Conservation panel gets new leader
Growing up in Groton, Mass., Maureen Coleman first saw how one person can make a difference when her neighbor donated his farm for conservation land. Now, years later, she’s working to help her community.
Coleman is the new leader of the Conservation Commission. She is replacing former Chairwoman Carol Trocki, who moved to another town.
Conservation has been her lifelong passion, Coleman said. Although not a Jamestown native, she shares the community’s zeal for preserving its natural resources and small town way of life.
“Basically, I grew up in a small town a lot like Jamestown,” she said.
Although not a coastal town, Groton is on a lake and has about 10,000 residents. Coleman said she spent so much time on the lake growing up, “I was practically amphibious.” She appreciates Jamestown for its similar character.
“People are so connected to their community and the landscape,” she said.
Coleman began to appreciate the shore early on when her family took summer vacations to Newport and Cape Cod. The ocean is one of the things she loves about Jamestown. She said islanders have the opportunity to enjoy a special natural resource – Narragansett Bay – almost in their backyards.
As a young person, Coleman saw Groton and the way of life she had known come under pressure from developers. The town is located north and west of Interstate 495, and the access to the highway brought new people and demand for new construction.
Ultimately, her hometown began to disappear and be replaced “almost by suburbia,” she said.
Then the neighbor donated his farm, which became the center of the town. It preserved its character. The gift showed her the impact a conservation gift can have.
Coleman moved to Jamestown 12 years ago primarily because her husband, Tom Harris, is a Rhode Islander. The couple had lived in Boston but made frequent trips to Narragansett and the Ocean State. They planned the move to Rhode Island to live on the coast. While Tom is originally from Cranston, he got used to ocean life when he lived in Narragansett while attending the University of Rhode Island.
Coleman, 48, works for an environmental organization in New Bedford, Mass. Her first job was for a Greater Boston marketing firm, which represented nonprofit organizations. She has also worked in development at URI and was senior director of development for the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
She joined the Conservation Commission three years ago. No one issue spurred her to apply, she said, although a lot was happening.
“It wasn’t any one particular issue or challenge,” she said. “Just the fact this community has conservation as a core value. It’s part of the town’s identity.”
She saw a role on the commission as a way to help conserve the island’s character. “It’s just always been a passion,” she said.
At the time she joined the conservation board, she was director of marketing for Save the Bay, the 43-year-old nonprofit organization created to defend Narragansett Bay and its watershed.
“There was a lot of energy and interest,” she said.
She organized the annual Save the Bay Swim between Newport and Jamestown. (The 37th annual swim begins at Potters Cove on July 20.) She has never made the swim herself, but intends to do so someday.
Coleman is now the director of development for the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Among her active projects, she is organizing a swim, similar to the Narragansett Bay event. She is an expert in marketing and development, and her professional responsibilities have gravitated toward fundraising and the operations side of business, rather than technical aspects.
Unlike some of her conservation colleagues, Coleman is not a scientist. She works with scientists on a daily basis, but in college she studied literature.
“I’m an English major and much more of a generalist,” she said.
Coleman graduated from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., near Albany. On trips home to Groton, she remembers seeing the impact of development spread over miles between New York and Massachusetts.
“I remember seeing farmland shed,” she said. Her experiences in Groton taught her growth cannot be stopped, but there are opportunities for some good development to take place.
She sees advising the town on land preservation as one of the ways the Conservation Commission can make a contribution.
“We’re looking forward to helping the town,” she said, given the fact the councilors have indicated they may want to acquire strategic properties.
Other priorities include the Round Marsh restoration, which Trocki, prior to relocating, had championed. After a long delay, the project is on track to start in the fall.
According to Coleman, another priority will be planting grasses and shrubs at Mackerel Cove Town Beach. Commissioner Anne Kuhn-Hines did the research to support a multispecies planting strategy.
“It’s always at the risk of Mother Nature,” Coleman said.
However, Coleman believes the multispecies approach will help control erosion at the barrier beach.
She also said the commissioners are always on the lookout for volunteers who want to help maintain the trails or work on other projects. People who want to get involved should contact the commissioners for information.