Mark Robinson: Forging Partnerships to Make a Difference

Mark Robinson

Summers on Cape Cod don’t make you a native Cape Codder, but they do leave you captivated by the Cape’s spectacular natural beauty and unique history. For Mark Robinson, a childhood filled with summers on the Cape inspired a career trying to protect it.

Mark is the Executive Director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts (“the Compact”), a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance and expertise to the land trusts and nonprofit environmental groups that work to protect Cape Cod. The Compact provides invaluable services to land trusts, which are often run entirely by volunteers and don’t have—and can’t afford—a staff to handle the technical aspects of acquiring land for conservation.

The Land Trust Alliance has described the Compact as the oldest, most sustainable, grassroots service center for land trusts in the nation. It began in 1984 when a number of budding land trusts on the Cape banded together to share ideas. After two years the group decided to create an office to provide them with technical and professional assistance with acquiring land, and so the Compact began. Back then, Mark was working as part-time consultant for a land trust in the group and he was the obvious choice to staff the Compact. He has remained in the executive director seat ever since.

The Cape has some of the most sensitive and rare habitats in the state, including salt and freshwater wetlands and coastal plain ponds. Managing protected areas that are ecologically significant and sensitive can be challenging to a small land trust. Over the past 26 years, the Compact has evolved into providing services beyond land acquisition assistance. They now also provide land management assistance to land trusts to help them deal with issues such as invasive species, overuse by people, and enhancing habitats.

The Compact launched an exciting new initiative called “Take Back the Cape,” with the goal of promoting the “undevelopment” or “rewilding” of commercial and residential areas. The initiative focuses on projects like taking down old motels to create more beneficial and natural features like a pocket park, a peaceful window onto a salt marsh, and visual breathing space along a busy highway.

While he’s gratified by the various high-impact projects and initiatives, Mark is most proud of the complex partnerships that the Compact has been able to coordinate between public and private, large and small, groups to protect important land. One example of the power of those partnerships lies in the case ofconserving Dennis Pond in Yarmouth. Although the southern shore was already protected, the northern shore of the pond was approved for subdivision and left very vulnerable to development.

The Compact assembled a conservation partnership and cobbled together money from the town of Yarmouth, the state, The Nature Conservancy, the Yarmouth Conservation Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to purchase 20 acres of land surrounding part of the pond and preserving the entire north shore. Without the donations, loans, loan-guarantees, and fundraising of the different partner organizations, the deal would not have gone through. But without the Compact, the partnership would not have come together to save the pond.

“If you go to the pond today, there is a congratulatory sign that lists all the conservation players except for the Compact.” said Mark. “We like it that way. We coordinated the entire effort, but we don’t need to crow. Our successes are acknowledged by the individuals and conservation groups who understand and appreciate what the Compact does, and that’s enough.”

Every land trust on Cape Cod is a member of the Compact, in addition to watershed groups and larger groups, like Mass Audubon, which are advisory members. The Compact is active in all 15 towns of the Cape and provides advice to open space committees. Almost every new open space project on the Cape has some sort of help from the Compact. Mark Robinson has been leading the Compact for 26 years, and he loves coming to work every day because “there is always something new to do, and there are always very important parcels of land that still need protecting.”