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Growing Up Wild

Some of Richie Jones’ strongest childhood memories involve time spent in nature. It’s the reason why his heart filled with pride during a Montana vacation where his three sons snacked on choke cherries and cattail shoots (and even ants), mimicked bears and otters, swam in cold creeks, rode horses, and even stripped bark from willow saplings to make bows and arrows.  

“They loved every minute,” says Jones, of his family visit to the Conservancy’s Pine Butte Guest Ranch and Preserve. “It was a trip that illustrated to my kids that we are a part of nature, not separate from it.”

Jones learned the same lesson growing up on his parents' farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania, surrounded by thousands of acres of open space.

“Much of my childhood was spent exploring the woods, playing in the river and riding ponies through fields,” says Jones. “As I grew older, I came to appreciate the peace and solace nature offers the human soul, an appreciation that grows stronger with each passing year.”

During the 1980’s, a large property surrounding his parents’ farm went up for sale, attracting interest from potential buyers that included The Walt Disney Corporation and a nuclear power company. Instead, a group of local land owners joined forces with the Brandywine Museum and Conservancy and purchased the property, permanently preserving it through conservation easements and fee-simple conveyances.

Adds Jones, “My late father was instrumental in that effort, which today allows me to engender in his grandchildren the same appreciation for the outdoors I developed as a child.”  

It’s a job he takes seriously – both in his role with the Conservancy and also as a father. Taking a cue from his childhood, Richie is known to concoct birthday scavenger hunts at the farm – sometimes on foot and sometimes on horseback. At least once a month, they gather together with cousins and friends to hike, swim, camp and explore.

According to Jones, “It’s because of conservation that it’s possible to share this place with them – which is what I strive to do on a bigger scale working for The Nature Conservancy in Delaware.”

Validation for this career path came at the end of the vacation in Montana. “As we departed Pine Butte for the airport in Great Falls, my oldest turned to me and said, “Dad, I want to be a naturalist when I grow up. That’s all I needed to hear!”

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