There could be worse legacies than a bald hilltop with a stunning view preserved for all to enjoy. As she recalls how that legacy began, Meg Campbell’s blue eyes twinkle. We meet for lunch at the local bakery as the spring rains rattle the windows and begin to split open the buds on the hillside’s trees. Unlike her eventual partner in the enterprise, Charlie Ross, she hadn’t been terribly interested in land conservation at first although she had long been an active volunteer in the community. Charlie Ross had visited Europe in the late 1960s and brought home a vision of a green necklace of open space around Corvallis and Philomath, Oregon. At the top of his list of target properties was an open hill with a commanding view of the community and the Willamette River to the east and south, and the Coast Range to the north and west. “Charlie took me up to Bald Hill on a cloudy morning,” Meg remembers. The clouds were going by below us, moving on over to the coast. It was just idyllic and I finally understood what Charlie was talking about.” Land conservation efforts in the mid-Willamette Valley had just gained a dedicated champion.
Charlie Ross convened a group of interested people and the first board of the Greenbelt Land Trust was elected in 1989. They drew up the list of sought-after properties, modeled after the original list Ross had begun twenty years earlier. “That was a fun thing to do, decide which ones we were going to concentrate on,” Meg laughed. Soon after, Meg became the second president of Greenbelt Land Trust. She quickly faced her first test of leadership in 1990. The fifty-four acres of land at the summit of Bald Hill went up for sale.
“We just ran across an ad in the paper and thought, this is on our list! Of course there was deep discussion to decide whether to plunge right in and do that because we didn’t have any money. It took several meetings for everyone to say OK, let’s do it. I still remember the fear and trembling.” Fear and trembling notwithstanding, the board took the plunge.
Greenbelt Land Trust purchased the property in part with a loan from the Nature Conservancy in Portland. “Not something they usually do,” Meg recalls. Undeterred, Meg approached TNC and made her pitch. “I think they just decided well, you started a land trust, that’s good.” To pay back the loan, the Greenbelt Land Trust sold off two house lots on the west side of Bald Hill, and began fundraising in the Corvallis community in earnest. “It took us a while to really get things started,” she remembers. “We did a lot of putting things out on the tables at festivals so that people would begin to know what Greenbelt Land Trust was. People were really open to the idea.” Greenbelt raised the needed funds and eventually deeded over the remaining forty-one acres to the city of Corvallis in 1993. It remains one of the most heavily visited parks in a city known for its open space, and the focal point for further land conservation efforts today.
When asked how the Trust managed to acquire the skills they needed to raise money, negotiate easements, and buy and transfer land, Meg makes light of the work. “Everybody on the board had some experience and they all took certain responsibilities they felt comfortable with. At every board meeting, we would decide who would do things. We were very small and didn’t have any staff, so at that time I was also the secretary. I would send out the meeting minutes immediately with the things people had agreed to do highlighted. We were very efficient.”
They also were efficient about taking advantage of other resources, particularly those offered by the Land Trust Alliance. “They gave good, solid advice,” Meg recalls. She and other board members traveled to attend the Land Trust Alliance’s rallies, which featured hands-on workshops for the skills land trusts need. Meg Campbell dove right in. “From writing easements, to fundraising and hosting Board meetings in her living room – Meg did it all. It is a rare thing, to find people who willingly go the extra mile to realize their vision. Where would we be without people like Meg Campbell in the world?!” says Jessica McDonald, Greenbelt Land Trust’s Development Director. The trust continued to add to its portfolio of properties, although the Bald Hill purchase remains the one Meg Campbell is most proud of: “It took the most courage.” Meg served as president until 1995 and remains active although in a lesser role. She is now in her late eighties.
When asked what advice she would give to a new land trust starting out, she simply smiled. “Courage,” she said. And then the interview is over. A local mosque is holding a tree-planting event to promote peace, and Meg Campbell plans to be there to lend support.
Interview conducted and post written by Jennifer Gervais, 2014