Maron gives CATS time to recruit his replacement
By Mike Lynch
Chris Maron, executive director of Champlain Area Trails, announced Friday he will be retiring in December 2024.
The 74-year-old was a founding member of CATS and has been the organization’s only director since it started in 2009.
“Time comes quicker than you think, and I just want to get the process going and have a full plan accordingly,” Maron said. “Announcing it so far in advance, gives you the opportunity to really take some time and find that right person.”
CATS hopes to hire a replacement in the fall of 2024 and have Maron train the person. In the meantime, the organization is working on a transition plan that includes leaving a nest egg for his successor, Maron said.
Maron said his personal plan is to do some volunteer trail work and traveling.
Based in Westport, CATS is a nonprofit land trust that preserves land, develops and maintains trails, promotes economic vitality, and works to introduce the public to nature through recreation in the Champlain Valley. Most of its conservation efforts are focused on the Split Rock Wildway, a wildlife corridor linking the Split Rock Wild Forest with the High Peaks.
Since its inception, the organization has created 77 miles of hiking, snowshoeing and skiing trails, including about 45 routes on private and public properties. It has also protected 983 acres of land through purchases and conservation easements. The trail mileage could grow to more than 100 miles in the coming years, including expanding into Clinton County, Maron said.
CATS has built a volunteer program with more than 2,000 volunteers contributing more than 20,000 hours since its creation.
Many of its trails are short, but part of the organization’s mission is to create a network of trails that connects communities. The town-to-town trail concept is based on existing models in England.
Maron said that a long-term development plan is impending. A route between Westport to Essex is mostly completed, he said. Routes between Willsboro and Keeseville, in addition to Westport to Port Henry, are still in the works.
Maron started his career with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 1984 in Indiana. He moved to northern New York in 2001 to work as the Champlain Valley program director for TNC. Through his work there, he conserved several thousands of acres of farmland and natural areas, including the Boquet River Nature Preserve in Willsboro and the Hidden Valley addition to Coon Mountain in Westport. Both sites offer popular trails created by Maron.
He said many people influenced the development of CATS including the late Tim Barnett, who worked for the Nature Conservancy.
Maron recalled Barnett taking him to a highpoint on a town road in Essex in 2001, where there is a great view of the High Peaks to the west and Lake Champlain to the east. Barnett talked about how conservationist Gary Randorf envisioned a future trail that would connect Westport to the Boquet Mountains in Essex.
“That really stuck with me and was our early vision for Champlain Area Trails, and we’ve made good progress on that,” he said.
Maron listed off many highlights with his career at CATS, including the creation of the 35-acre Essex Quarry Trail and Nature Preserve, which originally provided limestone for structures locally and for construction in Albany and New York City.
“It’s just amazing how much use that gets and how popular it is,” he said.
The quarry was recently the setting for a piano by nature concert attended by more than 100 people in its natural amphitheater.
He also expressed gratitude toward all the people he has worked with over the years.
“Together, we have built greatly needed trails and land protection organization that provides recreation, environmental education, health benefits, and economic vitality here in the Champlain Valley,” he said.
The organization has grown from one staff member to its current number of five and Maron said that number could grow in the future. CATS, with a $600,000 budget, has established an endowment.
CATS Board Chair Daniel Keegan praised Maron for his leadership, vision and dedication.
“Maron’s impact on CATS and the region will be felt for generations,” he said.
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