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Nature's a Family Affair

"Looking at this incredible natural environment as far as the eye can see — it’s wonderful to experience yourself, but even more wonderful to experience through the eyes of your kids.” —Joe Lipscomb


By Daniel White

What do you carry in your backpack? Along with the tent, sleeping bag and dried food, Maryland/DC Chapter chair and avid backpacker Joe Lipscomb shoulders responsibility for carrying on a family tradition of conservation leadership.

Joe remembers being exposed to The Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Ohio where he grew up. He credits another force of nature, though, for instilling much of his conservation ethic: his mother, Barbara Lipscomb.

“I sort of absorbed it through my pores because my mother became a huge advocate for the Conservancy,” says Joe. “She was a tireless evangelist for the importance of the mission, and as a result, she was an extraordinarily effective fundraiser.”

In the 1980s, Barbara chaired the “Ohio Lands Forever” campaign to raise $1 million for protecting 11 natural areas. Along with volunteering as an Ohio Chapter trustee for more than 30 years, she served on the Conservancy’s national board of directors from 1988 to 1997.

State to State with the Conservancy

Joe’s life continued to be intertwined with the Conservancy after he graduated from college. His career took him first to New York, where he became involved with the local chapter on Shelter Island.

Joe and his future wife also fell in love with Block Island following a visit inspired by the island’s designation as one of the Conservancy’s “Last Great Places.” The Lipscombs were married the following year on Shelter Island, arranging a tour of Mashomack Preserve for the wedding party.

After relocating to Maryland, Joe again became deeply engaged in his local Conservancy chapter and now chairs its volunteer board of trustees. “The Nature Conservancy has been an important part of who I am and where I live,” says Joe. That influence now also extends to his professional life, as Joe runs an investment fund focused on clean-energy firms.

Happy Trails: Connecting with Nature as a Family

Now a parent himself, Joe shares his love of hiking and backpacking with his family. His two teenagers are experiencing nature even more directly than their father had at their age.

“I’m trying to get my kids actually out into the environment more because, frankly, I think the urgency of conservation today is even more real than it was when I was a kid,” Joe says.

“We regularly go out hiking along the Potomac on Bear Island, but we’ve also taken our kids on progressively more serious backpacking trips,” he adds. “It’s a way to expose them to the natural world without the distractions of the modern world.”

Starting with two- or three-day trips to West Virginia’s Dolly Sods, the family progressed to a five-day trek along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island and, just last summer, a 12-day sojourn in the High Sierras.

Passing Along a Global View

Joe describes his mother as one of the earliest advocates for the Conservancy’s role in international conservation, and that global concern also lives on through Joe. With encouragement from the Maryland/DC staff, Joe has introduced his family and friends to Conservancy projects in Central America and the Caribbean.

The Lipscombs have explored Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and, more recently, encouraged several families to join them on a trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas. “We wanted to expose them to what the Conservancy is all about,” Joe explains. “Andros is another of those places where you go and can’t imagine a place like that still exists because it’s so pristine.”

They ended the trip in Nassau, where the families witnessed the intensive development that Andros thus far has avoided. Such stark contrasts inspire Joe’s commitment to the “family business” of protecting special places like Andros, and he believes the concept of conservation is no longer an abstraction to his kids.

With society bombarding teenagers with so much stimulation, Joe finds his greatest hope in those unspoiled places where his family treks off into nature with everything they need on their backs.

“Standing on the top of Mount Whitney and looking at this incredible natural environment as far as the eye can see — it’s wonderful to experience yourself, but even more wonderful to experience through the eyes of your kids,” Joe concludes. “It’s great to see something have a profound impact on them.”

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