LandTrust director: it’s been a great ride and a dream job

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 28, 2015

By David Purtell

The executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina said he’s ready for the next adventure.

Jason Walser will be leaving the LandTrust this summer after leading the non-profit organization for 12 years and being a part of it for nearly 16 years.

Walser said he “thought it was the right time” for the LandTrust to have a change in leadership and that the decision to leave was his personal choice.

The LandTrust works to preserve natural environments and historical sites in a 10-county region that includes Rowan.

Walser said he is “pleased and comfortable with where the organization is at now.”

“I’m 44,” he said, “I think it’s a good time to figure out what I want to do next.”

The LandTrust announced Walser’s departure in a press release Thursday. His resignation is effective July 1.

Friday, he said he’d been getting phone calls all day and that his email inbox was flooded. He said he’s not sure yet what he will do next, and that he’ll be doing some soul searching and traveling this summer.

“Catching my breath,” he said.

Walser left his job as a practicing attorney at a private law firm in Henderson to join the LandTrust in 1999. He took over for the organization’s first executive director, Jeff Michael, in 2001.

A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill,  Walser grew up in Statesville. His fondness and love of the natural environment developed over time. He wasn’t a hunter or a camper growing up, but he started to pay attention to the environment as he got older.

Fishing on Lake Norman, he saw the rapid development in the Mooresville area. And he also saw the growth around Chapel Hill during his time there in the 1990s.

He saw the beauty of the natural environment being replaced by residential and commercial development.

He and his wife, Tracy, became active hikers and would spend weekends in the mountains around Asheville.

Walser’s passion for the environment grew.

Then, one day, he saw an ad in the paper for a position with the LandTrust.

He couldn’t imagine he could be paid to do something he was passionate about, he said. So he applied for the job.

“The more I worked, the more I became devoted to the cause,” Walser said, adding there is a special place in his heart for the Uwharrie National Forest and the Yadkin River.

He pointed to the Eagle Point Nature Preserve, Dunn’s Mountain Park and Spencer Woods as some of his favorite accomplishments while at the LandTrust, which is based in Salisbury.

“That really makes me feel good knowing that those places would not be able to be enjoyed by the public without our work,” he said.

He said educating people about the natural landscape in the area has been rewarding.

Even though the Piedmont is often overlooked as people head to the mountains or to the coast, Walser said, it truly is an amazing region.

“I believe that what makes this part of North Carolina so special is its natural and historic uniqueness,” he said, adding it will be important for future generations of people who live here to be able to experience the natural and historical heritage of the area.

He said the next leader of the LandTrust will have be passionate about the job, which he said is demanding and involves many hours of work, late nights and early mornings.

“Believe in the mission,” he said.

Walser said he could end up staying in the non-profit sector. His family — he and Tracy have two children — lives in Salisbury. He said he hopes they are able to stay in area and that he loves the town and the county.

Even though his job has been to preserve the natural environment, Walser said the most enjoyable part of his work has been meeting people and hearing their stories.

“Most enriching part of my professional career,” he said about the people he has met and worked with over the years.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.