David McGowan addresses the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation annual meeting on Saturday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Surrounded by the pastoral setting she worked for more than two decades to protect, Leslie Reed-Evans received the heartfelt congratulations of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation at Saturday afternoon's annual meeting.
And the non-profit's outgoing executive director returned the favor with a challenge.
"We still have work to do," she told the crowd gathered beneath a tent at the foundation's Cold Spring Road headquarters on Sheep Hill. "So next year, when I'm sitting where you are, I want to see all the same faces here.
"We really need to persevere in land conservation now more than ever. There are some opportunities that we need to take advantage of, and we need to really be on top of things."
Reed-Evans was on top of things for 23 years at Williamstown Rural Lands, and on Saturday she and her husband, Arthur Evans, were recognized for their years of service to the town and the cause of conservation more generally.
The meeting also was an occasion to introduce to town WRLF's next executive director, David McGowan, who takes over on July 1.
McGowan added his praise to that of WRLF Board President Philip McKnight and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, whose legislature honored Reed-Evans in a proclamation read aloud on Saturday by Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams.
"Leslie, what an incredible conservation legacy you leave behind," McGowan said. "You've left your indelible fingerprints all over Williamstown.
"I'm glad you're going to still be around. Maybe I can call you sometime."
Reed-Evans, who McKnight noted is retiring young, did not sound like she was going anywhere soon.
"I look forward to being a voice in the crowd and working hard to continue to make those things happen and being among you still," she said. "It's been a wonderful journey, and I'm really pleased you've been on it with me."
Saturday's meeting included the usual annual meeting business: electing board members, reporting the group's finances, etc. It also included the dedication and ribbon cutting for a new interpretive walk around "Josiah's Pond," a centerpiece of the educational programs at Sheep Hill.
But the bulk of the meeting was spent looking back on Reed-Evans' accomplishments and looking forward to McGowan's tenure.
As McKnight put it, the occasion was both "bittersweet and full of expectation."
Reed-Evans announced her intention to retire to the board about a year ago, he said. And after a period of denial, the board set about the task of first evaluating the non-profit and determining its long range goals and then advertising for a new executive director.
The latter task yielded 30 applications; four applicants were brought to Williamstown, one from as far away as New Mexico, McKnight said.
The board selected McGowan, who has a background that includes time at the Nature Conservancy of Massachusetts, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
He is not the candidate who hailed from New Mexico. But in some respects, he comes from even farther away: Brookline.
"I'm not complaining about Brookline," he said, after describing the urban landscape of the Boston suburb. "It's been a great community.
"But I have to admit I've missed the wild places I've helped protect."
McGowan talked about his time cooking outside on his "little patch of green space" surrounded by buildings and looking up at the occasional bird overhead.
"I think those birds have led me to you all, to a place that's a little more wild," McGowan said.
That so much of Williamstown retains its "wild" heritage is a testament to people like Lesley Reed-Evans.
Not that she was interested in taking all of the credit.
"It's all of us together," Reed-Evans said. "I can't say how much I really, really appreciate the support and the affection of everyone here as board members, supporters, organization members, conservation land owners.
"All of you have made this job absolutely amazing."
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