Face Of This Place

Blaine Phillips on First State National Historical Park

First State is one of TCF's most significant accomplishments, can you give me a brief history on how it all began?
There is so much history to the First State project and the many years of combined efforts by so many that it is hard to know where to begin. But the jumping off point for us certainly began with protecting 1,100 acres along the Brandywine River called the "Woodlawn" property. Our primary goal was to protect this beautiful landscape. We partnered with the Mt. Cuba Center, who made an unprecedented commitment to acquire the property and once it was secured, the support for national recognition was overwhelming! The attention that the protection of this historic stretch of land gained was enough to allow us to realize that we could elevate the Woodlawn property to National Park status. And so it began!

Why was the First State project such an important accomplishment for the Mid-Atlantic region?
First and foremost, protecting the Brandywine valley in general is a very important accomplishment. The Brandywine is an incredible  scenic, cultural and recreation resource that tells much of early America’s history along its steady flow. From the Native American Lenape tribe that lived in the valley of the river to the Wyeth family of artists who still paint its beautiful landscapes, the Brandywine is truly one of the founding rivers of our nation.

How does partnership play a role in your work in the Mid-Atlantic?
All of our projects without exception involve partners, and most involve multiple partners. We are driven by these partnerships from start to finish to help identify priorities for protection and help manage them when they are secured. On First State, we worked very closely with our funder Mt. Cuba Center, and the National Park Service on the transfer and future management of the land. From start to finish, there was a lot of collaboration and many, many people played a vital role in this remarkable achievement. This spirit of collaboration for the Mid-Atlantic is all about getting things done. It's about working together for the greater good of our community.

What kind of projects are you focused on in the Mid-Atlantic now?
TCF gives me the platform to take on big projects with big vision.  We are encouraged and empowered to think in large landscape-level terms and always reach for an innovative outcome. I continue to be in constant communication to identify how we can complement our existing successes and grow to overcome the many challenges that we still face in the region. Loss of habitat, threats to special places, dwindling open space - all of these are very real challenges we are still facing and  trying to plan for and overcome.

Tell me about how you've engaged your family in the world of conservation?
The First State project is a great example of how my family was there with me every step of the way. A particularly fun thing for me to see was my sons desire to have a Delaware stamp in their Junior Ranger National Park Passport book! They were adamant about having a National Park stamp from their own state.  Seeing this park come to life was very personal to them because of the time that we had all spent as a family at many other national parks in other states and the pride they took in having one in their own state.

If you could pass on one legacy to future generations, what would it be?
I think that it would be to not only understand the importance of open spaces, but to making those places tangible for people just like it was for my sons. When families, especially kids, are connected to the work we are doing it becomes are part of their basic values. Our kids need to appreciate and re-connect with the outdoors. The First State project created a park with tremendous accessibility for literally millions of kids and their families. It is close to neighborhoods and developed areas, but still has a remote feeling. Sometimes I head out with my boys and just turn over rocks in a stream or take a trail until we get lost in the woods. It makes me realize that the legacy of what we do isn’t just about the places we protect, but the people that use them. In the end, that is the privilege of working in conservation—seeing people connected to the places and knowing the legacy will continue.  

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Conservation Acquisition
First State National Historical Park
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