Tim Barnett to be Awarded Henry M. Rowan Conservation Award
Land protection pioneer Tim Barnett, the first executive director of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and a founder of the Lake George Land Conservancy, has been named this year’s winner of the Henry M. Rowan Conservation Award by the Lake George Land Conservancy.
The Conservancy will present the award to Barnett at its annual Land and Water Conservation Celebration, which will be held this year at the Sagamore on August 4.
“Tim’s influence in the Adirondacks is undeniable, and we especially feel the results of his work here in Lake George. His expertise guided the formation of the Lake George Land Conservancy in 1988; he helped to protect the Rowan Preserve and other major northeastern shore properties on the lake in the ‘90s; and he dedicated 11 years of service on our Conservancy’s Board of Directors. We are pleased to honor Tim with this year’s Henry M. Rowan Conservation Award, to acknowledge his extraordinary dedication and passion for protecting the land and waters of Lake George,” said Nancy Williams, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director.
Barnett grew up on Lake Champlain, in Westport, which his father, the writer Lincoln Barnett, first discovered as a camper at Dudley in 1925 and who moved his family there from New York in 1946.
After college at Middlebury and the University of Colorado, Barnett found a job as an advertising salesman for WPIX in New York.
“Selling TV time has no rewards except financial ones,” said Barnett. “I wanted to live in the Adirondacks and do something that satisfied my own sense of worth.”
It was the early 1970s; heady days for those committed to protecting the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Park Agency, a state land master plan and a regional zoning plan for private land, had just been created. All were recommendations of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks. Another recommendation was that a private land trust be created to acquire critical parcels before they could be developed, and to protect them until New York State could add them to the Forest Preserve.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy was soon established and the founding directors were casting about for an executive director. As it happened, they all knew Lincoln Barnett and knew that he had a bright young man for a son.
“They knew I knew nothing except that I was from the Adirondacks,” recalls Barnett. “Fortunately, the board was composed of experienced environmentalists who had been fighting the battles of the Adirondacks for decades. And although I was a neophyte environmentalist, we broke new ground for the Nature Conservancy by pioneering landscape scale conservation in the Adirondacks.”
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy’s first offices were in Lake George, and one of the organization’s first acquisitions was the Dunhams Bay wetland, which it sold to the state in 1972.
By the end of the 1970s, the new organization had protected 94,000 acres throughout the Adirondack Park.
“It had become clear, very early, that this region demanded consideration at landscape scale, so we quickly moved toward protecting vast areas of habitat,” said Barnett. “We also recognized that New York State is a member of that landowner group and is, without question, our most important partner. Over the decades, we have been able to tackle a wide variety of conservation issues, all of which apply to the protection needs of this Last Great Place. When people listen to each other and work together, awesome conservation work follows.”
In the late 1980s, Barnett brought that talent for listening to others to Lake George. The Adirondack Land Trust, which had been created with the assistance of Barnett and the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, had identified Lake George’s wooded hillsides as critical to its water quality, and in need of protection.
According to Peg Olsen, who prepared a history of the Lake George Land Conservancy for its 25th anniversary celebrations, “the next question was, do any landowners in the Lake George basin have any interest whatsoever in conserving their land?”
Olsen continued, “The Fund for Lake George, with strong leadership from Jack Ryder, stepped up to the plate and provided a grant to the Adirondack Land Trust through the Lake George Association to develop and conduct a landowner survey. Results of the survey confirmed a high interest by landowners in conserving their land for future generations and identified a strong rationale for creating a local land trust that could meet this demand.”
“At the time of the founding of the Lake George Land Conservancy in 1988, we were responding to a ten-fold acceleration in the annual deterioration of one of America’s most beautiful lakes,” recalls Mark Johnson, the organization’s first chairman.
For Barnett, the creation of a Lake George Land Conservancy was “an opportunity for a much more focused conservation effort.”
Barnett then helped recruit the Lake George Land Conservancy’s first executive director, Mike Carr.
“I try to empower people to do the jobs that I feel need to be done,” he said. “And since local efforts need the support of larger organizations, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy agreed to support the Lake George Land Conservancy with internal, administrate assistance.”
The Fund for Lake George provided the financing needed to get the organization up and running.
“The organization was treated as a subsidiary of The Fund for Lake George; our trustees served as its first board members,” recalls John Barber, a trustee of The Fund at the time. “It was understood that The Fund would support it until could stand on its own, which happened faster than anyone had anticipated.”
The Fund’s trustees were also instrumental in raising the money to acquire lands on the east shore, opposite Silver Bay, which were later named the Margaret Boyd Rowan Preserve.
Since then, the Lake George Land Conservancy has protected more than 13,000 acres in the Lake George watershed and 9.2 miles of shoreline.
“As always, history has its lessons,” Mark Johnson noted at the Lake George Land Conservancy’s annual meeting on July 15. “And it tells us that passionate and motivated people can make a difference. We have seen a remarkable number of conservation heroes in action in our small slice of the world. And some extraordinary leadership as well. There must be something in that AA-Special Lake George water.”