On the first day of spring, a group of hikers listen with rapt attention as Trustees volunteer naturalist Roland Boutwell teaches them how to identify the first new flowers of the season at Ward Reservation. Later on at the top of Holt Hill, he explains to the group, as well as some curious bystanders, how the solstice stones—built nearly a century ago after the previous property owner was inspired on a visit to Stonehenge—line up perfectly with the path of the sun traversing the Boston skyline.
A former teacher by trade, performer by heart, and lifelong explorer of nature, Boutwell has been a friend of The Trustees and a member of our leadership giving society, the Founders Circle, for more than 20 years.
“I give to The Trustees because they continue to seem to me to be an organization that is true to their mission,” Boutwell said. “These places in nature are sanctuaries and it’s so important we protect them.”
Boutwell, who goes by the nickname “Boot”, has been a nature educator since the late ‘90s, leading groups of visitors on walks and hikes through protected landscapes, teaching them about the local flora and fauna along the way. After spending time as a history teacher at a small private school in New York in the 1970s, Boot returned to his hometown of Winchester and became involved in outdoor education, taking classes on native plant studies with the New England Wild Flower Society.
“I always spent a lot of time outdoors, I hiked, I camped, I fished, but I could barely tell an oak from a pine,” Boot said. “I figured this might be a great way for me to learn about nature.”
He quickly fell in love with his studies, and even began teaching some of the plant identification courses to new crops of students. Not long after, he began looking for a conservation organization to support financially. His love of nature, combined with his affinity for history, led him to The Trustees.
“I love that The Trustees mission is to protect significant natural areas, but that they also have a focus on historical places,” Boot said. “I wanted to find an organization that preserves nature, and this was just an incredible add-on bonus that The Trustees were doing—restoring and preserving historical properties—and something they were doing well. It was a win-win situation.”
His favorite destinations span the state, from Monument Mountain and Bartholomew’s Cobble—which is home to some very unique plant species thanks to its limestone substrate—in the Berkshires, to the Old Manse in Concord, a venue steeped in history and critical to the American literary tradition.
“The more Trustees properties I visited, the more impressed I was with how the properties were maintained and by the work the Trustees were doing,” Boot said.
He also has a special connection to one of The Trustees newest managed properties, Mary Cummings Park, in Burlington, where he has been leading nature walks since 2014. When the future of the park was uncertain, and local groups were fighting to stop the sale of the land, Boot was elated to see the Trustees step in ensure the park was maintained, improved, and protected as vital open space forever.
“As more natural areas get covered by development, factories, roads, there’s all the more reason to preserve what’s left,” Boot said. “It’s so vital for us to recharge spiritually and emotionally in nature.”
After donating to The Trustees for over two decades, Boot began leading walks for The Trustees last summer, when we started resuming in-person programming. That willingness to give people a place to come together is another reason why Boot continues to support our cause.
“This was one of the first organizations to reopen after the pandemic started. So many other places were closing their conservation land at a time when people needed nothing more than to get out into areas like this,” Boot said. “These places are more important now than ever before.”