Mr. Conservation -June 2018

For nearly 50 years Jim Lentowski has been the face of conservation on the island ... That’s about to change.

by: John Stanton

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

There is a place, at the top of a little rise in the Shawkemo Hills, where you can clearly see the lighthouses of both Great Point and Sankaty in the distance. In the sightlines are the harbor and the sparkling inlets that flow off it, the sands of Coatue, and off to the west is the town of Nantucket defined by the white spire of a church steeple, and all around acres of land that were once sheep commons. To gaze across all this is to share a view through the eyes of people long gone, who once lived and died on a very different island.

Jim Lentowski knows how standing on this land, experiencing this moment, makes you feel. It is why he brought you here. It is why he has spent the better part of the last five decades making sure these places will be here for the next people to stand on and look back across the centuries.

“It’s places like this. You come to them and you can only be in Nantucket,” Lentowski said. “The sense of this place is here.”

Sense of place. It was the phrase people used before we all began speaking of sustainability. Even then it was only beginning to come into popular usage. This was back in the dawning of the age of ecology, when people began thinking in a different way about the places where they lived, when the idea of protecting open space was new.

“My generation of college students was sort of the first wave,” Lentowski said. “I look around the commonwealth now and several of my colleagues are retiring, all guys and women who went through the first days of environmental awareness. The environment became a common term. Prior to that I don’t even know what it was called.”

Lentowski is retiring this summer from a job he has done for 47 years. He is stepping down as executive director of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

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