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Barbara Erickson new head of Trustees of Reservations

From left, Bird Park property manager Josh Hasenfus, incoming Trustees of Reservation president Barbara Erickson, and Dennis Camp, Trustees superintendent of the Neponset unit of Trustees.

From left, Bird Park property manager Josh Hasenfus, incoming Trustees of Reservation president Barbara Erickson, and Dennis Camp, Trustees superintendent of the Neponset unit of Trustees.

Barbara Erickson spent much of her childhood in Wyoming playing in the great outdoors, learning to love and respect nature. When she came to Boston in 2001 to work for Harvard Medical School, she immediately liked what she saw here as well.

Barbara Erickson.

“We moved here, plopped down, and I just fell in love with it the moment we arrived,” said Erickson, 39, new president of the Sharon-based Trustees of Reservations, the nation’s oldest land trust and one of the state’s largest nonprofits, about the Bay State’s natural beauty. “My husband says my soul was born here. I remember even before knowing a lot of people here, just going to the Cape, the Berkshires, the islands, to many Trustees properties.”

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Nature in Wyoming, a state with fewer people than Rhode Island but 10 times the size of Massachusetts, was her playground as she spent a lot of her youth running through meadows and lying back to gaze up at the sky, all of which, she said, “created the most beautiful memories.”

So when the chance came to run Trustees of Reservations, with its more than 100 properties and some 26,000 acres in 76 communities statewide, she jumped at it. She said Wyoming, as beautiful as it is, faces a spate of mining issues: According to the US Energy Information Administration, Wyoming produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal and is one of the nation’s top producers of natural gas.

“There you can see nature at its best and worst,” said Erickson, who starts her new job in mid-July. “So it was wonderful to come to Massachusetts, where you have such thoughtful leaders who make sure the beauty is maintained.”

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One of her biggest goals in running the Trustees organization is to get the word out to families about the recreational opportunities the properties hold and to fight what she called “the nature deficit disorder.”

“Our nation’s obesity epidemic is related to this, this challenge to get kids off the couch, away from video games and computers, and outside playing,” she said.

She has two young children, and said the attachment to the outdoors by children “is so completely natural. Watching kids run around outside, with that innate curiosity of theirs, it’s our job to try to keep that invigorated in the family unit.”

She said ample ways to do that, free of charge, exist at all Trustees properties, including Francis William Bird Park in Walpole, which Erickson visited recently to talk about her new job. The Friends of Bird Park created a new playground there last year that on any given nice day is swarming with children.

The Trustees also runs a free “Quest Detective” program geared for children and their parents, enticing them to explore the outdoors in 12 Trustees locations, which in this area include East Over Reservation in Rochester, the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, and Bird Park. It asks participants to spot flora, fauna, and landmarks, and many quests are poems and stories that reveal important historic, natural, and scenic aspects of the properties, Erickson said.

“The history of the places we have is amazing, including the history of Bird Park,” she said of the 89-acre park created in 1925 by Charles Sumner Bird and his wife, Anna, in memory of their eldest son. Acquired by the Trustees in 2003, the park is an oasis of trees and meadows in a heavily residential area with 3 miles of walking paths, huge shade trees, ponds, and an outdoor arena where warm-weather programs are held. “When you visit these places, you get a greater understanding of Massachusetts history.”

Erickson was chosen in a nationwide search to succeed Andrew Kendall, who served as president for 12 years. His tenure was a time of explosive growth for the Trustees, when its membership doubled to more than 100,000 and land acquisitions brought the total holdings to 106.

The most recent was a $2 million purchase this spring of the Governor Ames Estate in Easton, a 36-acre property once home to Oliver Ames, the state’s 35th governor. The property is noted for its sweeping lawns, 19th-century stone stable, garden pond, and meadows.

Other Trustees properties south of Boston are located in Canton, Cohasset, Hingham, Marshfield, Milton, Norwell, Plymouth, and Wareham.

Erickson most recently worked as a vice president for Save The Children, overseeing fund-raising and engagement functions, and is credited with raising a record $200 million in philanthropic revenues last year. Prior to that, she was chief development officer at the Boston-based Earthwatch Institute.

Erickson is the first woman president of the Trustees. But more importantly, she said, in terms of the commitment former leaders have had, “the fact that I’m only the fourth president in the organization’s 120-year history is remarkable.”

“That I’m female, a mother of two, not originally from Massachusetts, speaks volumes of the organization’s willingness to engage more people,” she said.

Erickson allows that public recognition of the Trustees may not be on a par with other land trusts and conservation groups, including the Audubon Society, despite its size. The Trustees has an annual operating budget of $20 million, an endowment of more than $125 million, and a staff of 180 year-round employees, 400 seasonal workers, and more than 1,500 volunteers.

And that’s also going to be a large part of her job: letting more people know what the Trustees is all about, particularly its many accessible parks and activities. Although membership in the Trustees organization starts at $47 a year, public access to most of its properties is free, as are a variety of programs.

“People know about the Trustees and have a sense about what we do,” she said. “But we perhaps haven’t said it as loudly as we should have. Now we will — we want more people to know about us.”

For more information on the Trustees of Reservations, visit www.thetrustees.org.

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at kandarian@globe.
com.
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