Balancing Nature, Commerce and First Day Jitters

Balancing Nature, Commerce and First Day Jitters

The first day at any new job can be considered intimidating and somewhat stressful. It feels reminiscent of your first day at school. Will I fit in? Where will I sit at lunch? Will there be room on my desk for my Los Angeles Clippers bobble head (long story)? Do I have what it takes to do the job? The anxieties and questions can start to form a long list that rattles in the back of your mind. But as the first day approaches you settle in and ignore the self-doubt and relish in the confidence that your boss was right to hire you. I will be working from home (yes there is room for a bobble head) and also have had the distinct pleasure of working on projects with the PA Wilds Center leading up to my official start date so much of the normal anxieties were put at bay and I was starting to think my first day was going to be smooth sailing without any jitters. I was wrong.

About one month before beginning as Program Director for the PA Wilds Center my soon to be boss, Ta Enos forwarded me an email from Katie Allen at The Conservation Fund. The Fund was preparing their annual Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes workshop held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, VA and was requesting a case study on success from the PA Wilds. Ta was unable to present and so she started the email to me by saying “I know you will only be on the job for 2 days but I think this is a great opportunity and I think you should do it”. I looked at the agenda for the workshop, which included a dynamic line up of speakers and topics and replied “sure, I’ll do it” figuring my “can do” attitude was a strong character trait and factor in her decision to hire me.  And as soon as I said yes the jitters set in – guess I couldn’t avoid them after all.

Upon arriving at the National Conservation Training Center I was instantly blown away by the facility. It is affectionately known as Club Fed for a good reason. After checking into the Aldo Leopold Lodge my husband and I leisurely hiked the grounds. We walked by an eagle nesting area and stood in awe as an eagle perched at the very top of a large sycamore tree (about 100 feet high). The enormity of its scale and watchful presence were hard to comprehend, he was so far away and yet his presence was undeniable as the nest he guarded, filled with precious cargo, was about 6 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep.  Everything about the design of the facility was so thoughtful. I was instantly inspired, how could I not be? I was also excited for the opportunity to talk about the truly amazing things that have been happening throughout the PA Wilds over the past 10+years. Even though I am new to the organization (starting week 2 on the job) I am not new to its work, mission or importance in our region.

That large “clump” in the tree is an actual eagle’s nest.

The workshop launched with a session titled “The Dollars & Sense of Protecting Community Character” by Ed McMahon and the inspiration continued. Ed holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute and is a leading authority on topics related to sustainable development, land conservation, smart growth and historic preservation (just the beginning of an impressive resume).  He is a tour de force and I urge you to take 12 minutes to watch his TEDx talk for your own shot of inspiration.

I was slated to present on day 1 of a 3-day course in which community-based teams (from West Virginia, Illinois, Virginia and  Pennsylvania) focused on “the economics, community character, natural resources, and partnership-building skills necessary for creating sustainable communities”. As the workshop progressed through the day topics included “Trends, Tools, and Sustainable Tourism for Rural Communities” and “Mapping your Assets” which ultimately led to my presentation during the final session of the day “Case Studies on Thriving Rural Communities”. The group of approximately 30 was welcoming and warm so my nerves were quite at ease as I stepped in front of the room to discuss the various successes of the PA Wilds. During my 30 minute presentation I provided a brief history of the PA Wilds along with tools and techniques we use and highlighting the various successes that follow when working with diverse public, private, and nonprofit partners.

Isaac Kremer from Discover Downtown Middlesboro (KY) followed and the inspiration continued. Isaac discussed the planning process within the Middlesboro community that led to action and successful projects throughout the city.  After dinner he led the way as we deconstructed an old pallet and used the wood to build an Adirondack chair. Power tools were shared and it was a great exercise in teamwork, solidifying the lessons learned throughout the day.

This was definitely the best “first day” on the job that I have yet to experience. Since I was so inspired I can’t keep this information to myself so I’d like end by sharing my top takeaways from the workshop with you.

Members of the workshop help and learn on the fly how to build an Adirondack chair out of a scrap pallet.

The final product – ready for use at the National Conservation Training Center.

15 Takeaways from my time at the
Balancing Nature and Commerce Workshop

  1. A city without a past is a like a man without a memory – so as a community, town, village, city or region tell your story. Even if it’s a bad one, you can always flip the narrative and bring out the good as a valuable learning experience.
  2. Be genuine and authentic. Did you know that to millennials interesting and authentic is more important than predictable and comfortable? (hello rapid success and popularity of AirBnB)
  3. Quality of life is key. Enough said.
  4. There is quantifiable evidence that a view has value. Rooms with a view are always worth more – remember this if your entire community is a great view – people will want to see it!
  5. Growth is about choices – so be a good neighbor!
  6. Good design is good for business. Design choices can create and enhance community character. Did you know that every chain retailer has 3 design choices for building their store? Plan A is cookie cutter, Plan B has a variation and Plan C can actually match the character of your community. All you have to do is ask. The PA Wilds Design Guide thoughtfully lays out choices for community character and recent Champion of the PA Wilds winner Subway restaurant in New Bethlehem is great example of the design implementation.
  7. The image of your community is vital to its success. Why would anyone want to invest in your community if you don’t want to?
  8. Leverage your partnerships. If group A will donate money then ask group B for volunteers and approach group C for additional funding based on the successes from projects with group A and B. Rinse and repeat.
  9. Community character matters. Refer to take aways 1-7.
  10. The journey is as important as the destination. This is true if you are traveling through the country side or building a new community center – each step of the process is just as important as the final result.
  11. Assess your assets. Within your community/region you are surrounded by assets of historical, cultural and natural value. Link your assets/sites together and have the whole be greater than the sum of its parts.
  12. Be a placemaker! There’s a reason the quote “If you build it they will come” still resonates beyond a corn field in Iowa. Each individual has the ability to contribute to the greater good of their community in a number ways, both small and large. It’s your place – why not make it great?
  13. Middlesboro (KY) is a magical city. No really it is, you know why? Because as the community devised their improvement plan, they included that as a goal so they strive to achieve their magic in little and big ways throughout the city.
  14. Get up and do something creative in your community! Citizen-initiated actions can make your place better and cost $500 or less. Pop up events are a great way to get things moving for little investments. Better Block projects are happening across the nation so get inspired here.  And once you do something share via social media #BetterPlaces #BetterMainStreet and email [email protected]
  15. “I’m from here, I’m from here, now.” – Bob Dole. Say it loud, proud and with authority. You may be new to a place and people might want to know where you’re from, as a type of initiation or a way to build trust, and your answer should always be “I’m from here, now”. If you truly love where you live and have a passion to see it succeed it only matters that you call it home now.

I’m so proud to live in Ridgway and call the PA Wilds home.  Where do you call home and what are some of your favorite place making projects?


  1. meredith on May 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Abbi Peters what a terrific post and the 15 take-aways are right on! It is a treat to have you on board with the PA Wilds Center. So glad you got a chance to experience the Balancing Commerce and Nature Workshop at NCTC and all the inspiration that comes with it. Ed McMahon is a huge supporter of the PA Wilds work and actually visited the region early on and several times at the invitation of the PA Wilds Planning Team to share his wisdom, wit and boundless enthusiasm with communities in the region. Thank you for your “can do” attitude, your courage and the positive and creative force you bring to this work.

    • Abbi Peters on May 11, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you Meredith! I keep pinching myself – it feels like a dream to have such a great job working with so many supportive people – and it means a lot to hear such kind words from the goddess of the PA Wilds!

  2. Phyllis Cooke on May 11, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Two things really struck me: 1. Where are you from? Answer I’m from here now. I am so proud to be from Ridgway now. 2. Our competitive edge will happen thru how we look. Working hard to present our B & B with a look that will be remembered as a part of our beautiful unique town, Ridgway Pa. Thank you Abbi for sharing your 2nd day on the job.

    • Abbi Peters on May 12, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Phyllis. I am glad to hear you’re proud to be from where you are- now and that your pride carries through in the presentation of your B&B as a reflection of your town. Often people think that progress is made through grand gestures, require large investments, and/or are driven from outside sources. In reality it is the sum of many small steps, the first of which is caring enough to do something, so you are well on your way to accomplishing great things. Keep up the good work!

  3. Jeanette Van Zanten Stump on May 11, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Congratulations on your new position with the Pennsylvania Wilds. I enjoyed the blog and photos of your second day at work. They definitely hired the right person. Keep up the good work and thanks for doing such a good job representing the Pennsylvania Wilds! Hopefully, we can keep it this way for future generations.
    All the best,
    Jeanette and Cliff

    • Abbi Peters on May 12, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you Jeanette and Cliff! The work of the PA Wilds is definitely thoughtful, generational work. Proper planning, education and stewardship now will allow for the growth necessary to sustain our communities while maintaining the natural treasures that make this region such a wonderful place to call home. and thank you for the kind words I’ll be sure to save this comment and show it during my first performance review 🙂

  4. Margarita Carey on May 12, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Abbi, It was a pleasure to have you at the course! On behalf of the Conservation Leadership Network team, thank you so much for sharing the PA Wilds story, and your own — your talk was both inspirational and accessible, and really resonated with the teams! Congrats again on your new position – we’ll look forward to working with you in the years to come!

    • Abbi Peters on May 12, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      Thank you Margarita- really the pleasure was mine! I could not have asked for a more perfect way to start with the PA Wilds Center. Your team puts on an amazing workshop, it’s a very thoughtful process and I can’t wait to follow the work of the teams that committed themselves to such a focused week of learning. I too look forward to a long and lasting working relationship!

  5. Fran Rapsob on May 12, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Abbi Peters. I wrote on your blog, yesterday; but it didn’t go through, so I’ll try again. I’m so happy that you were able to be a part of this workshop. You have worked so hard for your community and I have enjoyed following PA Wilds and their efforts to create that balance with nature and business. You are a perfect fit as program director!! Your creativity, hard work and passion for this beautiful community shows in all you do!! It will be fun following your journey as you put into action your dreams and ambitions for this beautiful region in PA.

    • Abbi Peters on May 12, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Fran. This has been a dream come true and receiving so much support from across the community has been amazing. I’m excited to share my adventures as the group effort of non-stop work continues to unfold in the PA Wilds!

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