By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Josh Phillips had been looking for an opportunity to return to his home state of Vermont and continue his work in the field of land conservation.
He got his wish on both counts last month when he began his job as the new executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT).
Phillips, 31, takes over for former MALT leader Gioia Kuss, who stepped down last year, and Robin Scheu, who had been heading the organization on an interim basis.
Until recently, Phillips worked as director of preservation services at Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit conservation organization in Baltimore. While there, Phillips administered grants, created a preservation easement program and did most of the organization’s local advocacy outside of the city of Baltimore — namely, 23 counties.
After four years with Preservation Maryland, Phillips and his wife, Julie, found themselves on the move this spring. Julie Phillips, a physician, had been offered a fellowship at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington. The couple decided it would be a good move, so Josh Phillips began to look for employment opportunities in the Green Mountain State, where he had grown up and gone to school. Phillips is a graduate of the University of Vermont’s historic preservation master’s program.
He was ecstatic to land the top job at MALT.
“I grew up in Milton, and my family is in Benson, so I was very familiar with Addison County,” Phillips said. “This job really represents an opportunity for me to combine my interests in environmental conservation, open space preservation, sustainable agriculture and cultural/historic preservation. All those things come together in a community land trust, so I was excited that this opportunity was available.”
MALT was established in 1987 as a vehicle through which to preserve key open spaces and farm operations in and around Middlebury. Phillips is MALT’s only full-time employee. He oversees a handful of part-time staff and a dedicated corps of volunteers who help maintain MALT’s conserved properties and other assets, such as the Trail Around Middlebury.
“Robin Scheu has really left us in a good situation, in terms of organizational development,” Phillips said. “We are in a great position to focus on land conservation, which is out primary business here. Once we have gotten through the initial strategic planning and budget — which happens this time of year — we’re going to be looking to move forward with new land conservation projects.”
With that in mind, MALT will try to alter its strategy in how it approaches conservation deals.
“We will try to be more proactive, rather than reactive, with land conservation projects,” Phillips said.
He is pleased to enter a new phase of his career with MALT.
“A lot of it has to do with growing up in Vermont, where land and culture are really so closely intertwined,” Phillips said. “This is obviously a beautiful, special place and I think it’s useful to think about what makes it that way. I’m mostly interested in preserving our way of life, and land and ecological values are really integral to our way of life here.”