Longtime director leaving state Nature Conservancy

Kent Mason, courtesy photo
Rodney Bartgis, the longtime director of the Nature Conservancy in West Virginia, is leaving the organization.

Rodney Bartgis, longtime state director for the Nature Conservancy in West Virginia, left his position on Friday.

“As a native West Virginian, it has been an honor to help in preserving West Virginia’s most beautiful places,” Bartgis said. “I am grateful to all the support the Nature Conservancy has gotten over the years from the people throughout West Virginia.”

No one has yet been named to replace him.

In a letter to many long-time supporters of the Nature Conservancy, Bartgis wrote, “I grew up in a part of rural West Virginia that was rapidly changing as metropolitan Washington spread westward. I found myself losing sleep as the woods and farms I hiked, hunted and roamed were taken over by more and more subdivisions.”

Bartgis said he happened to read an article in a 1978 edition of “Smithsonian” magazine that changed his life. It featured the work of the Nature Conservancy, based in Arlington, Virginia.

The Nature Conservancy, with a mission of preserving natural lands, is the largest environmental nonprofit in the country.

“Within a year, I was the West Virginia chapter’s first summer intern. Later, I would become the chapter’s first land steward and scientist. Eventually I started handling land deals, became engaged in ecological restoration and landscape-scale conservation.”

Twelve years ago, Bartgis became the conservation group’s state director.

Bartgis, 54, said that he doesn’t know what he will do next but that he wants to stay involved in conservation in West Virginia.

“We just wrapped up two huge conservation projects with the acquisition the Cheat Canyon and what we call the Thunderstruck property in Randolph County,” Bartgis said on Saturday. “Both were multi-million dollar projects that took five to seven years each. With those getting wrapped up, it is a good time to step back and think about what I want to do for the rest of my career.”

Bartgis said he will continue to work with the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, where he is chairman of the board of trustees.

The Nature Conservancy’s West Virginia chapter has protected nearly 130,000 acres of land — including mountains, forests and streams — since it was founded in the fall of 1963.

Preserved places include: Dolly Sods, the New River Gorge, Cheat Mountain, Smoke Hole, Ohio River Islands, Panther Knob, Ice Mountain, Cranesville Swamp and Canaan Valley.

Saving mountain peaks and preserving roaring rivers, Bartgis wrote, has made him proud. But what made him even prouder “is the great team of people that makes this chapter soar: an incredible and talented staff, influential and engaged trustees, hard-working and committed volunteers and dedicated supporters.”

The chapter is continuing its preservation work in places including the Cheat Canyon, in Preston and Monongalia counties, and Mount Porte Canyon in Randolph County.

Anyone interested in contacting the West Virginia chapter of the Nature Conservancy, based in Elkins, may call 304-637-0160 or visit its website at www.nature.org/westvirginia.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at


or 304-348-5164.

More News