nature.org: Have you always had a connection with nature?
Joyce Stone: Yes. I grew up in East Hartford, Connecticut, exploring the woods every day behind my home. From the time I was 8 years old, I tried to stop the needless killing of frogs and snapping turtles. When I was in high school, I stood by helplessly and watched the wooded wetland along the Hockanum River logged over and excavated for widening I-84. In 1960, I was fortunate to be able to attend the University of Connecticut and prepare professionally for a career in conservation so I might have greater influence.
nature.org: Is that when you learned about The Nature Conservancy?
Joyce Stone: That occurred in 1965. I was a Curator at a Youth Museum in Westport. TNC’s second President, Alexander Adams, served on the museum’s Board and one day took me aside and informed me about TNC and its mission to protect land. It was one of the earliest organizations in the world to protect land and I was very fortunate to have known Mr. Adams. I immediately joined and the seed grew in my mind that this would be the most satisfying career I could obtain.
I left my position a year later in hopes of working for TNC. I soon discovered, however, through attending TNC’s Annual Meeting on Skyline Drive in Virginia, that very few jobs existed in the field. I persevered and after the meeting, even drove into Washington, D.C. at night on my way back home, a risky experience at the time, to get a feel for the site of their office. My ambition was quickly put aside, however, when we learned that my father had only a few months to live. I accepted a job, about two weeks after the trip to Virginia, to teach Science in Connecticut to be near my mother.
nature.org: Eventually the path led to Pennsylvania, right?
Joyce Stone: By 1975, I had completed my Master’s Degree at Cornell where I also met my husband. We were living in northern New Hampshire with our one-year-old daughter. We learned of the opening at the Woodbourne Preserve from a friend who served on the Stewardship Committee. We were hired to be the Resident Naturalists, a part time, non-salaried, position that offered free rent in a house on the Preserve. We shared these wonderful positions which allowed me to be a full-time mom and Ben to build dulcimers and later wood-building stoves.
nature.org: What was it like living at a nature preserve?
Joyce Stone: We loved living on the edge of a protected preserve. Woodbourne, then as well as today, is wild and lovely and contains a large area of old-growth forest, wetlands and many other diverse habitats. In addition to trying to enthuse hundreds of children and adults about nature every year, I had the opportunity to initiate May Saturday Bird Walks and Nature Camps that are still being offered 40 years later.
nature.org: What have been the highlights of your volunteering experience there?
Joyce Stone: In addition to being employees of TNC, we were voted to be members of the volunteer Stewardship Committee early on because of the many extra hours we put into our positions. So the line between what we did as employees and what we did as volunteers is blurred. But after 13 ½ years we reluctantly gave up our positions to move into our own home that Ben had built on land adjoining the Preserve. So everything I have done in the past 28 years has been as a volunteer on the Stewardship Committee.
During this time period I have continued to guide groups through the Preserve and help lead the Saturday Bird Walks. I have served as Secretary for the Stewardship Committee and for the past 3 years have been the Chairwoman again. One challenging situation for me was guiding the Committee through the difficult decision as to whether or not we would log off 14 acres of white ash trees which are being killed by the Emerald Ash Borer. Another recent challenge involved composing the letter to the company that wanted to run a major gas pipeline across the Preserve. I was never so nervous about writing a letter in my life as the stakes were so high. After a few changes, the Committee finally agreed on my wording. TNC, of course, sent out a brief reply to the company flatly saying ‘No,’ but I would like to believe that my letter had some influence as well. The path of the pipeline was moved away from the Preserve.
I think I have only missed four of the Stewardship Committee Meetings in 41 years. That reflects my commitment but also the fact that I enjoy spending time with these dedicated members. One learns so much at our meetings in the ways of dealing with invasive species and diseases that have been devastating our forests for the past 125 years.
nature.org: Do you remain as involved today?
Joyce Stone: I continue to be as involved today as in the past. It has been a very fulfilling part of my life. In fact, just recently I spent many hours writing e-mails to the Committee and working with another member to erect a heavy chain across a parking lot that is being misused. I also met and talked with a young couple whom I had known when they were kids about joining our aging Committee.
TNC is unique in offering opportunities for volunteers to work at their Preserves in Pennsylvania. They do everything possible to encourage, facilitate and express gratitude for volunteer participation. I encourage anyone interested to become involved. Nature needs our help!