which was Executive Director.
KB: What is so interesting, is that you wrote this in the winter of 2008, right before the recession, and the organization managed to stay on track with most of the goals you set forth.
NR: Yes, but those were tough times. It was good from the standpoint of the setback in the land development world − it set it back almost a decade. But on the other hand, it was a little bit scary for us in terms of raising funds for KLT. I don’t think we ever saw a huge impact. There might have been a year, between 2009 and 2010 where our annual membership fundraising leveled, but I don’t think we ever slipped. Otherwise we had been growing steadily. That was in part due to our board’s efforts to fundraise and stay in touch with our members and hold onto what we had. Even if you were okay, you held onto what you had because you were worried. People were much more conservative with their giving. We did do well considering the circumstances.
KB: The first line in your 2008 essay is, development pressures will continue and land values will rise, necessitating a more strategic and focused approach to pursuing our objectives.
NR: It was brief in terms of that trend: the development pressure slowed down, and that helped us a lot. The Board realized that we had to get strategic and focus on how we approached our land conservation work. And that, I think was a major milestone. We invested time and resources in a strategic conservation plan so we could use our limited resources effectively.
KB: What was first in that process?
NR: We did a broad survey of the members, and then we spent more time with the key players - the board, the advisory board, and others - to get input. We used existing resources that the state and other organizations offered.
KB: You wrote, “We will only see demand on recreation areas increase.” Do you think that’s happened?
NR: Yes, I think people are getting out. We keep worrying about kids and screens, but there is a lot of stuff going on outside. It’s not huge crowds, but people are getting out. Not just trails, but people are paddling on lakes, streams, and ponds.
When people move into an area, the first thing they ask is, “Where are the trails?” Take the rail trail, for example. My wife Lynn and I use it several times a week, mostly by bicycle. And I can remember when the trail advocates tried to build it. It was controversial, and they had to fight for several years for approval. I can’t imagine Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale, and Gardiner without it. Likewise, Vaughan Woods is a destination for hundreds and hundreds of people. That’s what Howard Hill will be in a couple of years when the trail system is complete.
KB: You also wrote about education.
NR: Parents want to get their kids involved in outdoor programs. Well-planned educational programs are really attractive. I think we could do more. The key is to do it in an organized way with schools like what we do at the Curtis Homestead Conservation Area. I always thought we should offer more programs for less privileged kids who might not have summer camp opportunities and are stuck inside. We would need additional staff and equipment, but theses programs would help kids get out in nature.
KB: You also wrote about the importance of partnerships?
NR: Yes, I think we’ve had great success there. In particular, what Theresa has done with Local Wood WORKS. We’ve essentially taken a small, regional land trust, and parlayed it into having a state-wide influence through our partnerships with major industry groups, state government, and other nonprofits. It’s an example of being able to do a lot more than just being a successful, small, local non-profit. We are having a broader impact.