WOODBURY — Arthur Milnor is feeling nostalgic. With retirement less than a month away, he knows he’s already attended his last Pancake Breakfast as executive director of Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust. When he runs in next year’s Field and Forest 5K or brings his grandchildren to next year’s Flanders Festival, for the first time since 1997, it won’t be his job to worry about the weather.
“Working at Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust has been, in many respects, a dream come true,” he said. “It’s allowed me to do the executive director-level work, the strategic planning, board work and development, and at the same time, because we’re a small entity, a lot of the operational things, which I love.
“It has been so much fun working here, so rewarding,” he said. “I can’t believe how 22 years have flown by.”
When Arthur arrived at Flanders, it was a relatively small organization. Back then, he recalled, directors of similar properties asked him ‘what are your plans?’
“My response to that,” he said, “was taking a look at [Flanders Founder] Natalie Van Vleck and at who and what she was — an artist and a farmer who got her hands deep in the soil and then formed a nature center and land trust.
“When I looked around the community and got a feel for what the community would support, I saw the very same values of art, farming and nature. It was pretty simple to figure out what the vision would be.”
One of the first major changes during Arthur’s time at Flanders was the purchase and preservation of the Whittemore Sanctuary.
“That was one of, if not the first, DEEP grants we applied for and received,” he said. “That was a real opportunity for me, getting very involved, to get to know everyone in the community at the beginning of my tenure.”
It also showed him that the idea of preserving open space was something that this community would support.
“At that time, too, not just Flanders, but other land trusts could see — and there are some really good land trusts in this area — you can raise money to preserve open space, not only from the state, but from citizens.
“You could see the impetus of other executive directors getting on board and saving open space in their own communities.”
Today, Flanders is an accredited land trust, actively acquiring and preserving open space.
“And we’re doing that at a very high level,” the director said. “That’s a really good thing.”
Another thing Arthur is particularly proud of is the development of educational programs at Flanders. These days, he said, one-third of Flanders’ revenue is gained through educational programming and events for all ages.
Adult programs focus on the flora and fauna to be found at Flanders, art and myriad other topics of interest to the community. Children’s programs run the gamut from tadpole hunting to Farm School.
“For families and adults, it’s really cool to see this,” he said. “At the end of the day, I love to see children hopping and skipping to their parents, craft in hand,” he said. “They can’t wait to share with their parents what they did that day.”
In recent years, Flanders has also made significant strides with the local school system, including partnering with Region 14 in a federal program called Next Generation Science Studies.
“With NGSS, what they get is the opportunity to come out here and put what they’ve learned into practice,” he said. “They visit the various habitats, the pond, the forest, the farm, to reinforce concepts they’re learning in school. That’s a really good thing.”
Early on, Arthur came to appreciate the fact that over the years, thanks to the influence of Natalie Van Vleck, Flanders had benefited from a strong board of directors and a long history of volunteer workers.
“When Natalie founded the nature center in 1963, she pulled together a group of like-minded individuals,” he said. “It was a different era then. Women, for the most part, were not working in the ‘60s and ‘70s — their outlet was volunteering. That made a difference. When I came on board, all I had to do was continue the legacy.
“Now, we have an incredibly strong organization of volunteers, recruited, trained and oriented to run the operations of the facility, so all the money we raise can go back into supporting the mission of the organization.”
That mission includes a thoughtful program of land acquisition that has evolved over the years since the land trust came into being.
“Back then,” Arthur said, “Flanders would take pretty much any piece of open space. Now, we’re much more strategic.
“We’re looking for larger pieces that connect with others we own; pieces with important habitats and ecological characteristics that have value in preserving.
“When I came we had about 700 acres,” he said. “Through many land purchases, now we have about 2,300 acres, with an expanding presence and a strong partnership with the town.
“Our relationship with the town and the community is now at a point where Flanders is highly regarded and well respected.”
The director said he feels confident the nature center and land trust will continue to prosper.
Flanders’ endowment, which stood at $700,000 when he came on board, has grown to $2-1/2 million. Its yearly budget has grown from $150,000 to $600,000.
He also believes the governance of Flanders is in good hands, particularly with Ingrid Manning, former executive director of the Connecticut Community Foundation, heading up the Board of Directors.
“It’s a very, very strong board with tons of business experience as well as a variety of different skills needed to run a nonprofit,” he said. “Flanders is in an exciting place.”
When he came to Flanders in 1997, Arthur believed he was “the right person at the right time for the right position.” Now, in 2019, he’s just as sure it’s the right time for him to step down.
“It’s a wonderful time for me to leave,” he said. “I’m 66, Flanders is in really great shape in pretty much all regards. Stepping down now, I feel good about where Flanders is at.
“I’m really looking forward to what any retiree looks forward to, doing the kinds of things ordinarily done in retirement.”
Arthur and his wife, Elaine, have two grandchildren and a third on the way. They’re happy at the prospect of spending extended time at their log cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee.
But “home” will continue to be in Woodbury.
The couple lives on land that borders Flanders Nature Center. There’s a trail at the end of their driveway that leads to Flanders’ botany pond, to the Sugar House and points beyond.
“This is our home,” Arthur said. “Woodbury is our community. It’s where we raised our two daughters.
“We have tons of friends and connections here. We see no reason to move anyplace else.”
He called Woodbury a wonderful community with good volunteers, good people, a healthy community to live and work in. But he does admit he’ll miss the people he’s worked with.
“I really credit the volunteers and staff,” he said. “They’re very interested in accomplishing the mission of Flanders. I’ve developed some wonderful working relationships with these people. I’ll miss them the most for sure.”