Protecting nature inspires open space advocate

Andrea Mackenzie, General Manager for the Santa Clara Open Space Authority, has a long history in the preservation of open space. For the past 25 years, she has been working on regional land-use planning, open space protection and conservation policy challenges in California. Mackenzie, who will be speaking at Greenbelt Alliance’s Changemaker Training in Gilroy on Saturday, Dec. 10, recently spoke with Greenbelt Alliance.

Andrea MackenzieGA: Why did you choose this line of work?
AM: I grew up watching “Wild Kingdom” and National Geographic shows and always knew I wanted to work to preserve the environment in some way. I spent a lot of time in my youth backpacking and being a camp counselor in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I became an environmental studies major in college and have been in the land-use planning and conservation field ever since. I am fortunate that my passion became my profession.

GA: What is a typical day for you?
AM: Unfortunately, a typical day means being inside a lot. Most days I’m checking in with my staff who manages the lands and administrative offices, participating in meetings with other agencies and land conservation partners, preparing reports on land acquisition policies and funding, attending to matters for the Board of Directors, following up on properties that we may be interested in protecting, and sometimes talking to the press. If I’m lucky I get to be on the land to evaluate new opportunities to protect natural resources.

GA: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
AM: Launching new ideas and new directions.  I’m excited about growing our stewardship responsibilities for land and natural resources across the county. And I’m excited about new citizen science programs that use smart phone technology to engage the community in protecting nature.

GA: What outdoor activities do you enjoy?
AM: I love hiking and biking in both the Open Space Authority’s lands and Santa Clara County parks. Although Santa Clara has the third largest city in California, people often don’t realize the amazing amount of open space and farmland that still exist outside our cities. I love exploring those areas.

GA: What would you tell a resident about getting involved with open space issues?
AM: Residents often love where they live because the landscape provides a strong sense of place—it’s where they grew up or reminds them of their birthplace. And it that sense of community that needs to be part of the decision-making process about where we build and where we don’t.

GA: What do you love about the Bay Area?
AM: There are so many things I love about the Bay Area! It has great parks, open spaces and trails. The farms and ranches that still border our cities have an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables we see in our farmers markets. There is such a cultural diversity of people in our community, and I just love the combination of all those things.

— Erin McDaniel

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