Marita Lopez-Mena takes the helm at Woodstock Land Conservancy

Marita Lopez-Mena (photo by Dion Ogust)

Marita Lopez-Mena (photo by Dion Ogust)

After a year-long search for a new executive director, the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) has hired Marita Lopez-Mena to fill the position. A week into the job, she commented, “We’ve got a really energetic board. There’s a lot of work to be done and people who want to do it.” And she’s glad, she said, because “I’m not the kind of person who does well with inactivity.”

Lopez-Mena replaces John P. Winter, who is relocating for family reasons. As the organization embarks on a number of new initiatives, said board president Patty Goodwin, “We need a charismatic leader who can lead us forward on this stage of growth. Marita is the perfect person to do that.”

Lopez-Mena served for nine years as the founding executive director of the Hudson River Maritime Museum, then became development director at Scenic Hudson. Later she directed Benedictine Hospital’s Health Foundation, and went on to also assume volunteer director and marketing/PR director responsibilities for the hospital. She has spent the last decade consulting, mainly for local, regional and international non-profits.

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“I love Woodstock,” she said. “It’s where I came when I moved from central New York in 1970, and my friends are here.” Although she spent much of the past two decades raising a family in the Town of Ulster, she was beginning to feel isolated there. She returned to Woodstock because she was craving a sense of community.

“How often do you find work that seems to be interesting, stimulating, and something you can believe in, right in your town, especially a small town like Woodstock?” she mused. “When I learned about this position, it seemed right.”

Under Winter, WLC opened its Sloan Gorge Preserve, 88 acres off West Saugerties, to the public and worked its way through a careful, sometimes strenuous process with the Town of Woodstock to bring the Comeau Easement and Stewardship Plan to fruition. “An easement on town property is not frequently done,” said Goodwin, “and there are not a lot of models. We had to be careful in making sure we could handle it as an organization. We learned a lot.”

The WLC’s next phase is embodied in Vision 2020, a strategic plan that was put together through community surveys and extensive visioning sessions. “When you give yourself a vision and set goals, it’s amazing how it can take off like a rocket,” said Goodwin. “We’re doing a lot of stuff at one time.”

Initiatives include land preservation projects, advocacy for trails — including the proposed Ulster County Rail Trail — and the recently acquired Thorn Preserve on Zena Road. The Thorn property, like the Zena Cornfield, has some of the richest farming soil in the state, and the WLC is looking into how best to utilize the broad expanse of meadow, a rarity in the township, to carry forward the area’s agricultural heritage. “We’re trying to get neighbors involved,” said Goodwin. “They’re a vibrant group, mostly women, who are interested in local food and farming, and we’ve recruited a lot of those people. We’re just getting started at figuring out what’s going to happen there.”

With so many projects underway, she added, “We need someone who can gather all that together and get out in front of it. Marita is so smart, with great vision and personality, land conservation experience, and deep ties to Woodstock.”

The day Lopez-Mena started her job, she attended the closing on a piece of property the WLC is conserving on top of Mount Guardian. “There’s an exciting symbolism to that,” noted Goodwin. “We’re about preserving land, so what a phenomenal way for her to start her tenure with us.”

For more information on the Woodstock Land Conservancy, visit their website at https://ulsterpub.staging.wpenginelandconservancy.org/.

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