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Conservation Trailblazer: Esther Yanai
RELEASE: May 12, 2004 – Volume XXXIV, No. 19

Saving and caring for land doesn’t happen by itself. People make it happen. And the stories and contributions of New Jersey’s conservation trailblazers are as diverse as the ecology of this State We’re In.

Sadly, a whole generation of trailblazers is leaving us. Among them was Esther Yanai who passed away late last year in Syracuse, New York.

As well as anyone I’ve known Esther embodied the spirit of one person making a profound difference.

In the early industrial heydays, individuals rose to giant status – Getty, Rockefeller, Carnegie and many more. Today, large corporations are the heirs to this legacy.

Esther was a giant in New Jersey’s conservation movement. Today land trusts, planning boards, environmental commissions and our state’s citizens are the heirs of her legacy.

Born Esther Van Der Wart in Schenectady, New York, Esther was a graduate of Syracuse University and the University of Minnesota. She moved with her family to Moorestown, Burlington County, in 1958.

Esther got her start in public affairs as a member of the League of Women Voters in Moorestown during the late 1960s. She led a study that concluded the town would benefit from a citizen’s group devoted solely to local environmental issues, as well as a conservation commission to protect its stream corridors.
So by 1972, Esther was a founding member of Save the Environment of Moorestown (STEM), a group that bears her imprint even today as it seeks to preserve and protect the community’s open space.

She drove the creation of a natural resources inventory (NRI) for the Township – a process that took 10 years. In 1988, the NRI was adopted as an appendix to the Township Master plan.

Today, NRI’s are considered vital to informed planning efforts. They provide critical scientific data that helps underpin intelligent land use decisions.

Esther was also the driving force behind an open space inventory for Moorestown’s first Open Space Committee. She organized work projects in Moorestown’s open spaces, and worked with local artists to create unique banners celebrating each and every open space victory. She was a firm believer that every open space needs a group of volunteers committed to protecting and caring for it.

Esther also helped bring about the Moorestown Environmental Advisory Committee, as well as an ordinance protecting the Township’s stream corridors. She campaigned for recycling, supported Green Acres bond issues, worked on Harvest Apple Fests and other public education events, and championed several conservation easements.

Today, several organizations are needed to replace the level of Esther’s efforts. But perhaps her greatest legacy is the volunteerism she encouraged in others.

Certainly, Moorestown bears her indelible mark; but she can be found everywhere volunteers are working at the grassroots level to protect and enhance their local environment!

I hope you’ll contact me at 1-888-LAND-SAVE or info@njconservation.org, or visit NJCF’s website at www.njconservation.org, for more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.

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