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Incoming Willistown Conservation Trust President Kate Etherington Traces Her Passion for Conservation to Her Local Roots

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You could cite Kate Etherington’s resume alone as the reason she was chosen to be the newest Executive Director of Willistown Conservation Trust (WCT). But it was the details that a Linkedin profile doesn’t communicate—a lifelong devotion to conservation and roots in the local community, among others—that cemented Etherington as WCT’s torchbearer.

Etherington’s on-paper bona fides are abundantly clear. She graduated cum laude from Colgate University, then earned a Master of Science from UPenn with a focus on non-profit and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) leadership.

In the following decade-plus, the Easttown Township native expanded relief for victims of domestic violence as Shelter Services Coordinator for the Sojourner Center. Etherington then ascended to Interim Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility—a physician-led non-profit that works to protect the public from environmental hazards.

Her strong leadership track record in service-focused organizations makes Kate Etherington a fitting choice to lead WCT. But as WCT founder Bonnie Van Alen conceptualized her transition into a President Emerita position, she wasn’t only seeking a successor with an impressive resume. The person who would claim the leadership mantle for Willistown Conservation Trust would need to have a foundational passion for preservation—the same spirit that led Van Alen, along with Alice Hausmann and Kathe McCoy, to found the Trust in 1996.

Kate Etherington fits this criterion, too. Etherington fondly recalls a childhood spent riding horses and exploring the family farm in Easttown Township. It was during these developmental years that she fostered a lifelong affection for the outdoors, learning firsthand that nature is fragile and finite.

“During the 80s and early 90s, development pressures were huge, and I witnessed big farms, including one right across the street [from our farm], turned into high-density housing developments,” Etherington explains. “Even as a child, I remember feeling deep sadness when this would happen, knowing those natural spaces were gone forever.”

As Etherington progressed through university and embarked on a career of service with NGOs and non-profits, the allure of environmental causes always remained. Upon returning to the Malvern area in 2010, Etherington and her husband Ben attended an event at WCT’s Rushton farm, and she was “immediately drawn to the organization.”

That single event at Rushton farm would precipitate an enduring relationship between Etherington and Willistown Conservation Trust. Volunteer work evolved into positions on WCT’s Barns & BBQ Committee, Development Committee, and Board of Trustees.

In March 2020, Etherington agreed to become Willistown Conservation Trust’s Associate Executive Director. With Van Alen’s blessing, Etherington now assumes the role of Executive Director.

Kate Etherington will guide an organization that oversees 7,500 protected acres within their 28,000-acre focus area into the future. As she gets to work as Executive Director, Etherington sees WCT’s path clearly.

“My vision includes protecting our remaining vulnerable pockets of open space but also introducing a new and wider audience of people to the amazing natural resources in our area through our dynamic programs, nature preserves, and the Rushton Conservation Center,” Etherington explains. “I hope that our research contributes to a larger body of scientific work and helps to support conservation goals on a broader scale.”

As Etherington reflects on her route to Willistown Conservation Trust from her days exploring the woods of Easttown Township, her vision remains firmly affixed on the future—including future generations—as a leader’s sights must always be.

“Being able to raise my kids in a community that values open space and having access to local preserves is extremely important. Knowing that I get to continue that legacy for my kids and others to come when so much of our natural world is disappearing feels pretty great.”

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