Written by Noah Logan
Photos by Steve Babin
When the Land Trust of North Alabama’s executive director position became open in 2014, Marie Bostick was one of the highest-ranking city officials and had been with the city for 26 years. Fortunately for the Land Trust, the city’s manager of planning and zoning administration had her fill of working in the development world and wanted to experience something new.
Accepting the position of executive director was a logical next step for Bostick. At the time, Bostick was the chair of the nonprofit organization’s board of directors and had been a trustee since 1999. In addition to this connection, Bostick is an avid preservationist and was instrumental in creating the Hays Nature Preserve, Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Wade Mountain Preserve and greenway development in the city.
Looking back, Bostick confirms the decision was an easy one to make. “I loved what I did at the city, it was exciting,” she recalled. “It was never boring. There was always something new but there was also a lot of conflict. While I enjoyed working through all of that, after a while, you want to do something different. So, when the opportunity presented itself to retire from the city and come on over, it was kind of a no brainer for me. I mean, the land trust has been around for 36 years, and I’ve been involved with them for 34 of those years.”
Even though Bostick had been involved with the land trust for more than three decades, there were still facets of her new job that she had to get used to. She described the adjustments she had to make, “The biggest adjustment for me was going from an environment where I had a human resources department, IT department, mapping department and other departments where everybody had their specialty,” she recalled. “I was able to just focus on my job and what we were doing as far as the planning department was concerned. Here, you do a little bit of everything. We are our own IT department, and our own human resources department. I think that the biggest adjustment was the variety of things that happen on a day-to-day basis that you have to figure out.”
It’s been almost ten years since Marie made the switch and the results speak for themselves. In May of 2023, it was announced that the Land Trust had officially preserved over 10,000 acres across the region. The milestone was crossed when Concord Land Development donated 144 acres of property to the Land Trust.
One of the main changes within the organization since Bostick took the helm is the way in which the nonprofit acquired its land. “I’d say the biggest change has probably been our focus on raising money for land acquisitions. In the past, our acquisitions were mostly donations,” Bostick explained. “We didn’t buy a lot of property. In the last several years, we’ve actually run campaigns to raise money and buy strategic properties adjacent to our preserves or in connections between our preserves.”
This change has been instrumental in making the Land Trust’s existing properties more expansive and interconnected, which is a large focus for the ongoing development of the city’s greenway system. The city currently has 42 miles of greenway with a goal of having more than 264 miles when it’s complete.
Bostick also says that the organization’s mission on education has undergone serious changes within the last three to four years.
“We hired our first full-time education director last year while also expanding our education offerings to year-round,” Bostick elaborated. “We used to have seasonal offerings, like a summer program or an occasional workshop. Last year, we only had our education director for half of the year, but we expanded our educational programming by 85% during that time.”
Bostick said the main goal with this new emphasis on education is to raise awareness about the city’s natural environment. “If you don’t know about something, it’s hard to appreciate it,” she eloquently explained. “And if you don’t appreciate it, you don’t understand why it’s necessary to conserve it. So, it’s a cycle that we try to make people aware of.”
She went on to describe how this type of widespread awareness and appreciation is more vital as the city continues to make headlines with the rate it’s growing. “There’s definitely a balance you have to find there as a community. A city has to grow, otherwise, it just withers and dies. But you also need to make sure that you don’t lose your identity in the process and open, green space can play a huge role in a community’s growth and identity” she stated.
“One of the things about Huntsville that is so unique is Monte Sano Mountain and having over 3,000 acres of preserved land within two miles of downtown Huntsville. You don’t find that anywhere else in the country. I mean, it’s an incredible amenity and it speaks to many, many years of people understanding this community and the leadership understanding that there is great value in not losing our green space and our identity. We could always do better, but I think our city and our county has a great understanding of that need for balance.”