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Background photo by Tom Lyons

Michael Lach

Land Lover

The Cape’s environment attracts us here and inspires us to raise a family here, to retire here—I feel very grateful to be able to raise my own kids here. It’s those same elements that attract the countless visitors that drive the economy. The environment is the economy. The economy is the environment. They’re one in the same.

I was born at Fort Gordon Army Base in Augusta, Georgia, when my dad was still in the service. Two months later, my parents moved to Marlborough, Massachusetts. Hence, I lost my accent (laughs). By the time I was five, they had settled in Brewster.

My parents recognized the unique quality of life that Cape Cod offered, so that was really instilled in my brother and me when we were raised here. My inspiration for understanding and protecting the environment evolved from early outdoor experiences with my parents—they would take us camping and sailing and fishing and hiking. So we were always out and about. We used to sail on Pleasant Bay—Little Pleasant Bay, which hooks around to the north—in a powder-blue, 17-foot O’Day daysailer. I have fond memories of sailing out there—and running aground (laughs).

Michael Lach

Those early outdoor experiences shaped my life’s direction and made a profound impact on me so that I appreciate the natural environment that is unique to Cape Cod, and they instilled a sense of responsibility to help protect it.

•••

I studied environmental issues at Cornell University, and then I went down to Washington, D.C., for about six months. I thought that D.C. would be a good place to go because it was the epicenter of non-governmental organizations, especially environmental protection-related initiatives. I worked for a group called 20/20 Vision—it was not about optics. It was about advancing legislation that would further environmental protection across the U.S. But I also learned that city living didn’t fit my nature. I found myself wanting to get back to my roots here.

There was a volunteer position at Orenda Wildlife Land Trust, which can preserve land on any of the Cape’s 15 towns. So I worked on a land management plan with them, then I connected with Mark Robinson, who is executive director of the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts.

The Harwich Conservation Trust has helped protect nearly 450 acres of land in Harwich. We’re going into our 25th anniversary year. It’s the Cape’s youngest land trust, formed in 1988, during the development boom of the ’80s. A lot of land trusts on the Cape were formed during that decade. People from all walks of life came together with the common purpose of protecting woods, water, wildlife, and our shared quality of life, and that’s actually the mission of the conservation trust. It’s governed by a volunteer board of trustees. The trust focuses on four major program areas: land protection, land stewardship and management, educational outreach, and volunteer engagement. In the area of land protection, the trust accepts land donations, it will hold conservation restrictions, and also purchase land.

In terms of land stewardship, we have more than 100 wonderful, dedicated volunteers that really make our conservation world go round. They’re out there finding and marking property boundaries, tracking different wildlife species, leading walks and talks. They help us monitor the properties we’ve protected since 1988.

•••

Growing up in the development boom of the ’80s, the land across the street from my neighborhood changed from woods to subdivisions. We all need places to live and to shop and to work. But my hope is that we guide development away from sensitive areas and preserve them in perpetuity, so we can keep this Cape Cod quality of life alive and well.

The kettle ponds are such a unique habitat and resource to enjoy. The ponds in Nickerson State Park in Brewster or the Hawksnest area in Harwich—the concentration of kettle ponds on the Cape is unusual. I love the fact that you can get on the bike trail in that stretch from Dennis through Wellfleet, and in the summer you can jump in a pond in Harwich or Brewster, ride your bike another 10 minutes to a saltwater beach, and you’ve got your freshwater and saltwater experiences taken care of in a couple of hours. You don’t find that opportunity in many other places.

My wife and I have a seven-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son, and it’s so personally and professionally meaningful to be able to raise them on the Cape and have them experience the outdoors the way I was able to when I was a kid. That generational transfer of environmental ethic is key to our ability as a community on the Cape, to ensure that this quality of life that is rooted in the natural landscape around us endures.

Later on, nostalgia for sailing on Pleasant Bay with my folks in that daysailer ended up getting the best of me. It just so happened that one of my neighbors had a beat-up, powder-blue, 17-foot 1970s daysailer for sail. I bought it for $500, trailer included, and I thought, I can’t go wrong. I took my kids out sailing around Little Pleasant Bay. And, of course, the boat ended up taking on water and I had to bail it every 24 hours. So even though it didn’t work out as I thought it would, it was great. It was one of those full-circle moments.

About

Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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