Preservation Magazine, Spring 2023

President's Note: A Passion for Preservation

In November, Paul Edmondson (above, right, with me at left) announced that he would be stepping down as president and CEO of the National Trust. As chair of the National Trust’s Board of Trustees, I worked closely with Paul during his presidency and would like to express my deep gratitude for his leadership of the organization and decades of dedication to the field of historic preservation—especially in guiding the nation’s top legal advocacy program. As the Board of Trustees works to identify a permanent president and CEO, I am excited to step temporarily into the role of interim president and CEO, and to work with National Trust staff to ensure that the organization’s tremendous progress and momentum continues.

It is important work not just for our nation; it’s also personal to me. The seeds of my passion for historic preservation were first planted when I became involved with an effort to protect Elkhorn Ranch in the western North Dakota Badlands from industrial encroachment. The Elkhorn was Theodore Roosevelt’s home ranch during the time he spent in North Dakota after the deaths of his wife and mother. While he was living there, he saw firsthand the challenges of development in the West. (As someone born in North Dakota, I’ve seen it, too.) This is why the Elkhorn is such a special place: It inspired the greatest conservationist in United States presidential history and helped to establish an American conservation ethic.

Though the Elkhorn Ranch land itself was protected as part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the views of the Little Missouri River Valley that once inspired Roosevelt were not. I first got involved to see if there were a way to protect that pristine landscape from the development of oil wells, a gravel pit, new roads across the Badlands, and bridges over the river. That is how I met National Trust staff members who were trying to do the same thing.

After about a year of working with the National Trust to protect the Elkhorn, I was invited to join the Board of Trustees. Of course, I had no idea then that this would lead to my one day serving as interim president. But I’m glad it did. It is an amazing opportunity to be a part of the National Trust at such a pivotal time. I look forward to celebrating the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2024 and to working with staff and the board as we prepare for a new leader, someone with the vision to lay the groundwork for the next 75 years. And, of course, it will be immensely gratifying to have a hand in protecting places like the Elkhorn Ranch that tell our shared national story.

Jay Clemens, Interim President and CEO

Jay Clemens served as the chair of the board of trustees from November 2020–March 2023, and interim president & CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from March 2023–January 2024.

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