John D. Judge, the new president of the Appalachian Mountain Club, drove from his home in Boston north to Greenville last weekend to experience firsthand the wilderness he believes has the potential to be a “world-class destination.”
“Maine is a big priority for me,” said Judge as he snacked on a clementine in the AMC Greenville office, which is sandwiched between a used bookstore and candle shop on Moosehead Lake Road. “I’m going to be here all the time.”
Judge, still wearing ski clothes, had just returned to town after spending four days skiing AMC’s lodge-to-lodge network. His first time on the trails, he expressed his enthusiasm for his organization’s 70,000-acre tract of land made accessible by a growing network of trails and state-of-the-art lodging.
The 44-year-old Bostonian was named president of the AMC in early January. Effective Feb. 1, he became the fourth chief executive of the organization, succeeding Andrew J. Falender, who retired after 23 years of successful leadership.
To get an idea of his new responsibilities, here is a rundown on the AMC: The organization currently offers 8,000 outdoor trips each year; maintains more than 1,500 miles of hiking trails; and hosts more than 150,000 overnight guest visits at its cabins and lodges. It also produces an average of seven new publications (magazines, books and maps) each year.
Selected by a committee after a nine-month search, Judge previously worked as a nonprofit and government leader, but perhaps more importantly, he is an avid outdoorsman.
“Growing up, I had woods behind my house [in Milton, Mass.], and my parents would usually send us outside and lock the door behind us,” Judge said. “For me, it was an incredible time to explore.”
At a young age, he began helping his father, a landscape architect and horticulturist, create compost, work in the vegetable garden and inject dying elms with fungicide.
“Then I got into Scouts, and the rest was history,” said Judge, an Eagle Scout who has volunteered for a variety of youth groups. “Our troop was probably one of the most active in the country … We would literally go on a camping trip every month.”
“One of our big focuses in Maine is to get more kids to love the outdoors,” he said. “They need to unplug in the house and recharge in the outdoors.”
Through programs, publications and training, AMC estimates they encouraged about 20,000 children to be active outdoors last year. By 2020, they want to raise that number to 50,000 children per year.
Judge considers himself a “third-generation Maine recreationist”; his grandparents used to visit the state for outdoor excursions, as did his parents.
During his first weeks in office, Judge has been traveling to meet the people who make AMC tick. Last weekend he was in New Hampshire, and the weekend before, Portland. But his key focus is developing a strategy to get more people active outdoors in AMC’s 12 chapters from Maine to Washington, D.C.
His experience in economic development will also come into play as AMC researches how communities benefit from recreational destinations.
“It’s great if people are coming into the Maine woods, but what are these people doing for Greenville?” said Judge, who is credited with transforming a financially troubled Greater Boston chapter of Habitat for Humanity into a top-performing urban affiliate.
Most recently, he served as chief development officer for the city of Springfield, where he oversaw the construction of the state’s largest solar field.
“One of the biggest things I’ve been talking about during the past eight weeks is how to eliminate the silos,” Judge said, “to bring it all together — conservation research, youth programming, education, publications. The Maine Woods Initiative is an example.”
AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative, a strategy for land conservation in the 100-Mile Wilderness region of Maine, is the largest investment in conservation and recreation in AMC’s 136-year history. Over the past eight years, AMC has conserved 66,500 acres of land in the state’s 100-Mile Wilderness region, where the organization manages more than 90 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails and three year-round lodges.
“We have the most cross-country trails in Maine [compared to other organizations and businesses], and we’ve been told recently that we have the most cross-country ski trails in New England,” Judge said.
AMC’s long-term strategic plan, “Vision 2020,” is all about growth — in membership, public influence and recreational programs and resources. Within the next decade, they plan to attract 500,000 constituents, lead regional conservation action and broaden the impact of the Maine Woods Initiative.
But it’s not just about conserving land, it’s about making the wilderness accessible. Just in the past year, 12 miles of new trails have been added to the 80-mile AMC trail network in Greenville, and the AMC is considering how it can make its land available to mountain bikers and water available to paddlers.
During Judge’s four-day trip, he visited all three AMC Wildrness Lodges near Greenville and spent his final two nights at the Gorman Chairback Lodge, which opened last year to become Maine’s first LEED-certified sporting camp.
Also skiing the trails that weekend were about 100 AMC members celebrating the semiannual AMC President’s Society Weekend in honor of the organization’s long-term donors.
“To be deep in the woods and not hear anything and look up at the sky and see a big carpet of stars — there’s just nothing like it,” Judge said.
To learn more about the Appalachian Mountain Club, visit www.outdoors.org.