Ted Clement bids aloha to Aquidneck Land Trust

Last spring, Ted Clement extols the virtues of protecting the waterfront Elmhurst property as part of Portsmouth's Glen space. It is one project he hopes is completed after he leaves. Last spring, Ted Clement extols the virtues of protecting the waterfront Elmhurst property as part of Portsmouth's Glen space. It is one project he hopes is completed after he leaves.

Ted Clement, right, shares a laugh with Governor Lincoln Chafee and RI DEM Director Janet Coit at the recent opening of a key link in the Aquidneck Greenway.

PORTSMOUTH — After more than  a dozen years at the helm of the Aquidneck Land Trust, Portsmouth resident Ted Clement Jr. announced Monday evening that he will leave December 21 to take a similar post in Hawaii.

Starting in January, the executive director of the Aquidneck Land Trust will become the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust  executive director.

It’s an exciting move, he said, but emotional too given the ties he, wife Boonsuay and sons Hunter, 15,  and Edward, 10, have made on Aquidneck Island and Portsmouth in particular where they live and the two boys go to school. For youngest son Ty, 2, “Not so difficult — fewer issues there.”

His new work brings similar challenges to those faced by Aquidneck Island.

“They are islands too, of course, and as world-class destination face enormous pressure … Like here, people want to live in a beautiful place like Hawaii but natural resources are very finite on islands,” Mr. Clement said. And in Hawaii, add cultural diversity seen in few other places on earth that can bring different priorities to the debate.

Last spring, Ted Clement extols the virtues of protecting the waterfront Elmhurst property as part of Portsmouth’s Glen space. It is one project he hopes is completed after he leaves.

It is a pivotal time for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, he said. Not long ago, four separate island land trusts merged into this one “so this is indeed a time of transition there.”

And while there are similarities between the jobs, there are differences — multiple large islands and “sheer size.” He said the Land Trust there has managed to save “thousands and thousands of acres” and the pressure is on to save critical pieces that could be lost.

“It is a good move for my career,” and, he believes, good for his family, despite the misgivings of his two older sons at leaving school friends in Portsmouth.

Mr. Clement met his wife while he was stationed in Thailand during his Peace Corps years. They have both felt at home during their years on Aquidneck Island, but the move to Hawaii, with its large Asian (including Thai) population, will bring his wife closer to her roots. “And Hawaii is halfway between Thailand” and the mainland United States.

He admits that a preservation position in Hawaii sounds like a dream job, but “It’s not until you commit to the decision that you realize how much of a community you are part of and how hard that is to leave … We are going from one beautiful place to another.”

He said he believes the Aquidneck Land Trust is in a strong position — “Great staff, great board” — and said he is proud of accomplishments made during his time here (see his parting letter below) including critical acres saved and the island Greenway path.

Challenges remain for his successor, he said.

He said he hopes Portsmouth and the Land Trust will reach agreement to preserve the former Elmhurst School property as a waterfront park linked to the town’s Glen holdings. The Trust has offered to pay $1 million to demolish the old school and get a park started in return for an easement protecting the property.

“That is a beautiful place and deserves to be protected.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing this and most land trust, he said, is to forge open space connections with its young people.

“It is all too easy to forget that all human systems absolutely rely on the natural world … Kids these days are so busy — school, after-school sports, technology — and a result of that is a loss of time outdoors. When we become disconnected from where we come from, that’s a constant threat.” Strides made with the Greenway and other open space successes, as well as projects like St. Mary’s Church’s new farmers’ market, “are encouraging signs of people reconnecting to their natural surroundings.”

The Aquidneck Land Trust will move quickly to find a replacement for Mr. Clement. A search for candidates will start immediately and the Trust hopes to be make an announcement by its February 7 annual meeting.

Mr. Clement released the following statement about his move:

I have bittersweet news to deliver.  On December 21, 2012, I will end my service to the Aquidneck Land Trust as its Executive Director.

All of the success enjoyed by ALT these past years, especially during the recession, has naturally attracted the attention of others.  I have consistently turned down employment opportunities presented by others these last few years as my family and I very much love the community here, ALT and Aquidneck Island itself.  However, I was recently presented a unique employment offer that was right for my family and I: becoming the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust’s Executive Director in January.

There are a few primary reasons why this is good for my family and I.  It is a great opportunity for me to grow professionally, protect the magnificent Hawaiian landscapes, and do good for people and our environment on an even larger scale.  This is also an opportunity for my family and I to grow individually and together while on the adventure of a lifetime.  Further, Hawaii has a major Asian influence and allows one to still live in the United States while being geographically almost in between Thailand and mainland USA.  That fits my family which is a great mix of Thai and American.

My sadness about leaving ALT, our community and Aquidneck Island itself is assuaged by the fact that I know during my time here (ALT Land Protection Director from August 2000 to February 2005, and ALT Executive Director from February 2005 to Present) I have worked very hard and have successfully delivered lasting good to this wonderful community and place.  For example, with the terrific people here, I have been able to do the following:

• Lead and manage what has become one of Rhode Island’s leading non-profits and the first nationally accredited land trust amongst the over 40 land trusts in Rhode Island;

• Fundraise as ALT’s chief fundraiser, which has included raising millions and millions of dollars for land acquisition projects (since its founding in 1990, ALT has completed fundraising for 8 multi-million dollar acquisition projects, with 6 of those 8 projects since 2005), completing ALT’s overall $20 million Campaign for Living Land in 2008, and helping grow ALT’s Marcella Clark McCormack Stewardship Endowment Fund from about $10,000 in 2000, when I pushed to have this fund created, to over $3.5 million today;

• Serve as ALT’s chief negotiator on land conservation transactions by creating, overseeing and completing strategic land acquisition projects which includes taking care of legal complexities and other sensitive issues such as landowner relations (have taken ALT’s land holdings from about 500 acres on 12 properties when initially hired in 2000 to over 2,415 acres on 67 properties to date);

• Lead ALT through negotiations and fundraising to complete its 2 public nature trails: the Sakonnet Greenway Trail, Aquidneck Island’s largest public nature trail; and the Oakland Forest and Meadow Preserve Trail; and

• Educate and connect our community to the environment through our Conservation Speaker Series, Land Matters Walk & Talk Series, protected parks and trails, Conservation Collaboration Agreements with local schools and other initiatives that I helped champion.

It has truly been an honor working alongside of you, and this outstanding community, to protect, and better connect people to, Aquidneck Island’s natural resources and landscapes which sustain us.  I cannot thank you enough for your friendship and support over the years.  Just as I have worked very hard for ALT for over 12 years because of my love for this place and its people, so will I work over the next month to help assure the best transition possible.  Thereafter, you will have a friend to visit in Hawaii.  Mahalo!

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