Face Of This Place
What were your favorite outdoor memories as a child?
I grew up on the seacoast of New Hampshire as an only child. My town was a summer-home community, and we were the only year-round residents in our entire neighborhood. Every day I would come home from school and go down onto the beach and play in the tide pools. I was fascinated by the marine life. In the summer, I was surfing, swimming, snorkeling and fishing in the ocean. It was a really awesome childhood. I just assumed I would grow up to become a lobsterman because the harbor was about a half-mile up the coast and I loved to watch them out on their boats at the crack of dawn hauling their traps.
So you didn’t grow up to be a lobsterman?
By high school I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist but biology 101, my freshman year of college, convinced me to pursue a different plan. Looking back, there were two professors who really influenced me. One was my art history professor who took us out on countless field visits to the working lands of the surrounding communities. The other was my environmental law professor. He was a retired attorney who had taken up sheep farming—a true gentleman farmer. He’d roar onto campus in a vintage Mercedes diesel, usually with a couple hay bales in the backseat. He’d be dressed waist-up in a flannel shirt with a Brooks Brothers bow tie and tweed jacket but waist-down was he was in jeans and knee-high Wellies covered in mud. Together they sparked my interest in preserving the American landscape.
When was your aha moment that a career in conservation was a good fit for you?
When I went to law school I took a class in nonprofit law that was really eye opening. I realized that I didn’t have to go into corporate law or be a litigator, I could follow my passion and do something I really loved. An executive director of a local land trust taught a course on conservation easements and that was my aha moment. Not only had I found that I could make a career out of something I was passionate about, but I found what I was most passionate about—land conservation. For me, it was a great marriage of having an office job with the perk of being able to get out on the land—applying something intricate like tax codes to a landscape and working with landowners to help them accomplish their conservation goals.
Was this your first introduction to land trusts?
It was. Then I did a summer internship at a land trust in Naples, Florida and I did my first easement on a project in the Everglades. After law school I began working for a land trust in Asheville, North Carolina where I met The Conservation Fund’s North Carolina Director Dick Ludington on a site visit my first week. He suggested some day I should come work for the Fund. I was fascinated by the Fund’s savvy business model, and four years later, I was an employee.
How did the Land Conservation Loan Program begin?
We started the program in 1993 because we realized that local conservation groups often needed bridge financing to accomplish their own conservation projects. We started making loans to several groups and then realized that many of them also needed technical assistance to help them grow their programs. The Fund had both the technical experts and enough capital to loan out, so it made sense that we’d offer our help to get these conservation outcomes accomplished. We provide these tools to help the “little engines that can” accomplish amazing results.
Do you remember the first loan you worked on?
Like it was yesterday! It was to a land trust that we’ve worked with for many years—The Franklin Land Trust in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Today we continue to help them secure priority lands, and over time they’ve been able to stitch those lands together to achieve large-scale conservation. There are historic views and mountaintops in their operating region and when you look out, almost every field and working landscape has been protected by the Franklin Land Trust. Some of those views have been protected with financing from us. It’s a meaningful thing to be a part of.
Why is it important to have strong local land conservation groups?
It’s important because the local groups are on the front line of conservation—foot soldiers out there fighting the good fight to protect the landscapes they value most. They are the ones with the local connections, primarily because they are made up of volunteer community members. Collectively it’s these local groups that are protecting more than one million acres each year. That’s a tremendous impact! Their stories are really moving and powerful and they help people realize that conservation begins in their own backyards. It’s not just about national parks, forests and iconic landscapes, but also about the farm down the street that you know by name, and the places you remember from your childhood. Local conservation groups help people be a part of the American conservation story.
What are the stories that stay with you?
There are so many great stories. One that comes to mind was a loan to the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. They shared a note with us from a land owner saying that by helping to protect a place that was special to them, we had saved their Christmas. Another was a loan to the Western New York Land Conservancy where we helped them protect a family farm that two brothers had owned for decades. Thankfully the conservation agreement was executed just a few days before one of the brothers passed away. So we accomplished his dying wish—protecting a family livelihood and heritage. Now we are working with non-traditional partners like Amigos de los Rios in Los Angeles who are making an impact in an urban environment, providing parks and greenways to underserved communities.
What do you wish more people understood about conservation?
That conservation isn’t just something that wealthy landowners do. It’s not a movement defined by a single group of people, but rather, communities, families and land conservation groups working together to protect the places that matter most.
"Conservation is not just about protecting national parks, forests and iconic landscapes. It's also about saving the farm down the street that you know by name, and the places you remember from your childhood."— Reggie Hall