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30 Stories for 30 Years: My Permanent Love of the Land

Madeline Van Dyck has been with ORLT since the beginning. For 30 years, she has served on the board, bringing heart and determination. Just this week, Madeline texted a few like-minded friends and colleagues a link to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s recent article in the New York Times “The Turtle Mothers Have Come Ashore To Ask About An Unpaid Debt.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Dr. Kimmerer’s concluding words in the story seem to capture Madeline's drive to protect the earth and its beings so well: “We humans carry gifts of our own. We are scientists and storytellers, we are change makers, we are Earth shapers riding on the back of the turtle. We are each called upon to resist the forces of destruction, to give our gifts, to first imagine and then enact a world whole and healed.” We at ORLT are grateful for the gifts Madeline brings to our land trust, and as she describes below, how she and fellow Athenians began the organization three decades ago.

From left to right, ORLT's founding board members: Walt Cook, Al Ike, Rob Fisher, Hans Neuhauser, Madeline Van Dyck, and Dan Hope (not pictured Terry DeMeo, Joseph Heikoff, Laurie Fowler, Milton Hill)

"My father was in the military for his career and every two years our family packed its collectives bags and lit out anew. From my vantage until I started high school when Daddy retired we had been calling the whole wide world home. It’s all I knew."

"My first memories are of that tour of duty in Munich, Germany and then Africa’s Rabat, Morocco where my younger sister would be born. From the European Theater it was off to America’s Capitol, Washington DC, and then Anchorage, Alaska."

"And so it entire childhood, at least the times between duty stations dreaming out the windows as we crossed oceans and countries discovering scenery and societies beyond my imagination. And all the while were those majestic prairies and rivers and forests and mountains in between."

Madeline 4-wheeling on an ORLT conservation easement.

"As the grandeur of this earth repeatedly flashed past me it would be the grounding for my permanent love of the land. Then suddenly I was in my thirties and Earth Day was officially launched. What a heralding it represented. America’s modern passion for the wild had steadily gained traction and the green movement was on its way."

"By and by I happened on a quote from one of my favorite poet/prophets, Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese sage, whose writings have always touched me deeply. It was a simple pair of lines, “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting”.

"And soon thereafter a group of like-minded Athenians took off one day for Chattanooga, Tennessee to attend the Trust for Public Land’s annual meeting. We were five strong: a Professor of Forestry, a UGA Vice President, a landscape architect, a Professor of Leisure Services, and myself, with nothing special in mind except that this organization was the closest thing to The Nature Conservancy’s mission within easy reach of us. Janisse Ray would be our keynote."

"It was becoming evident that not only were land trusts thriving nationwide but they were proliferating. The stories of their successes across America were legendary from Jackson Hole’s Grand Teton ranchlands to the iconic Maine Coastline, from Big Sur Scenic Highway to breathtaking sections of Appalachia’s Smoky Mountains."

"As is the goal of conferences of this nature, the speakers and plenaries hit their intended mark with us. This movement’s popularity can hardly be overstated. And though it was in no small measure the consequence of “an idea whose time had come”, we would also learn important things that day to coax us forward expeditiously."

"There were compelling opportunities through government programs and congressional legislation that incentivized both land trusts and land owners alike to be players too. By empowering interested citizens to protect their own natural and cultural gems in perpetuity, everyone won."

"Heading home after a full day, we were on fire with inspiration. Unable to deny what we had witnessed, the sentiment was “If not us, who?”. And from my vantage it was in the cab of that car that I remember seeing the first twinkling in our collective eyes that created the original board that ultimately led to the birth of ORLT."

"And how proud she has made us lo these 30 years!"

Madeline Van Dyck at ORLT's first Mule Day on Smith Wilson's farm.

The tradition continues! Come to our 30th Anniversary Celebration on October 8th to visit with Madeline and Smith and take a mule wagon ride! And, win our deepest respect by naming two other founding board members in this vintage photo, as well as the four children whose parents still serve on ORLT's board.

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