John Judge expected to work in investment banking. At Stonehill College he studied economics, and when graduation approached, he interviewed for a position with a major asset management firm.
Then he got a call from the Boy Scouts of America. The organization wanted to know if Judge, who was an Eagle Scout and had worked at a scouting summer camp, would be interested in a job. He accepted, figuring he’d spend a year or two giving back by working in the nonprofit world before returning to the investment field. That future, however, didn’t work out quite as he planned.
“I quickly realized that mission is what really motivates me,” Judge says.
That was nearly 30 years ago. Judge never did return to the financial world but has instead spent his career working for a series of mission-driven nonprofits, including Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston, and the Appalachian Mountain Club, which he headed up for 10 years. In January, he took on his latest role as president and chief executive at the Trustees of Reservations, replacing the organization’s longtime leader, Barbara Erickson, who died in 2021.
The Trustees is a statewide conservation group dedicated to protecting sites of natural and cultural importance and developing programs to engage and educate the public about these places. Its portfolio contains 123 properties including working farms, an acclaimed art museum, historic homes, gardens big and small, and trails through fields, forests, and marshes.
Judge comes to the position at a particularly powerful moment for the Trustees’ mission. The stresses and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked record numbers of people to discover—or rediscover—the glories of the outdoors. Judge’s job, he says, is to harness this momentum and find ways to expand and strengthen the connections between people and their environment.
“We are in the great outdoor reset,” he says. “I really think my job is to continue to help grow the organization and grow the impact of what we do.”
Growing up, Judge himself always felt connected to the outdoors. As a child in Milton, he would disappear for hours into the narrow wooded area just beyond his backyard, exploring the small stream that ran through the trees. When his father was laid off from his landscaping job, Judge recalls, he turned the whole yard into a sprawling vegetable garden, a project that helped get the family through.
“It not only nourished us from a diet standpoint, it also nourished our sense of fulfillment and self,” Judge says.
These influences have stayed with him in his professional life and will help shape his work in his new position with the Trustees, he says. Climate change adaptation is a major priority. Ensuring that people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds feel welcome and comfortable on Trustees properties is another principal goal, Judge adds.
He is also zealous about finding ways to enhance access to outdoor spaces in cities as urban populations continue to grow; it is expected that some 90 percent of Americans will live in cities by 2050. So it is essential, Judge says, to pursue projects like the Trustees’ Boston Waterfront Initiative, a plan to build a large, public park that will both give city residents access to the outdoors and provide a buffer against climate change-related flooding. Figuring out how to bring such projects to fruition will be a central pursuit in his new role, Judge says.
“In a world of cities, how do we elevate the importance of the outdoors and nature in everybody’s daily life?” he asks. “We have a big lift there.”
When he’s not at work, Judge can often still be found exploring the outdoors himself, frequently on Trustees’ properties. About two years ago, Judge and his family relocated from Boston to Manchester-by-the-Sea, taking up full-time residence in what had been their summer home. From their new home base, the family, including Judge’s 5-year-old daughter, regularly visits the animals at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, the wooded trails of Gloucester’s Ravenswood, and the sweeping lawn and rocky shore at Coolidge Reservation in Manchester.
“We’re super-fortunate on the North Shore to have all of these Trustees’ properties all around us,” he says.
As summer approaches, he is excited for his job to take him to even more sites across the state, from checking in on conservation efforts at nearby Crane Beach to visiting new sculpture installations at Naumkeag Public Garden in the Berkshires. And he will do the work with a belief in the mission of the Trustees, but also with an eager sense of joy, he says.
“I am excited about everything the mission offers, but also how it dovetails in with my life,” Judge says. “I feel like the Trustees are at the intersection of everything I love to do and feel like there’s a sense of urgency around.”