TLC's new steward of the land
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
One could say that what led Todd Pride to the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) was a mash-up of early influences, longtime passions and ongoing activities.
Perhaps the moment that sealed the deal, however, was moving the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Partners organization's headquarters – an organization he began in 2008 – from Center City Philadelphia to Lancaster County in 2016. While he and his team were helping to introduce youth to fishing, hunting, wildlife education, conservation and outdoor activities to more than 11,000 youth throughout a five-state footprint, Pride knew that the way to strengthening the organization could be done by forming partnerships with land trusts, and watershed and wildlife affiliations.
One of those was TLC.
“Moving operations allowed us to effectively move our work as trainers in fishing and hunting heritage to higher-quality environments,” Pride said. “I got a chance to meet [former TLC Executive Director] Gwen Lacy, and was moved by her passion, and she immediately took to the possibility of working with her education team to introduce some of those activities as part of creating more conservation and environmental stewards.”
Over the next few years, Pride worked side by side with TLC's Education Director Lea Gummey, Preservation Director Abbie Kessler and several TLC volunteers, in connecting TLC with Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoor Partners. The peripheral partnership that Pride had formed became a permanent one, when he was named as TLC's Managing Director this past June.
Even before stepping aboard at the organization, Pride said he felt an infectious energy that extended to all facets of TLC, which was in transition and searching not only for Lacy's replacement but for new leadership.
“I had an opportunity to meet some of TLC's Board members at various events, and literally took the opportunity to extend to the Board that I was interested in leading the team,” said Pride, who had served for many years in the banking industry and in the corporate sector, most recently as the managing director of the Urban Equity Partnership, a community investment banking organization in Philadelphia. “I am driven by teamwork, and I saw this position as an opportunity to work with a team – not only TLC's nine-member team, but with an energetic Board and a robust volunteer network.”
Pride steps into a leadership role for an organization that has emphasized its conservation efforts and educational outreach since it was founded in 1995. TLC now manages six preserves: the 180-acre Little Elk Preserve in Elk Township; the 45-acre Chandler Mill Preserve and Nature Center, that also houses TLC’s headquarters and an interpretive nature center; the 80-acre Marshall Bridge Preserve along Creek Road; the 40-acre Marshall Mill House Preserve, the 11-acre New Leaf Eco Center near the corner of Rosedale and East Hillendale roads; and the 86-acre Stateline Woods Preserve, along Marybell Lane. Working to ensure the perpetual preservation of open space and natural resources in southern Chester County, TLC acquired and protected an additional 278 acres in 2018.
TLC also offers a year-round diversity of nature-based, educational and historical programs for children and adults, all designed to encourage interaction with natural habitats while helping to nurture an appreciation and understanding of wildlife’s role in the world’s natural infrastructure. In 2018, TLC hosted more than 4,200 visitors to its educational programs.
When it comes to balancing education and land acquisition and land management, TLC doesn’t just hunker down and mind its own shop. It continues to form the necessary collaborations and partnerships that connect need with demand, Pride said. In recent years, TLC has partnered with several local open space programs, as well as Chester County Government’s Preservation Partnership Program, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation, the Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnerships Program, and Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.
“Four years ago, we had accumulated over 700 acres of managed property, easements and public parks,” Pride said. “That has doubled to approximately 1,500 acres over the past four years, and we currently have over 1,000 acres of potential land management in our pipeline. The truth is that we have nine team members who are meeting that increased demand, which calls on us to continue to develop strategic partnerships in order to meet that growing need.”
The popular misconception of many conservationists – or hunters or anglers, for that matter – is that they were introduced to their passion during a youth spent in the constant company of woodlands and wildlife. Not so for Pride, who grew up in Philadelphia. Under the wing of his father – a dentist and educator at the University of Pennsylvania – Pride and his younger brother went on many excursions into the urban wilderness of the city, often with a fishing rod in their hands.
There, they were exposed to nearly all of the city’s 37 miles of river, several miles of its many streams and creeks, and they foraged through city sanctuaries like Fairmount Park and the Wissahickon Creek. Along the way, the boys developed skills in hunting as well, traveling to upstate New York with their father to hunt on their uncle’s 120 acre-property, becoming exposed to a multitude of fun rural and outdoors activities along the way. For years, the Pride brothers discussed how they could bring those same experiences to urban and metropolitan regional youth and their supporting adults. Inspired to begin the program after his younger brother’s passing in April 2008, Pride founded the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Partners in October of that year.
Built into the framework of a STEM educational platform, the program is designed to introduce a variety of outdoors activities to students, which prevents parents and youth from feeling discouraged or that they simply “don’t like the outdoors” when the activity isn’t a fit. From fishing, boating, and motor sports, to archery, hunting, agriculture, equine, conservation and wildlife education, the program finds the youth’s outdoors sweet spot and relieves the pressure on educators to do so by incorporating explicit STEM curricular components and learning measures.
“It was a fortunate experience that my parents exposed us to,” Pride said. “To know that so many kids who look like me never got, or may get, that same opportunity became a seed that was planted, that has been nurtured over time.”
Recently, TLC’s board of directors agreed to fold the activities of Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Partners fully into TLC’s educational curriculum. Beginning next spring, TLC will schedule several fishing and outdoors programs for families, and as a larger component of its educational mission, TLC will continue to pursue more diversity in all of its educational activities. Currently, about half the students and adults TLC reaches are minorities, Pride said.
“If we want to continue to create more environmental stewards, we’ve got to do better in diversifying our teams, our partnering organizations and our audiences,” he said.
In 2012, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission projected that Chester County’s population – which now stands at 522,046 – is likely to increase to 647,330 by 2040, an increase of nearly 30 percent. While county officials continue to put forth strategies for managing that expected growth, they do so knowing that it will create a crucial crossroads, one that will pit the need to accommodate a growing population against conservationists whose job it is to protect the county from over-saturation and preserve open space.
Pride said that he expects TLC to be more “proactive” when negotiating potential land acquisition and conservation projects protecting watersheds, streams, wildlife corridors and scenic views. There is one industry he said that stands out in southern Chester County as active land well worth preserving.
“It really doesn’t make sense for us to fight every single development that happens, but, being located in the heart of mushroom country, surrounded by mushroom farms, we are very invested in the sustainability of the mushroom industry, which is the single largest economic contributor in this area. They have a capacity problem with labor, and there are not many industries that have a capacity problem who are still able to create the economic engine that the mushroom industry has, employing the diversity of residents it does.
“So the question is, ‘How do those business operations continue to grow?’ In the mushroom industry, you don’t need the same traditional agricultural footprint that you do in other agricultural businesses, but TLC is committed to supporting the industry’s own strategy of buffering residential watershed, airsheds and viewsheds with open spaces when possible.”
While both developers and conservationists are expected to continue to wrangle for the same land, Pride said that TLC takes the time to educate homeowners about protecting their land and their communities.
“As part of our messaging strategy, we will continue to educate everyone about our mission to protect our environment,” he said. “We don’t want to fight with developers. We want to get ahead of these fights, but what I don’t want is to see southern Chester County becoming a big suburb, devoid of the nature and farms that define its culture. That’s our fight, and the more we inform landowners, businesses and homeowners on the things they can do to protect their properties, the better we all are.
“The more we educate, the more we see a multiplier effect that measures TLC’s growth as an organization, as opposed to judging our success purely by how many acres we preserve and manage, or how many people attend our classes.
“Our mission is “Protecting the Irreplaceable.”
To learn more about The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County – and to hear more about its deer population management education -- visit www.TLCforSCC.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.