A Q & A with Steve Mohr, Jr., Senior Preserves Manager
With more than 8,000 acres and 50 nature preserves now in the Conservancy’s portfolio, the job of our stewardship team has become monumental. Just what does it take to care for 50 nature preserves? Steve Mohr, Jr., the Conservancy’s Senior Preserves Manager, answers some of our questions about the challenges and opportunities faced by our Stewardship Team.
In general, what are the top stewardship priorities as we go through each season of the year?
The natural environment has always been a dynamic workplace, which requires flexibility from its stewards. In a time of profound climate change, that workplace has become hyper-dynamic, so planning for the unpredictable has become an increasingly necessary element of successful stewardship work. Effects like flash flooding or wind damage from severe storms can create huge volumes of work for our team and can change our plans in a hurry. Broadly, our work revolves around growing seasons. In the spring and fall, when plant life is most amenable to intervention, our focus tends to be on the flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees that adorn the landscape. In the summer and winter, we have more time to focus on providing and enhancing access- hiking trails, parking areas, interpretive features and other amenities for visitors. As our stewardship team continues to grow, we get better at “walking and chewing gum at the same time”. The result is that we are now able to maintain year-round focus on both the recreation and habitat elements of stewardship work. That said, Mother Nature is still the boss, so she dictates what work needs to be done and makes most scheduling decisions for us.
What is one thing you wish people better understood or knew about the work of nature preserve management?
Our work attempts to strike a delicate balance between our two top priorities as land managers. One of those priorities involves protecting and restoring the sometimes-fragile ecological qualities of Lancaster Conservancy nature preserves. Providing opportunities for passive recreation to our local communities and to those who come to experience the natural splendor of the Lower Susquehanna River and its tributaries is our other top priority. Striking this balance can mean tough decisions – like whether to close a popular hiking trail to protect a delicate ecosystem. We take those decisions seriously and work hard to find solutions that optimize both the human experience and the ecological function of the land the Conservancy protects.
Please explain a little bit about the new regional preserves manager positions.
Spurred by the pressures of development, the land protection efforts of the Lancaster Conservancy have been at a feverish pace over the last few years. Those efforts have been massively successful, with the result that the Conservancy now stewards 50 nature preserves, and over 50% more land than it did just five years ago. Caring for all of that open space takes a lot of effort, and more time than we could muster with our current stewardship team. As we build out our team to meet that challenge, two of our Land Stewards, Travis Lyle and Sean Roberts, are stepping up to the moment by accepting promotions to Regional Preserves Manager positions. Those two Regional Managers, along with another yet to be hired, will each take the lead in planning for and implementing best stewardship practices on nature reserves in their assigned region. Supported by volunteers and seasonal staff, these Regional Preserves Managers will help our stewardship efforts to keep pace with our land protection efforts now and into the future.
What stewardship project are you most excited about in 2022?
I am excited for so much of the work we have planned for 2022! Building new hiking trails, opening new natural areas to the public, and creating new opportunities for visitors with limited mobility are a few goals that always top the list for me. Those elements are all present in the projects we are undertaking at Clark and Tucquan Glen & Pyfer Nature Preserves in 2022. At the culmination of those projects, linked by a common trail system, there will truly be something for everyone – an exciting result that is difficult to achieve and years in the making. Being a part of that sort of project is among the most rewarding aspects of my work for the Lancaster Conservancy!
How best can our community help support our stewardship team when they visit a preserve?
It’s important that we all work together to protect the land we love from our own impacts. That means always practicing Leave no Trace principles, staying on designated trails to protect sensitive plant communities, being friendly and patient with other visitors, and generally abiding by all rules and regulations posted at whichever nature preserve you visit. For anyone with a desire to help steward trail systems, habitats and visitor experiences on Lancaster Conservancy nature preserves, I highly recommend our Volunteer Land Steward program.
What inspires you the most in the course of the work you do as Senior Preserves Manager?
I have been blessed in life with an abundance of time spent outdoors. As a kid, that meant countless hours running through yards and alleys, jumping across train tracks and streams to get to a field, the forest, the Susquehanna River- whatever place could hold my sense of imagination. As a young adult, those open spaces were still there for me- to hunt, to hike, to fish, sometimes just for a quiet place to read or think. As a middle-ager in the same area, I find myself drawn to all the same outdoor spaces. I feel immensely fortunate to live in a place where those precious open space resources have been tirelessly protected by others. As a member of the Conservancy’s team, I like to think that I’m doing my small part to help ensure that a kid growing up in our area today will feel that same sense of gratitude at my age. My feelings of inspiration are renewed frequently, when I meet people of all ages and backgrounds who have found sanctuary on the Conservancy’s preserves.
Want to join the Conservancy’s Stewardship Team?
We’re hiring a Regional Preserves Manager! This position is ideal for an outgoing individual experienced in equipment operation and transport, use of power-tools, and use of hand-tools for independent maintenance of day use areas and nature preserves. This position is assigned as the Conservancy’s Stewardship Program point-person for a grouping of nature preserves within close proximity to one another and will also work on all Conservancy nature preserves on a frequent basis for both routine maintenance and project assistance.