Trailblazer: Esther Yanai
RELEASE: May 12, 2004 – Volume XXXIV, No. 19
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com,
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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