For so long, the goal of preserving a place was to freeze it in time, forever closing it off and separating it from the rest of the world, where it would exist in its own bubble as the years ticked onward without it.
But for Jocelyn Forbush, acting president and CEO of the nonprofit conservation and preservation organization The Trustees of Reservations, conservation is no longer a static, passive thing that leaves places stuck in the past. Instead, it’s “an active part of life, an active part of who we are.”
“Really, it is an ongoing dialogue or give-and-take between people and place,” she says, and that give-and-take allows people and places to continually shape and reshape each other, like waves against the shore.
That’s the philosophy Forbush has brought to her 21-year tenure at The Trustees, where she’s held various roles, including land conservation specialist, Western regional director, and executive vice president, among others. Her work has ranged from championing gateway cities and underserved populations, to launching the One Waterfront Initiative in Boston, to leading the organization’s 10-year public gardens strategy.
Merging art and nature
That focus on preserving landscapes and special places in an active, participatory way is the natural culmination of a career forged from two seemingly divergent paths: Music school and forestry school. Forbush spent some time as a musician and performer after studying music at Northwestern and McGill universities before pivoting toward her interest in ecology and conservation and earning a Master of Forest Science from the Yale School of Forestry.
Although Forbush herself acknowledges that this is an “odd combination,” it’s one that she thinks is a perfect fit for the kind of work she’s done with The Trustees.
“I essentially put these things together, and to me they are of a piece,” she says. “The landscape and the way that that we as individuals and as communities engage with the landscape is an extraordinarily creative process.”
For instance, people shape the landscape when they create gardens or farms, she notes, and in return, those spectacular environments shape us, too.
“For me it’s really the interweaving of so many parts of The Trustees’ mission, which has at its core both conservation of natural landscapes and of culture, of scenery, of history. And I don’t really see those things as separate. I love that,” she says. “My tenure within the organization has really represented that philosophy.”
Forbush has also helped to lead The Trustees through a tumultuous time, both for the organization and the world. She moved into her current role when then-president and CEO Barbara Erickson went on medical leave and has continued to guide the organization during the months after Erickson’s tragic passing from cancer in January.
“I was close to her as were a number of others who worked with her in the organization,” Forbush says. Now, she continues to carry on The Trustees’ “extraordinarily ambitious” five-year strategic plan, which she calls “very true to form, both for The Trustees itself but also for Barbara Erickson and the leadership of the organization.”
It’s also “impossible to ignore the COVID pandemic,” Forbush notes, and The Trustees continues to respond and adapt to the ever-changing nature of the public health emergency. But in doing so, Forbush and her colleagues realized anew how important their properties are to people who have relished the opportunity to get outdoors and explore beautiful, natural places during a lonely and scary time.
“We have really been a part of communities in people’s lives in ways like never before,” Forbush says.
Visitor numbers and interest in The Trustees’ programs have grown over the past 18 months, and Forbush hopes to continue that momentum of getting people outside and discovering what the organization has to offer. As always, adapting to a changing world is central to that work, and so is preparing people and places for the future, whether that’s doing cutting-edge work to protect vulnerable coastlines or instilling a love of the land into future generations. For Forbush, building those connections is part of who she is.
“We have 121 properties across the state and every one of them has a different story,” she says. “And I have about 121 different stories that I can tell you about how they inspire me.”
Learn more about The Trustees at thetrustees.org.