16 Oct 2013

Progress Through Preservation

Will Rogers (MBA 1985), president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, thinks the answer to some of America's greatest challenges can be found in our parks.
by Maureen Harmon

Topics: Environment-Environmental SustainabilitySocial Enterprise-Nonprofit OrganizationsGeography-Urban
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by Maureen Harmon

Every year, Will Rogers (MBA 1985) packages honey from his backyard beehive operation and doles it out to major supporters of the Trust for Public Land, where he serves as president and CEO. The hives, which he's kept for more than 40 years (first as a commercial beekeeper in Bogotá, Colombia, before moving the operation to his California backyard), serve as a bit of occupational therapy. "There's nothing that takes your mind off of work more quickly than standing in front of an open hive of bees," he says.

Rogers recognizes the power of the natural world. His role with the Trust, a national nonprofit that works to conserve land for use as parks and gardens, from the inner city to the wilderness, is to ensure that nature sticks around for quite some time—for his kids and their kids. "Children," says Rogers, "are some of our most important clients." And his hope is to curb the all-too-frequent diagnosis throughout this country of "nature deficit disorder."

While most land conservation groups these days are focused on specific areas—the rainforests, the grasslands, etc.—the Trust does it all, from the inner-city parks to the wilderness of Alaska. "The Trust for Public Land has a people-focused mission," says Rogers, "to protect the places or create the parks where people can connect to nature and each other."

It all sounds simple and perhaps a little idealistic, but this kind of conservation can require some complicated business deals; and Rogers, a former urban developer, likes the art of closing. The Trust helps to negotiate land transactions between landowners and public entities or groups hoping to preserve it. It also focuses on conservation funding and finance, conducts the background research necessary to get the parks up and running, and even helps to design them. In the midst of it all are savvy businessmen and women, federal, state, and local agencies, astute landowners, and the needs and wants of a community, and frankly, Rogers says, the entire country.

"The challenges facing the Trust are the challenges facing the nation," he says.

The obesity epidemic? People need places to exercise, especially low-income folks who can't afford a membership to the local fitness club, says Rogers. So the Trust works to create parks and playgrounds in the nation's cities.

Global warming? We need to think of the areas we protect and build as sponges to soak up rainwater and storm runoff. "It's not just about preserving land," says Rogers, "but making it useful for communities."

Overpopulation? As the population grows, the need for those local parks and natural areas become more and more apparent, especially in cities where the open space is scarce and land is in great demand.

Rogers likes to think that every nonprofit with an attainable goal should be in a position to say: "When we reach this point, we will have done our work, and we can close the doors and turn the lights off." He's also realistic enough to know that that's not likely to happen with the Trust during his lifetime. His hope is just to leave the world a little better than he found it. And he's certain he can build communities along the way. He's even doing it in his own backyard when he hands his neighbors a little gift from his hives. "They love getting the honey," says Rogers, "and their fruit trees and vegetables are well pollinated."

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

William Rogers
Class of MBA 1985, Section C

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