Volunteer Heroes: Henry Whitesel Q&A

For many, the calling to conservation has been sparked by a sense of the joy and wonder about the world that was ignited in their childhood. For others, the calling is about leaving a better world for the next generation.

Whatever the motivation, our world needs stories like these more than ever.

The profiles and Q&As in this section represent The Nature Conservancy volunteers who make our work possible in Pennsylvania. We hope you’ll be inspired by these stories.

“Since I helped create these meadows, I feel grateful that I have made a contribution to preserving the biodiversity of this world and added to its beauty at the same time.”

—Henry Whitesel, Volunteer


What sparked your interest in conservation?

Henry Whitesel:

I have been interested in "sustainable earth" for decades, likely since childhood. I grew up on a farm and listened to my dad talk about losing too much farm land to development. My job as a research engineering scientist with the US Navy did not give me any time to work in conservation. Volunteering does.

A couple of months after I retired, I found Mike Bertram parked along my driveway, on his way to scout out some work sites on the Serpentine Barrens, here at Goat Hill. I've been working with him ever since as a sawyer on the "Serps" crew. We clear trees and invasive brush from Serpentine Barrens areas in the forest and create "Serpentine" meadows.


What are some of the conservation issues that worry you?

Henry Whitesel:

We humans are using the planet and forgetting that we have to sustain our natural resources. If we sustain our natural earth, future generations will greatly appreciate it.


What are your favorite Nature Conservancy sites?

Henry Whitesel:

The State-Line Serpentine Barrens are my favorite Nature Conservancy site in Pennsylvania. A true barrens site looks like the western forests, with the sparsely spaced trees and prairie grass on the forest floor. The barrens are about 12 miles from I-95 and present a unique opportunity for the millions of people here in the Northeast Corridor to see nature at its finest. But, of course, most people zoom by on I-95 without ever being aware that this area exists.

Outside of Pennsylvania, I particularly like the Nassawango Creek preserve on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I have fond memories of canoeing there with three of my children.


There are so many organizations in need of volunteers; whey did you choose The Nature Conservancy?

Henry Whitesel:

The Nature Conservancy actually uses volunteers that do real, out of the office work. I like that. We are creating barrens meadows here in the forest, and I'm pretty good with a chain saw. The Nature Conservancy's goals and my talents just happened to match up very well here at the Serpentine Barrens.

I am also a member of the burn crew and work on prescribed burns. This is great fun because we are managing a violent force of nature while restoring different types of vegetation to forest areas. And I get outdoors, too, which contrasts with much of my past work experience and makes me feel very alive. In support of prescribed burns, I travel to West Branch Wilderness, Long Pond, and Moosic Mountain.


What is the most memorable project that you have been involved with as a volunteer for The Nature Conservancy? How has it shaped your image about conservation?

Henry Whitesel:

Burning tens of acres of forest floor in one day is the biggest project I have worked on as a volunteer. Working on prescribed burns teaches me about one of the many ways to manage forest and grasslands. I come from a military application background, where projects are aimed at destroying stuff. Prescribed burns destroy and preserve at the same time. We preserve the complex natural area I happen to live in. This confirms my opinion that The Nature Conservancy is making a real difference in preservation.


Have you seen an impact on the land from your volunteer efforts?

Henry Whitesel:

Every spring and summer I see meadows here on the Serpentine Barrens that come alive with flowers and grasses, some of which are unique to this area. Since I helped create these meadows, I feel grateful that I have made a contribution to preserving the biodiversity of this world and added to its beauty at the same time.


What motivates you to keep volunteering for The Nature Conservancy?

Henry Whitesel:

I support conservation of our natural environment. The Nature Conservancy is good at that, and I get to work outside in the process. My motive for volunteering is partly selfish. I am most happy when I am busy. And when my efforts add value to the world, then maybe I am doing "God's work." I am not particularly religious, but I am guided by a sense of ethics. I take the old maxim seriously that one should leave the world a better place for having lived in it.

Thank you to volunteer Mark Marotta for interviewing our Pennsylvania volunteers about their service to the chapter. Mark is a freelance writer and volunteer for The Nature Conservancy residing in Montgomery County. Views shared here by volunteers may not be the views of The Nature Conservancy.


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