By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Sept. 21, 2023) After 18 years as the executive director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, Kate Patton is passing the torch to the next generation of leadership.
Patton was a businesswoman in Berlin, where she owned and operated the Globe Theatre until 2006, when she chose a different direction and became the executive director, and only staff member, of the land trust.
“In so many ways I have grown up with the organization, even though I had a full career with my business in Berlin prior to that. This was such a learning and growth experience for me and the organization,” Patton said.
The Lower Shore Land Trust assists landowners who wish to protect their land in perpetuity. The majority do this through conservation easements, an agreement between the landowner and a conservation agency or land trust.
“A conservation easement is forever. You develop a relationship with the land forever. The easement stays with that property,” Patton said. “We are in it to win it for the long term, so you have to be thinking about that.”
Patton said there is a strong land trust community in Maryland with 10-12 active organizations with paid staff and another dozen or so that are all volunteers.
Her staff has increased from one to six today. She attributes her success to her staff and her relationship with other land trusts.
The breadth of what land trusts can accomplish are vast, according to Patton, including land protection, policy and community engagement.
“I have been inspired by many land trusts and mentored by some,” she said.
Patton said Maryland is a proactive state when it comes to land protection.
The land trust’s director of lands programs, Jared Parks, has been involved with a committee that has been working for two years to develop a conservation resilience easement that will identify where and how to assist landowners who are experiencing that loss of resources.
For instance, Parks is looking at farmers experiencing saltwater intrusion on their lands and looking for ways they can transition to other crops.
Patton said land trusts around the country are looking at this as it affects their own geography.
“We just happen to be at one of those ground zero areas, because we are coastal, front and back.”
The trust is looking at opportunities to support the local coastal communities on larger landscape properties as well as within communities by addressing stormwater issues from increased development and heavier rains that impact our waterways.
“Land trusts are on the cutting edge of climate change,” she said. “We are working with landowners who are experiencing impacts today.”
Currently, she is working in partnership with Audubon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners on a project called ‘Marshes for Tomorrow.’ Through the project, the groups have identified 25,000 acres across the lower Eastern Shore and Dorchester County that will sustain habitat for the threatened salt marsh sparrow, an “umbrella species,” which means efforts to help it will help other species as well.
That work is also expected to support the region’s ability to recover from rising sea levels and other climate phenomena, and benefit local communities, watermen, and residents.
“These marshes are threatened by climate change and sea level rise. This is a really great group to work with, which makes it really hard to leave. We have some amazing partnerships,” Patton said.
Pollinators — bees and other insects — have also been a key focus on the land trust.
“We looked at pollinators as a species that could engage the community and help connect people to the resource.”
Through pollinators, the trust was able to educate people about the importance of native plants and promote the health of the landscape. The organization has engaged people in a pollinator certification program and educated interested landowners through the pollinator garden tours each year.
The organization has also focused on the restoration of grasslands for the northern bobwhite, a small quail species that has become endangered due to loss of habitat, predation and changes in farming practices.
Patton said there is much interest by landowners in enhancing and restoring habitat that provides multiple benefits for a variety of species, including the bobwhite, turkey, pollinators and other wildlife.
Patton believes the organization is in a good place with a great deal of support right now.
“I am leaving the staff and the organization really strong and dedicated. The board is engaged, we have great volunteers. We cannot do what we do without these people,” she said.
“We’ve had some great financial support and I think that is something that will continue and is necessary. There are people who care tremendously about the resource and see that the trust has been able to deliver.”
She also noted that many businesses have supported the organization.
“We have engaged and worked with the community on a lot of different levels,” she said. “There is, among a larger audience, a deeper understanding of conservation because of the land trust.”
“I think there is a lot of dedication and commitment from the people who are involved. We like working with each other. It’s been a pleasure to work with and learn from each other. This is a great community and that is one of its strengths.”
“After having two long intensive careers at the helm,” she continued, “it’s time for me to step back and take care of me and my family and try to be involved in other ways.”
“I think that one of the biggest challenges is that as a society right now, we are busy. We need to find ways to engage with families and to nurture opportunities for people to get outside and appreciate that resource and cultivate a strong stewardship ethic.
“The next generation is going to inherit some beautiful places but they are already unraveling. It will take a lot of commitment to protect our water resources, the habitat necessary for migratory birds and wildlife. If we can focus on the small pieces, hopefully we can connect the large pieces.”
The Lower Shore Land Trust will celebrate Patton’s tenure and the successes of the organization with its annual Flannel Formal on Nov. 11, from 3-6 p.m. with music from Margot Resto and Fil Rhythm Band, a pig roast, yard games, bonfire, cocktails and an extensive silent auction. Tickets go on sale Sept. 25. Visit lowershorelandtrust.org.