“We learned about big issues being tackled with complex partnerships and solutions by deeply committed people like Ian, Richard and Sanjayan.” – Marianne Welch.
Life slows down for Jim and Marianne Welch when tending to their personal nature preserve, which is what they call their farm in Prospect. That’s where they engage in the hands-on work of conserving land, something for which they both have a passion.
Many projects on the Welchs’ farm have been influenced by The Nature Conservancy where Jim, an executive at the Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corporation, once served as Chairman of the Kentucky Board of Trustees.
“The Conservancy inspired us to grow resilient, native grasses and plant trees on our farm, and to consider placing a conservation easement on another property,” says Marianne, an environmental activist.
The Welchs’ path crossed with the Conservancy again in 2012 at a luncheon held at Woodford Reserve Distillery. There they met the Conservancy’s Lead Scientist and featured speaker M. Sanjayan, who shared stories illustrating people’s connection with and important role in nature. The couple and Sanjayan found common interests that led to a new friendship and also an unexpected adventure.
“A couple months later, we found ourselves traveling around Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest on a 46’ catamaran,” says Marianne.
The catamaran belonged to photographer, author and Great Bear advocate Ian McAllister, who joined Jim and Marianne, Sanjayan and the Conservancy’s Canada Program Director Richard Jeo for the land and sea journey to visit First Nations villages and remote pockets of the rainforest.
Aware of the Welchs’ interest in the effect of Canada’s tar sands mining area on indigenous communities, Sanjayan highlighted projects focused on helping the First Nations reclaim and protect their ancestral lands. The issues evoked projects closer to the Welchs’ home where coal mining in Appalachia results in the removal of mountaintops.
“We showed how a coalition of aboriginal communities, non-profit organizations, government partners and corporations are collaborating to protect a precious global resource and ancient cultures in ways that benefit the economy,” says Richard Jeo.
Described by Marianne Welch as similar to the “middle earth described in Tolkein’s novels,” the trip showcased fjords, tall trees and dense woods harboring bears, wolves, humpback whales and bald eagles.
In spite of the different surroundings, her mind kept returning to the land she and Jim steward back in Kentucky. Upon returning to their farm from the catamaran and faraway rainforest, Marianne and Jim felt an even stronger commitment to raising awareness and taking care of their nature preserve.