Media's Natural Lands Trust Protects Sacred Main Line Ground

One of the nation's oldest and largest organizations of its kind, NLT is also one of the lesser-known. President Molly Morrison is set to change that.

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 Molly Morrison, president of the Natural Lands Trust, in her Media office. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)
The path past the barn to the converted farmhouse office is bordered mostly by native flowering perennials. “And they’re not weeds,” says Molly Morrison.

Here at the Hildacy Farm Preserve in Media, Morrison oversees the Natural Lands Trust, one of the oldest and largest organizations of its kind anywhere, with a service portfolio centered on Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey. NLT may share territory with other land trusts—particularly in Chester County—but none match its combined competency and capacity for conservation.

NLT began in 1953 as the Philadelphia Conservationists, a group of avid bird watchers united to protect the marshes at Tinicum on the Delaware River. Led by Allston Jenkins, they convinced Gulf Oil to deed 168 acres of prime bird habitat to Philadelphia, foiling plans to fill the area with dredging material from the Schuylkill River. It’s now the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

Whereas other trusts focus on agricultural preservation or—like the Brandywine Conservancy—a specific watershed, NLT has evolved into an eclectic agency that partners with individual landowners, municipalities and even other land trusts to achieve conservation goals.

Morrison has spearheaded more than a decade of growth. And increased work with municipalities has resulted in more of the same, further positioning NLT with serious leverage. Since she arrived—first on the board of trustees in 1997, and as CEO and now president since 2005—the nonprofit has saved more than 33,000 acres, a third of its total 100,000.

Uniquely, Morrison emerged from a municipal background. She first made use of a master’s degree in communications from Syracuse University as the public information officer in Chester County, then as director of policy and planning for its board of commissioners.

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