John Gebhards, Recipient of the Louis Mills Conservation Award

John Gebhards of Newburgh, NY will receive the Louis Mills Conservation Award for his dedication and achievements in land conservation at the Orange County Land Trust’s Summer Reception at City Winery on June 24th.

As a founding board member of the Orange County Land Trust, John played an integral role in the establishment of OCLT in 1993. During this time, John had already established himself as one of the early advocates behind the protection of Sterling Forest serving as Executive Director of Sterling Forest Resources, which later became known as Sterling Forest Partnership.

John Gebhards of Newburgh, NY will receive the Louis Mills Conservation Award for his dedication and achievements in land conservation at the Orange County Land Trust’s Summer Reception at City Winery on June 24th.

John Gebhards

As a founding board member of the Orange County Land Trust, John played an integral role in the establishment of OCLT in 1993. During this time, John had already established himself as one of the early advocates behind the protection of Sterling Forest serving as Executive Director of Sterling Forest Resources, which later became known as Sterling Forest Partnership.

In an essay about reforestation in the eastern United States published in an April 1995 issue of the Atlantic, John’s work to protect Sterling Forest was discussed by then Atlantic contributor, Bill McKibben. In his piece, McKibben wrote: “John Gebhards, who heads an environmental project that is trying to persuade New York State and the federal government to buy and preserve the land, took me for a hike one magnificent spring afternoon on the Appalachian Trail, which runs a few hundred feet from one of the planned communities…” “Whenever the trail reached a spot along bare ridge, we saw nothing but forest stretching into the distance. The view is powerful testimony to the enormous vigor of the natural world even on the edge of the megalopolis. But we’re trained not to see it. Gebhards told me that although national environmental groups have endorsed his campaign, he had difficulty persuading them to devote their lobbyists’ time to winning the congressional battle for funds to save the tract. ‘No one really believes there could be something like this near the city,’ he said—let alone that such a large space could be spared development.”

The long, exhaustive effort to save Sterling Forest, despite its many challenges and uphill battles, was ultimately successful thanks to a diverse coalition of non-profit and governmental partners, including John’s Sterling Forest Partnership. The first acquisition of Sterling Forest lands, along with the optimism that the remaining portions of the Forest would too become protected, enabled John to focus on furthering the mission of the Land Trust.

Seven years after OCLT’s creation, the board of directors appointed John its first Executive Director, a position he held until 2005. Under his leadership, OCLT conserved 2,500 acres of land, including its first nature preserve, the 65-acre Hunter Farm Preserve located in the Town of Wawayanda. It was also during his tenure that OCLT evolved from a mostly grassroots, all-volunteer group, into a growing, self-sustaining organization led by professional staff members.

After stepping down as a full-time Executive Director, John was afforded the opportunity to become more active with the Ramapo-Catskill Group of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter. A natural leader, he was later named Chairperson of the Ramapo-Catskill Sierra Club.

For nearly three decades, John has been a champion for the land and our invaluable natural resources. To this day, John continues to use his voice and channel his energy for the greater good. John is currently Executive Director of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, and continues to serve as an advisor to OCLT’s Land Protection & Stewardship Committee.

John, we thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, for the land.

Source: “An Explosion of Green”, The Atlantic, April 1995, McKibben, Bill
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