Land preservationist to be honored by Coatesville museum

Molly K. Morrison, 60, a lifelong Chester County resident, is president and CEO of the Natural Lands Trust in Media. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Molly K. Morrison, 60, a lifelong Chester County resident, is president and CEO of the Natural Lands Trust in Media. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Posted: March 18, 2014

As a light snow fell on the 55-acre Hildacy Farm preserve in Delaware County, Molly K. Morrison glanced out her office window and appreciated the view outside.

"I like looking at snow," said Morrison, president and CEO of Natural Lands Trust. The snow, she said, accentuated the hilly landscape and robust trails in Media, where her nonprofit conservation group has its headquarters.

Resolved to protect the Earth's natural habitat, Morrison said, she inherited that interest from her family. That quality also prompted the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum in Coatesville to honor Morrison with its eighth annual Rebecca Lukens Award, to be presented Wednesday at a reception in the Lukens National Historic District.

"Rebecca Lukens is absolutely one of the individuals that I've learned about who cut a swath as a woman and an industrialist," said Morrison, 60, a lifelong resident of rural Chester County. "To have that association with her is truly an honor."

Lukens was a Quaker mother in the 19th century who carried on her family's iron business for three decades after her father and husband died. The company, founded in 1810, later became known as Lukens Steel.

Now owned by ArcelorMittal, the company manufactured the steel support beams that served as the skeleton of the World Trade Center.

Scott G. Huston, a direct descendant of Rebecca Lukens and president of the Graystone Society that operates the museum, championed Morrison's long record in land protection.

As a former clerk and planner for county government in the 1980s and '90s, Morrison helped preserve land in Chester County. In her current role, she oversees a staff of 60 professionals who help safeguard open space and farmland from unfettered development in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.

"What she has done for the county and Natural Lands Trust, it is very complicated and takes a certain person who has business savvy," Huston said. "It is great to honor her, especially during Women's History Month."

James D. Ziegler, executive director of the museum, said Morrison "truly does epitomize the attributes of Rebecca that we were looking for: leadership, resilience, courage, and strategic outlook."

Morrison graduated in 1975 from Ursinus College with an English degree and in 1976 earned a master's degree in communications from Syracuse University. But she always had an affinity for land preservation.

Morrison worked for Chester County from 1979 to 2000, where she helped develop the county's open-space plan.

Chester County voters in 1989 approved an open-space referendum that authorized the county to borrow $50 million to preserve farmland and parks.

According to county figures, more than 30,000 acres of farmland were lost between 1982 and 1987. An additional 32,400 acres - an area about one-third the size of Philadelphia - were proposed for residential and commercial development during 1988.

"It's important for us to remember why these investments were made, because it is important they continue to be made," Morrison said. "It is not rural vs. urban or suburban. This is something we all share."

Natural Lands Trust was founded in 1953 as the Philadelphia Conservationists. Morrison became an executive leader at Natural Lands Trust in 2001 and chief executive in 2005.

Under Morrison's direction, Natural Lands Trust in 2007 acquired the 1,263-acre ChesLen Preserve about six miles west of West Chester. She has also steered the nonprofit to take on a half-dozen land-protection projects in the Manayunk, Roxborough, and Chestnut Hill sections of Philadelphia.

Morrison - who is married, with two daughters ages 26 and 22 - was reluctant to identify her most-cherished protection project: "That is like picking a favorite child."

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