Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands, has announced plans to retire after 14 years as leader of the region’s largest conservation organization. Morrison said that she expects to step down by the end of 2018.
Morrison took the reins at Natural Lands in 2005 and her leadership has resulted in some of the region’s most significant conservation achievements. During her tenure, the organization has 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 44 nature preserves, including: the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve in Chester County, the 3,565-acre Bear Creek Preserve near Wilkes-Barre, and its first Berks County property, the 201-acre Green Hills Preserve.
Her time at the organization comes to a close in a year that will feature the May opening of Natural Lands’ first public garden, Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden in Villanova, successful preservation of the 1,505-acre Bryn Coed property in Chester Springs, and the additional fall 2018 opening of the new 520-acre Bryn Coed Preserve.
“Molly is a force of and for nature,” said Jack Terrill, 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 continue to achieve. 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.”
“I love this organization and my experiences at Natural Lands could not have been more rewarding or fulfilling,” said Morrison. “The essential role that nature and open spaces play in the quality of life for people in this region is better understood today than it has ever been. Knowing that we, as an organization, are having an impact on preserving nature and connecting people to the outdoors, has made this job especially satisfying.”
Natural Lands’ Board of Trustees has formed a transition committee and will undertake a national search for Morrison’s successor.
“Molly has built a remarkable conservation legacy throughout her entire career, but nowhere more profoundly than at Natural Lands,” said Peter Hausmann, chairman emeritus of the organization’s Board and head of the transition committee. “Her imprint on conservation is extraordinary and she will be missed. Fortunately, Natural Lands is one of the most effective and stable non-profit organizations with which I have been associated. It has a superb and seasoned senior management team, a nationally regarded staff, a knowledgeable and engaged Board of Trustees, and a loyal and dedicated donor and member base. We are well positioned to build upon the successes that have occurred during Molly’s tenure as president as we transition to Natural Lands’ next leader.”
In addition to the organization’s land preservation accomplishments under Morrison’s leadership, Natural Lands has greatly 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 preserves—many of which are open to the public, free of charge, 365 days a year—has more than doubled. Today, more than 125,000 people enjoy Natural Lands properties annually. Recently, the organization launched an initiative to improve access to green spaces in urban communities, including Philadelphia, Chester, Coatesville, and Pottstown.
“As a proud member of the board for almost a decade, I continue to marvel at the accomplishments of Natural Lands under Molly’s leadership,” said Jane Pepper, former president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and a member of Natural Lands’ Board and the transition committee. “Molly has set a very high bar, but she has built a strong staff team and worked closely with board members who believe firmly in the importance of the organization’s mission. I am excited for Natural Lands’ next chapter.”
Before being named president of Natural Lands, 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 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.
Morrison currently serves on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Zoo, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, and Uptown! Entertainment Alliance; is a member of the Chester County Planning Commission; and serves on the executive committee of the Growing Greener Coalition. She previously served as chair of the GreenSpace Alliance, which advocated for conservation in the Philadelphia region.