The Spy has been doing our long-form “Exit Interview” series for more than ten years now as part of our contribution to the oral history of the Mid-Shore region. Catching unique individuals as they end their prominent roles on the Shore is our particular way to honor and take note of their remarkable contributions and preserve the local history of those accomplishments.
We’ve been honored and always a bit surprised as these leaders candidly talk about their experiences. And that was certainly the case as we caught up with Rob Etgen, who will be retiring at the end of December as the founding director and president of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
But unlike almost everyone else we have interviewed over the years, it was impossible to condense Rob’s three decades of land conservation on the Eastern Shore into a simple or short conversation. During Etgen’s time, the organization has protected thousands of acres of farms and forests on the Mid-Shore, which resulted from countless meetings and transactions with landowners, lawyers, and government agencies; each one of them a story onto itself.
Nor does it stop with just land protection. Under Rob’s leadership, ESLC made a strategic decision to invest time and resources in revitalizing Eastern Shore communities, which have resulted in the highly-praised restoration of the McCord Building as the new home of the region’s top conservation organizations as the Eastern Shore Conservation Center.
This legacy continues with the dramatic recovery of the Phillips Packing Company building in Cambridge, with its 60,000 square feet designed to support and grow regional economic opportunities connected to agriculture, aquaculture, environmental technologies, and tourism.
And finally, with the ESLC’s embrace of the Delmarva Oasis, an ambitious project that plans to save 50% of the Delmarva Peninsula by 2030 with the support and partnership of multiple conservation-based organizations, the Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia state governments, the private sector, and forward-thinking landowners.
Nonetheless, we did our best to capture as much as we could in our chat with Rob as we talked about the founding of the organization in 1990, the early years of protecting family farms and critical habitat, and ESLC’s remarkable reputation, led by Rob’s special planning skills, of quickly adapting the mission to best take advantage of science and new threats such as the impact of climate change.
Rob Etgen started his career as a Forest Ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, and after graduating from law school, he also worked at times for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Attorney General’s Office in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, two private law firms in Baltimore, and with the Maryland Environmental Trust where he assisted in the formation of eighteen private land trusts.
In 1989-90, he worked closely with ESLC founders Russ Brinsfield and Peter Brown to help create the Eastern Shore’s first land trust and became its founding director in October 1990. Their work would eventually save some 70,000 acres of some the Mid-Shore’s most important landscapes.
We start our interview with short clips of the Spy’s previous interviews with Rob and then sit down to hear about those early days, including ESLC’s work on famed Wye House, the creation of the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, and the organization’s commitment in building the Delmara Oasis.
As for Rob’s future, we only predict that his fly rod will be close at hand.
This video is approximately twenty minutes in length. For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy please go here.