For over 25 years, Tom Gettings has been actively involved with the Wildlands Conservancy as a photographer, conservationist and advocate for getting children and adults outdoors. Through the mission of Wildlands, he developed a unique program that connects grade school children with the recreational and cultural assets in their community. "When you think of the tens of thousands of people in our area that have started to get outdoors just because of him, it's an unbelievable feat," says Chris Kocher, President of Wildlands Conservancy.
In 1999, Tom created The Wildlands Conservancy Bike & Boat educational program – now an integral part of area schools. The program takes urban and disadvantaged kids canoeing up the river and biking back up the four-mile trail. They learn lessons about animal species, their habitats and the river's history along the way. "We estimate that 30,000 kids have been on the river since its start," says Tom. "That alone is a transforming experience."
"We have kids that are scared because they've never biked four miles before or have never been on the water before," says Tom. "But when they accomplish this, it gives them the realization that they can do anything."
Tom's involvement at Wildlands began when he came to them as a professional photographer and volunteered to photograph conserved land all over the state. "Not everyone is able to get out into the hinterlands and see something beautiful we've saved," says Chris. "Tom was able to bring thousands of images to life so we could show the public our conservation successes. He works tirelessly to find vehicles to connect people to nature."
"If you can teach a child at age 10 to care about nature, then you have someone that might make a difference in the outdoors for the next 70 years," says Tom.
Not only did Tom focus on bringing children outdoors, he also made the outdoors more accessible to everyone in the community. He worked hard to turn more than 1,000 acres of community property into 20 miles of handicap accessible trails, habitat improvement projects, stream restoration and an environmental education facility. He also implemented user-friendly trail guides to help his community "get off the couch and into the environment."
"What I get to do is a dream," says Tom. "Just give me a camera and a pair of hiking boots and I'm in heaven." Fortunately, he allows many others to tag along.
To learn more about Wildlands Conservancy, visit wildlandspa.org.