By Kathleen Gilman - Shasta Land Trust founder, first executive director, and longtime donor
As spring unfolds around us, we're inspired by the new ideas and new faces who join us each day. But our work today wouldn't be possible without all the great minds who worked tirelessly to build this organization from the ground up. Shasta Land Trust is honored to have Kathleen Gilman as a longtime friend and donor. She founded the Land Trust, was our first executive director, and today shares her story with us.
I was born in a small town in Northern California with a population of 8,500 people. Our backyard was adjacent to the nearby creek, and my friends and I spent hours by the creek or under the Manzanita playing games, often with numerous pets in tow (we had a rotation of four dogs, four cats, various rabbits, guinea pigs, and one hen in our household!). In addition to that menagerie, I was lucky to have a horse, and my childhood friend Michelle Maupin and I would take day long rides through the oak woodlands and foothills -- I still can’t believe that my parents allowed that! My family did a lot of camping, and I grew to love the oak woodlands in the valley and foothills nearby. With my affection for the outdoors and its flora and fauna, it became obvious to me in college that I should follow the natural science path. After college and graduate school, where I studied zoology and biological conservation, my husband, Dave Short, and I returned to Redding in 1979, that same town, but small no longer.
During the years that followed, I was exhibits curator at Carter House Natural Science Museum, where I particularly enjoyed working with the great horned owl (Mr. G), the opossum, and the grey squirrel. My interest in non-profits came from my experiences at the museum, where I not only learned about graphic and exhibit design, but more importantly, about non-profit management. Later, I was asked to join another local organization’s board of directors, and some of their duties were to review local development plans. I was shocked to discover the extent of the growth and leap-frogging of development that was poised to happen in my backyard. When I left that organization, my parting words (literally!) were “I’m going to go save the oak woodlands!” Although I had no idea how I was going to do that, I was sure that I had found my calling.
Over time I discovered that starting a land trust was the answer to my quest. It all began with a magazine article that a friend gave to me, about a small land trust back east. That article planted a seed in me, and I started researching the phenomenon of land trusts, and became aware they were sprouting up everywhere in response to a need to conserve land. Fear to pull the trigger kept me at the research stage for two years, and I still recall my friend Susan Wright telling me “Just do it, Kathleen!” And so I did. I invited members of the community who I thought might be interested to come to a scoping meeting to discuss the idea of forming a land trust. It was an exciting time - there was a voice vote at the end of that first meeting, and all were in favor. That evening, Shasta Land Trust came alive.
I firmly believe that to start a land trust you must have a strong sense of place, a love of the area and a drive to conserve important lands, for now and for the future (my future is in my daughter, Sarah). Early SLT board members included Anne Duchi, Pam Giacomini, Katharine Garrison, Karla Dayton, Marcia Ames, Francis Duchi, and myself. Many members of the community joined our early meetings as well; some I remember include Gary Matson, Bob Bailey, Kathy Callan, Steve Callan, and Malin Lowe. Our non-profit paperwork was stuck on some government worker’s desk until Dave Scott helped it get done. My husband, Dave, gave me support at home and helped with many events. In those early years, the board members pulled together and worked on projects such as crafting the mission statement and goals of the organization, and fundraising. Things really started to click when Jim Rickert came to a board meeting to talk about SLT holding a conservation easement on Fenwood Ranch, with its 2,200 acres of oak woodlands, creeks, vernal pools, and Sacramento River frontage.
Within weeks, we were partnering with TPL on that project, and things really began to roll. The Fenwood Ranch conservation easement took two short years to complete, partly because it had all the conservation values that the funders looked for, and also because there was so much funding available from different sources.
Meanwhile, in addition to land projects, we were working on growing the organization and establishing a membership. I often felt I was “holding a tiger by the tail” in the early years of the organization, we were so busy with all that a young non-profit does. We sent our first membership appeal letter, funded by a grant from the Great Valley Center (GVC). This organization went on to award several more grants to the Land Trust, including funding for organizational development, board training and development, and growing the membership. We managed to have some fun too, hosting fundraisers such as “Swinging on a Star,” and a big celebration at Fenwood Ranch upon closing that first conservation easement.
Around the year 2000, we began work on another large property, the 6,640-acre Hathaway Ranch. Harry Hathaway and I rode together in his 4-wheel drive across the ranch, up rocky hillsides and along beautiful creek beds, discussing its history and the conservation values that SLT would want to see in the conservation easement. Yes, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it! And I was very glad it was me.
Meanwhile, a new person joined the board. Shawn Tillman worked at the City of Redding during that time, and fairly quickly became the new Board Chair. I stepped down from that role, and was hired as the first Executive Director. My duties didn’t change much initially, but as the organization grew and prospered we took on more staff to handle fundraising, membership, and other office demands. The Land Trust itself grew at a steady pace, bringing in more land transactions, even a purchase of Ishi Wilderness land that was later passed on to the U.S. Forest Service.
Before I knew it, we had conserved over 15,000 acres and had hired a full-time Land Projects Manager, Ben Miles, to complete other projects in the works. A year after Ben was hired, I stepped down as E.D. and Ben stepped up into that role. I so enjoyed the work, but after the 10 year anniversary of Shasta Land Trust I felt it was time for some new blood.
This organization has been a part of me now for almost 20 years. I’m so incredibly proud that it has gone on to do great things and grow each year. It’s a great community of wonderful people who care deeply about preserving open space, habitat, and agricultural lands. The Land Trust is my favorite organization, of course -- it’s very close to my heart. My husband and I give as much as we can each year, and volunteer when needed. I’m excited now to see the renewed energy and momentum that new staff has brought to the Trust. The continued growth and direction of Shasta Land Trust is realizing the vision we created all those years ago.