Eliza Townsend, her husband, and their young son decide to go for a hike. No big surprise for anyone who knows Townsend (A'85). She grew up in Canaan, Maine, and nature seems to be part of her DNA. There were the sounds and smells of her family's farm. Walks along forest creeks, picking fiddleheads. A canoe trip with her mom at the age of 16, when her mom made her swear not to tell her father as the two traversed the Skowhegan Gorge, a notoriously dangerous run on the Kennebec River. The pair, by the way, navigated the rapids without taking on a drop of water.
Now a mother herself, she is passing along her love for the outdoors to her son with hikes like this one in 1991. While they drive to the trails, the radio is filled with chatter about Clarence Thomas' circus-like confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. "I just had a moment," she recalls, "being so annoyed that this is what politics had become, when it occurred to me that if you wanted anything to change, you had to go out and get involved yourself."
So, in 1992, Townsend ran for the Maine legislature. She won and served four terms in the House of Representatives until 2000, when she became executive director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters, which lobbies for environmental causes. Then, three years ago, she took her advocacy back into the state House, this time by joining the Department of Conservation. Now she is the department's commissioner, recently appointed by Governor John Baldacci. She oversees 17 million acres of forest land, 10.4 million acres of unorganized territory, 48 state parks and historic sites, and more than 480,000 acres of public reserved land.
—Bradley A. Porter (HS'08)