Chatham Conservation Foundation Hires Its First Full-time Director

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Conservation

Matt Cannon, the Chatham Conservation Foundation's new executive director/land manager, in front of the Foundation-owned Mayo House. JOSEPH PORCARI PHOTO

CHATHAM – For the first time in its 55-year history, the Chatham Conservation Foundation, the Cape's oldest land trust, has hired a full-time director.

Matt Cannon, who previously worked as the Foundation's part-time director of land stewardship, was named the organizations first executive director/land manager at its annual meeting earlier this month. Cannon had also worked part-time for the Harwich Conservation Trust, a relationship he said provided experience and knowledge that will inform his new position.

“It will be a nice transition taking what I've known from there and implementing it in Chatham,” he said, adding that the two non-profits have had a “symbiotic” relationship from which both have benefited.

“We've been so fortunate to share him with the Harwich Conservation Trust and have that partnership for three and a half years,” said Rachel Barnes, the Foundation's outgoing president. “In that time he's really learned our community.”

Cannon will direct the Foundation's overall operations, including overseeing the more than 800 acres of open space, conservation and waterfront land it owns or holds conservation easements on. Hiring a full-time director is a goal of the group's strategic plan and is necessary to achieve some of the plan's other goals, said Barnes.

“Once we had Matt working for us we realized how much more we needed to get accomplished,” she said.

Cannon came to the Harwich Conservation Trust as member of AmeriCorps Cape Cod and rose over time to direct land stewardship for both organizations, said HCT Executive Director Michael Lach.

“We look forward to collaborating with Matt in his new role at CCF as both land trusts continue to cooperate on land preservation projects that protect shared natural resources,” Lach said.

Originally from East Greenwich, R.I., Cannon earned his undergraduate degree from Connecticut College. He held an internship at the office of Rhode Island's attorney general, working on issues of environmental law. His work with AmeriCorps brought him to the Cape and HCT.

Cannon said he hopes to expand a volunteer land stewardship program that's already in place, in which volunteers agreed to monitor some of the Foundation's 220 land parcels several times a year. Volunteers have also gone out Friday mornings in the off season and helped find boundaries, mark properties and clear brush and invasive species. He said he'll have an AmeriCorps Cape Cod member to assist this fall but hopes to get a dozen or so volunteers to participate in the program.

He'll also be increasing the Foundation's presence online and on social media, something he did while at the Harwich Conservation Trust.

While the Foundation is scheduled to receive conservation restrictions on 10 parcels the town purchased with Land Bank funds, Cannon said he's not aware of any other land acquisitions in the works. Especially in Chatham, which is close to buildout, vacant land has become more and more rare, Barnes said, and in many instances, the Foundation has worked in partnership with the town to protect open space in recent years. By providing “more of a public face in town” for the organization, Cannon said he hopes to reach out to potential donors, increase membership and spread the word about the Foundation.

“We're hoping to have more outreach so it can be a living, breathing organization, not just a sign you see by the side of the road,” said Barnes.

A new guide to trails on Foundation properties is in the works for issuance next year, Cannon added.

“There are definitely some good things falling into line that I'm excited about,” he said.

One significant change is the conversion of the historic Mayo House on Main Street into a new headquarters for the Foundation. Cannon will be working out of a room in the old house, built in 1818 by Josiah Mayo and owned by the Foundation. The exterior of the structure was recently restored using community preservation funds, and work has also been done on the interior, said Barnes, including painting, general maintenance and cleaning and upgrading of the electrical and phone services. The contents of the home, previously set up to resemble how it would have looked when Mayo and his family lived in it, are being reshuffled; antiques on loan from the Chatham Historical Society were returned, and items previously in the back room are being moved to the front, she said, so that Cannon can work out of the room at the rear.

“We're hoping to have him move in by the middle of September,” Barnes said, after he completes projects he's working on for the Harwich Conservation Trust. The house is usually open for tours a few days a week in the summer but has been closed this season because of the work that is being done. It will be open again next summer, Cannon said.

“It will be an interesting balance,” he said of working out of the antique house. He added that he hopes to develop a multimedia display to enhance the experience of visitors. Foundation business has previously been run out of the Crowell Road office of accountant Roy Meservey, a longtime trustee and treasurer. Incoming president Eunice Burley added that having Cannon on board will allow the organization to concentrate on the development of its organizational structure, trustee engagement and community involvement.

Founded in 1962, the Chatham Conservation Foundation was the Cape's first private land trust. That allowed the group to get a jump on acquiring significant parcels of land. As its first full-time employee, Cannon said he hopes to help guide the organization as it moves into a new phase of its existence.

For more information about the Foundation, visit chathamconservationfoundation.org.