Mission and History

Allston Jenkins“Just try to imagine the incalculable benefits which would be achieved if each township in the United States made good use… of whatever conservation opportunities existed within its borders. This is our purpose—to devote our best efforts to specific conservation projects in our local area.”

~ Allston Jenkins, founding president


Natural Lands Trust is a non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to protecting the forests, fields, streams, and wetlands that are essential to the sustainability of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. We apply a comprehensive approach to conservation that includes permanently protecting natural areas, providing leadership in natural resource management, and creating opportunities for people to connect to and learn from nature.


We began in 1953 as the Philadelphia Conservationists, a group of avid bird watchers who came together as volunteers to protect the marshes at Tinicum along the Delaware River—now the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge—and soon found themselves in the vanguard of the private conservation movement.

Binky Lee PreserveIn the years that followed, the Philadelphia Conservationists preserved natural areas, wetlands, and forests along the East Coast and even as far away as Costa Rica. In those days, they transferred most of the lands they saved to government agencies or other non-profits. But in the early 1960s, they established Natural Lands Trust as a vehicle to permanently own and care for land—“Woods, fields, streams, marshes, seashore, and other open spaces.” Thus began the building of what would become Natural Lands Trust’s 22,000-acre (and growing) network of nature preserves.

The Philadelphia Conservationists were led by an unlikely hero. Allston Jenkins was an accountant who was new to birding, going to ornithological classes with his wife as a way to get out occasionally and, according to his daughter, “enjoy a night away from the kids.” When Allston learned of the threat to fill the Tinicum marshes with dredging material, he began an association with our organization that would span five decades as both President of the Board and Executive Director.

Building on the powerful example set by Allston and his fellow Conservationists, Natural Lands Trust has grown into a regional land trust that has protected tens-of-thousands of acres in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Each one of those acres is a testament to the vision and generosity of our founders as well as the thousands of landowners, donors, volunteers, and community leaders who make our work possible.

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Did You Know?

We completed Pennsylvania’s first conservation easement—at the Upper Main Line YMCA—in 1966.

On July 1, 2012, Natural Lands Trust joined forces with Montgomery County Lands Trust (MCLT) through an agreement by which MCLT became an affiliate organization to Natural Lands Trust.

MCLT was established in 1993 to provide independent, county-wide leadership in the preservation of open space and went on to preserve some 2,800 acres through conservation easements.

Together, we continue to preserve open space and enhance the communities that make Montgomery County—and beyond—a wonderful place in which to live.

Learn more about the affiliation.