Daily Local News: Long-time open space advocate to be honored
February 12, 2014
Molly K. Morrison has been a fixture in the open space and land preservation movement for almost as long as the movement has been in existence.
As a Chester County administrator in the late 1980s, Morrison – who will be honored with the eighth annual Rebecca Lukens Award next month – was appointed to act as liaison between the preservation community and the county commissioners’ office. She headed the working committee that wrote the county’s open space funding plan, one of the most successful in Pennsylvania, after approval by the county voters’ of a plan for a $50 million bond issue, the first of its kind.
Now, as head of the Natural Lands Trust, Morrison is responsible for overseeing one of the largest private land preservation efforts in the United States.
“Molly is a visionary, a doer, and a strategic leader,” said James D. Ziegler, executive director of the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum, sponsor of the Lukens award, in announcing the honor. “Her actions mirror those of Rebecca in her dedication to the land, community, and family. Like others before her, she has contributed to a better Chester County – one that has benefited from her dedication and vision.”
Morrison follows past Lukens award winners such as the late preservation activist Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, Chester County Community Dental leader Regina Horton Lewis, Coatesville area developer Tammy Cansler, and community activist Gladys Flamer.
Established by The Graystone Society’s National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum to honor individuals who exhibit the qualities of Rebecca Lukens, the annual award will be presented at a March 19 reception in The Lukens National Historic District. The year commemorates Rebecca Lukens’ 220th birthday, according to a museum press release.
According to the release, Morrison, who grew up in Phoenixville, learned to appreciate the importance of land preservation by spending time on her grandparents’ farm in northern Chester County, where her German immigrant ancestors had been farming since the early 1700s.
“As a Chester County native, I have always been inspired by those individuals in our county’s history who have emerged as leaders to take on all manner of challenging roles – in women’s and civil rights, in business, in education, in government, and in conservation,” said Morrison. “Rebecca Lukens is the epitome of that spirit of transformation and commitment. Receiving an award in her name is an incredible honor for me.”
After pursuing an English degree at Ursinus College and masters degree in communications at Syracuse University, Morrison worked at the Brandywine Valley Association and then for Chester County, where she served in a variety of positions over a 21-year period, most recently as director of policy and planning.
As president of Natural Lands Trust, she has been instrumental in creating conservation strategies for complex land transactions, including the acquisition of the 1,263-acre ChesLen Preserve in Newlin. In addition to providing strategic leadership and fund-raising for a staff of 60, Morrison oversees a network of 42 nature preserves and 361 conservation easements, totaling more than 44,000 acres.
Morrison has also served on a variety of boards, including the YMCA of Greater West Chester, the Chester County Art Association, and the Chester County United Way, among others. Morrison is married and has two grown daughters. She resides in Thornbury, Chester County.
Photograph: Robert Williams