Volunteer Heroes: Kent Wagner 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.

“It’s easy to see the bike trail that once was a deer path that I GPSed at Moosic Mountain, or see the burned-out fire area around which I helped create fire breaks, at Long Pond.”

—Kent Wagner, Volunteer


What sparked your interest in conservation?

Kent Wagner:

My grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts all instilled in me a deep appreciation for nature, caring for the land, protecting natural resources. One major branch of my family tree is in agriculture; interacting with my relatives along that branch couldn’t help but give me an appreciation of wide-open spaces, and working within them for a sustainable good.


What are some of the conservation issues that worry you?

Kent Wagner:

The irresponsible use of land, be it through unchecked development, or through unchecked and poorly-supervised preservation.


What are your favorite Nature Conservancy sites?

Kent Wagner:

I don’t have just one favorite Nature Conservancy site in Pennsylvania. Sites have meaning to me based on the work I’ve done at them; I’ve had a number of good experiences at a number of the sites.

I’m fascinated by bats, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Aitkin Cave (Mifflin County) and Hartmans Cave (Cherry Valley), both of which are in interesting natural settings.

I spent a good deal of time GPSing Moosic Mountain prior to the creation of trails throughout the site. I’ve helped clean up trash and post signs throughout. And now, it’s got some pretty nifty trails, as well as a diverse blend of habitats far away from the trails.


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

Kent Wagner:

In 1999, at a time in my life when I was feeling extremely burned out and unfulfilled in my paying job (in the publishing world), I went out to give back, looking to feel good about doing something.

My parents were into volunteerism, demonstrating how important it was to help others, and, in so doing, how worthwhile it made you feel. I didn’t lose sight of that little life lesson.

Having been a long-time donor to a variety of organizations – inside and outside of conservation – I looked to see what volunteer opportunities existed within those organizations. I quickly narrowed the possibilities to two: Habitat for Humanity and The Nature Conservancy. The chapter’s main headquarters in 1999 was in Conshohocken. I worked one mile from that office. I stopped by the Conshohocken office, met their extremely enthusiastic and highly competent volunteer coordinator, learned that an abundance of volunteer opportunities existed with The Nature Conservancy – including some outdoor opportunities – and I was hooked.


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?

Kent Wagner:

The most memorable project is a tough call, but I’d say the one controlled burn at which I participated. It was at Nottingham Park (Chester County), in 2000 or 2001. I was just a spotter, meaning I was well away from the fire lines. The fires were scary, but the personnel on hand so impressed me by their competence, precision, attention to every detail, care taken to attend to those flames, making sure all was put out. There was one “escape” – a fire that starts outside of the targeted area. A spotter (me) noticed/reported the escape, and the burn crew was on top of it immediately. The little escape stayed just that – little.  It was put out before it became a big thing. That demonstrated to me what controlled burns meant. I came away from that day exhausted and knowing I wasn’t cut out for the burn crew. BUT … I was also firmly convinced of the need for prescribed burns and that it was vital to encourage The Nature Conservancy to stick with its burn program.

Why? Because The Nature Conservancy is doing it right. Nine years later, I have had repeated affirmations from a number of different sources that the Conservancy's burn program is first rate. In the state of Pennsylvania, The Nature Conservancy is the gold standard. That’s significant.

The biggest project I was involved in was the first posting at West Branch Wilderness. This was as much a public relations event as it was a work trip, because it was the first open meeting between the new landowner (The Nature Conservancy) and the local populace who viewed West Branch lands as their own. It was the single largest work day at which I’ve participated – 50 volunteers showed (mostly the local neighbors). Traveling over treacherous, ice-covered, unimproved roads, slogging through extremely deep snow, coordinating that many people, getting everyone out of the site safely – was one for the books.


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

Kent Wagner:

Impact, yes, for the short term. It’s easy to see an immediate impact chain-sawing trees and weed-whacking green briar, clearing fields by dragging the timber to the sides of the lot, occasionally scraping all the soil off to get down to the stony, serpentine layer below (Chrome, Goat Hill and New Texas  in “the Serps” of Chester and Lancaster counties). It’s easy to see grasses springing up in those cleared places the following year.  It’s easy to see the bike trail that once was a deer path that I GPSed at Moosic Mountain, or see the burned-out fire area around which I helped create fire breaks, at Long Pond.

Is 10 years of volunteering long enough to see a longer-term impact/larger benefit? Not sure I’m seeing it yet ...


What motivates you to keep volunteering for The Nature Conservancy?

Kent Wagner:

The decent people with whom I work on work days – volunteers and The Nature Conservancy staff alike.  These are the down-to-earth folk, coming from a wide range of backgrounds, bringing to the work day a wide range of experiences, giving unstintingly of themselves. The Nature Conservancy land stewards (and that includes the volunteer coordinator) bring a practical relevance to my experience, turning the theories of The Nature Conservancy’s science into something that’s real, that has direct meaning to the work being done.

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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