Ralph Ramey may very well have been the last individual who could recount firsthand the birth of The Nature Conservancy. He was there in September of 1950, in a meeting room at The Ohio State University, when a small group of members of the Ecologists’ Union voted to officially reorganize and create a wholly new organization they decided to call The Nature Conservancy.
The vote marked an historic moment, launching into motion the establishment of the world’s largest conservation organization.
Officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1951, TNC purchased its first property in Ohio eight years later.
Ramey and his peers were among the first to shine a spotlight on the toll that European settlement had taken on Ohio’s natural areas and had resolved to take “direct action” to save them.
“In less than a century, the farmers, canallers, railroaders, road and bridge builders, and ditchdiggers had brought civilization to the rough Ohio wilderness,” Ramey wrote in the introduction of his book 50 Hikes in Ohio.
It was Dr. Lucy Braun, another founding leader of TNC, who would lead the campaign to make the first purchase in Ohio.
Edge of Appalachia Preserve: From 42 Acres to 20,000 Acres
Born in 1889, Dr. Braun spent decades studying the unusual mixture of forests and prairies along the edge of the Appalachians. She worried about the impacts of human activity on the ecologically rich and sensitive area. By 1959, she’d convinced Cincinnati garden clubs to donate funds to a young TNC so that the organization could purchase its first property in Ohio—a 42-acre tract called Lynx Prairie, located in southern Ohio’s Adams County.
Sixty years later, that 42-acre tract has grown into the more than 20,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve—the largest privately protected natural area in Ohio.
“We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to people like Ralph Ramey, Dr. Lucy Braun, and dozens of other founding mothers and fathers,” says Bill Stanley, state director for the Conservancy in Ohio. “I don’t want to imagine an Ohio without their influence.”
Legacies of TNC’s founders can be found everywhere, at the organization’s own preserves as well as public lands it helped protect, including places like Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, Glen Helen Nature Preserve, Hamilton County Park District and others. So far, TNC has protected nearly 65,000 acres throughout the Buckeye State, safeguarding a diversity of life, securing clean air and water, and creating spaces that enhance our quality of life.
21st Century Environmental Challenges
Yet today humanity faces its greatest challenges, ones of a magnitude that Ramey could not have predicted 60 years ago, and it’s no longer enough to protect pockets of biodiversity. Climate change, unprecedented loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and air and water pollution are harming our health, livelihoods and quality of life.
“It’s up to us to embody the dogged resolve of our founders,” Stanley says. “We, too, need to be fearless about our approach to conservation.”
In 2019 this means coming up with conservation strategies that have outsized influence on the biggest problems facing people and nature. It means working to help establish a sustained funding mechanism in order to keep drinking water safe for Ohioans. It means embracing unlikely partners, such as the agricultural industry, to help develop and encourage the adoption of sustainable farming practices that will curb water pollution and ensure soil health for generations to come. It means inspiring the next generation of nature’s caretakers, at a time when children increasingly choose time with video screens over time in natural areas.
Continuing the Legacy
“Our work is ambitious, but absolutely essential,” Stanley says. “As we look back, some are surprised by what we’ve been able to achieve since we started. They set a high bar, but I’m confident that with a new generation of supporters, and the foundation laid by those who came before, we’ll accomplish even more in the next 60 years.”
Ramey's legacy depends on today's staff and supporters, who now carry the torch he picked up 60 years ago to protect the diversity of life on Earth--a mission that has protected 65,000 acres and helped lead to the return of badgers, otters, eagles, and other formerly extirpated wildlife.
As he wrote in 50 Hikes in Ohio, “Let us hope that the return of creatures with whom we each share this earth for our few years will continue forever.”