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Trustees of Reservations taps John Judge as its next chief executive

Judge, who currently leads the Appalachian Mountain Club, will take the reins of the country’s oldest land trust in February.

John Judge will join Trustees of Reservations as chief executive in February.Shun Liang

Trustees of Reservations, the country’s oldest land trust, said Monday that it has named John Judge as president and chief executive, just the fifth person to hold the job in the organization’s 130-year history.

Judge will join the Trustees in February from the Appalachian Mountain Club, where he has been chief executive for nearly 10 years. His appointment comes 11 months after the death of Barbara Erickson, who had run the Trustees since 2012 and was just 42 when she died from a rare form of appendix cancer.

The Trustees and AMC have long worked in their own ways to protect land and connect people with nature, and both nonprofits share a more recent commitment to fighting climate change and making the outdoors more inclusive, especially to urban residents.

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AMC is perhaps best known for maintaining hiking trials, huts, and lodges from Maine to the mid-Atlantic states, while Trustees’ sites include woodlands, farms, museums, and public gardens.

“We have the same DNA,” Judge, 54, said in an interview.

A love of the outdoors is also in Judge’s DNA, nurtured by his parents — his late father was a horticulturist and landscape architect — as well as scouting, which got him into hiking, paddling, and cross-country skiing.

The pandemic has led to a “great outdoors reset,” Judge said, as more people pursue recreational activities that get them out of the house. That has helped increase “awareness around climate loss,” he said.

The Trustees wants to “rise to this moment” by making its sites as appealing as possible to as many people as possible, said Nicie Panetta, who as vice chair of the organization’s board led the eight-month search for a new chief executive.

The search committee was excited by Judge’s “depth of experience and demonstrated track record in the key areas of conservation, community building, expanding the reach of AMC to more people, and increasing awareness of climate change,” Panetta said in an interview. “He has demonstrated a deep commitment from the start of his career to equity and access.”

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The Trustees maintains more than 120 properties — including Crane Beach in Ipswich, Appleton Farms in Ipswich and Hamilton, and World’s End in Hingham — that draw more than 2 million visitors annually. In the past year it added Jewell Hill in Ashby, Armstrong-Kelley Park in Osterville, and Becket Quarry in Becket.

Under Erickson, the Trustees launched an initiative to find park locations along the Boston waterfront. It has been designated as the site developer for Piers Park III in East Boston, and Judge said he intends to further expand the organization’s urban reach.

“One of the things I learned quickly at AMC is that outdoor recreation is the secret sauce in getting people interested in conservation and preservation,” Judge said. “We have the opportunity and the responsibility to connect people to nearby nature.”

He said that with such connection comes a better understanding of climate change, which is already affecting Trustees’ coastline properties through erosion and other storm damage.

Judge believes Massachusetts has the potential to become a leader on climate issues, just as it emerged as a global hub in life sciences. The Trustees can be the convener, he said. “We need to step up.”

Prior to AMC, Judge was the chief city planning and economic development officer for the City of Springfield. Earlier in his career he ran his own consulting firm focused on inner-city residential and commercial development, and served as executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Greater Boston. Judge, who was born in Dorchester and raised in Milton, earned a BA in economics from Stonehill College and a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

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He’ll take over at the Trustees from Jocelyn Forbush, an executive vice president of the organization who has served as acting chief executive since the fall of 2020.

“We have immense gratitude for Jocelyn’s stewardship through one of the most challenging years in organizational history, including a global pandemic and the passing of Barbara Erickson,” Peter B. Coffin, chair of the Trustees’ board, said in a statement. “We thank Jocelyn for calmly leading through turmoil while ensuring our financial stability and retaining our valued staff.”