Photo credit: Mae Axelrod

WeConservePA will honor Molly K. Morrison of Chester County with its Lifetime Conservation Leadership Award at an awards dinner in Gettysburg on March 17. Morrison retired from Natural Lands in 2018, the Greater Philadelphia region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, after serving 14 years as the non-profit’s president.

During Morrison’s tenure, Natural Lands preserved permanently more than 32,000 acres of open space in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. In addition, the organization has secured landmark additions to its network of nature preserves, including: the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve in Chester County, the 3,565-acre Bear Creek Preserve near Wilkes Barre, and the 201-acre Green Hills Preserve in Berks County. Her last year at Natural Lands held several conservation milestones, including the opening of Stoneleigh: a natural garden in Villanova and the preservation of the 1,505-acre Bryn Coed property in Chester Springs.

In addition to the organization’s land preservation accomplishments under Morrison’s leadership, Natural Lands enhanced its staff and financial capacity to care for the lands it owns and to connect more people to nature. Since 2005, the number of people who visit the organization’s properties—which are open to everyone, free of charge—has more than doubled. Today, more than 125,000 people enjoy Natural Lands’ properties annually. During Morrison’s tenure, the organization also launched a program to improve access to green spaces in urban communities, including Philadelphia, Chester, Coatesville, and Pottstown.

“Tens-of-thousands of people each year have been touched by Molly’s conservation leadership,” said Andy Loza, executive director of WeConservePA. “People enjoy more green spaces to recreate in, scenic open space on their commutes, and better water to drink because of her leadership, energy, and drive. WeConservePA is honored to recognize Molly’s extraordinary contributions to conservation and the well-being of Pennsylvanians.”

Before being named President of Natural Lands, Molly Morrison served for three years as the organization’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining the organization, she was Director of Policy and Planning of Chester County for 13 years. During that time, she helped to launch the County’s ground-breaking open space preservation program—which has resulted in conserving nearly 30 percent of the county’s land—and their award-winning Landscapes, Linking Landscapes, and Watersheds planning programs. Morrison also served as a member of the Natural Lands Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2000, prior to her staff involvement.

“Molly has built a remarkable conservation legacy throughout her entire career, but nowhere more profoundly than at Natural Lands,” said Peter Hausmann, chairman of the organization’s Board and past recipient of the WeConservePA Lifetime Conservation Leadership Award. “Her imprint on conservation is extraordinary.”

Morrison’s influence on conservation extends well beyond her work at Natural Lands and Chester County. A highly-respected leader, she served for several years on the board of WeConservePA and the executive committee of the PA Growing Greener Coalition. In those capacities, she was an effective advocate for the continued professional development of the land trust field and for policies and funding that have enabled the preservation of countless important landscapes across the Commonwealth.

As chair of the GreenSpace Alliance, Morrison played a leading role in a landmark study demonstrating that preserved open space generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits in southeastern Pennsylvania, supports thousands of jobs, and increases property values. The impactful results of that effort inspired dozens of similar studies elsewhere in Pennsylvania, including one specific to Chester County that Morrison shepherded during her final year at Natural Lands.

“Molly is a force of and for nature,” said Jack Terrill, past chairman of Natural Lands’ Board of Trustees. “More than 2.5 million of the region’s residents now live within five miles of land under Natural Lands’ protection and they will forever benefit from what Molly and her team achieved. Her skills as a strategist, spokesperson, manager, and consensus-builder have made Natural Lands a highly impactful organization and those of us who have had the honor of serving on the Board of Trustees during her time as president marvel at the organization’s accomplishments.”