Montague named new leader of land trust
MIDDLEBURY — Jamie Montague has always been drawn to communities offering an array of environmental and recreational assets — such as spacious parks and rustic walking trails. So landing a job in which she will manage many such assets for the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) was akin to winning the lottery for Montague.
Montague, 30, succeeds Carl Robinson as executive director of MALT, a nonprofit organization that so far has conserved more than 2,600 acres of land, farms, forests, wetlands and recreational areas in and around Middlebury.
She brings a strong background in land conservation and environmental issues, having earned an environmental science degree from the University of Rochester and a master’s in natural resource management from the University Centre of the Westfjords in Iceland.
Montague has worked as a naturalist in the Adirondacks, coordinated citizen science and education programs in Washington state, and most recently served as the education director at Audubon Vermont’s Huntington office. She, her husband Larry and their young daughter Frankie reside in Huntington, but are seeking a move to Middlebury, a town she called family-friendly.
“We are so excited to be a part of this community,” Montague said. “The access to green space, trails and recreation is unmatched, I think, in Vermont. That lends itself to why I was so interested in this job.”
Montague had only been on the job around a week when she spoke with the Independent, but she had already learned the history of MALT, become acquainted with some of its most avid volunteers, and gotten a sense of where the organization could make strides under her administrative leadership.
The Middlebury Land Trust was created in 1987 with the purpose of preserving key open and scenic lands in Middlebury. Organizers added the word “Area” to its name in 1996 when it expanded its mission to include conservation projects in a few surrounding communities.
MALT is perhaps best known for its creation and maintenance of the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), an 18-mile-long footpath that encircles the Middlebury Village and links several hundred acres of town land, conserved properties, schools, and other local landmarks.
John Derrick has been a top MALT helper when it comes to maintenance of the TAM. Montague recently toured portions of the TAM with Derrick and came away with a wealth of information.
“It’s just this web, this fabric that is so tightly woven. It includes threads from every possible public and private sector you could name in this community,” she said.
Montague will have a great chance to make her mark on MALT, given she is the first full-time executive director the organization has had in 10 years.
Christy Lynn, vice president of the MALT board and a five-year board member, said she and her colleagues are confident Montague will be up to the tasks at hand.
Montague’s skillset, Lynn said, allowed her to emerge as the top candidate for a job that the MALT board tweaked to reflect new priorities of recreation — and recruiting TAM users into donors and MALT members.
“In my tenure I have watched the organization shift from one primarily focused on land conservation and management, to one more focused on trails and recreation,” Lynn said. “As a result, the current board has decided that the new executive director should have strong experience in community engagement, knowledge of trails and recreational assets and fund-raising in our new era.
“We have struggled for several years with how to engage the users of MALT properties and trails as members and donors of the organization, so we looked specifically for a leader whose skills paired well with that mission. We believe there is a lot of unmet potential to convert users (and advocates) of the TAM into members and donors of the organization as a whole, if we are able to make that connection stronger.
Montague voiced appreciation for the MALT board, which she said features a diverse group of people with solid ideas on how to make the organization stronger.
Her to-do list includes:
• Working to provide better connections between the TAM and other nearby, conserved properties that MALT owns or manages. This in some cases will require negotiating easements or right-of-way agreements with property owners. The over-arching objective, she explained, in making sure the TAM remains forever accessible to the public.
• Meeting a $125,000 goal for the new TAM endowment fund that will help ensure enough resources to perpetually maintain the popular trail.
• Boosting MALT’s environmental education programs, particularly for young folks who will become the organization’s next generation of enthusiasts and financial supporters. Montague will seek help from Middlebury College interns and AmeriCorps workers to help run the new programs.
“I’m really excited,” Montague said.
While MALT board members are pleased to welcome Montague, they thanked Robinson for his many contributions. Robinson left his position earlier this year to take on a fulltime role as co-owner of Frog Hollow Bikes.
“Carl has been an incredible director of MALT and we will look forward to continuing to work together in his capacity with Frog Hollow Bikes and the Middlebury Bike Club, both organizations that Carl has successfully engaged with the TAM and MALT properties,” Lynn said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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