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The Trailblazer: Chris Maron '71

Smiling Chris Maron
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As a teenager living in southern California, Chris Maron ’71 developed an early appreciation for the outdoors. His time spent surfing in the ocean and hiking in the desert not only exposed him to nature, but it also instilled an environmental ethic that shaped the trajectory of his entire career.

Maron now finds himself in the final stage of that career trajectory, several decades – and several thousand miles – removed from those formative experiences of his youth. Despite the changes in both time and geography, his devotion to the outdoors has remained as steadfast as ever.

At the end of the year, Maron will retire as the founding executive director of Champlain Area Trails (CATS), an accredited land trust which promotes community-based conservation in upstate New York. Under his leadership, the organization has built an impressive coalition of volunteers and landowners who share a commitment to the long-term well-being of the Champlain Valley region in the six million-acre Adirondack Park. Together they have engineered the beginnings of a sprawling trail network that connects hikers to the area’s abundance of small towns and breathtaking views. 

“We all want to make a difference in the world,” Maron says. “That’s one of the great things about working as a conservationist. People come here to enjoy the beautiful landscape, and through our conservation work we’re making sure that beauty is sustained.”

Since its inception, CATS has successfully conserved 1,000 acres of land and created nearly 100 miles of new trails – much of it on private property. “People have actually come to us, asking for trails on their land,” Maron says. These residents buy into the organization’s vision and appreciate the chance to help protect fields and forests for future generations. 

But the benefits of this work are far more than just environmental. In a region whose economy is dominated by recreation and tourism, the increased accessibility within the Adirondacks is a rising tide that lifts all ships. The new trails attract new hikers, and as those hikers traverse the trails from town to town, they bring increased traffic to the many shops, restaurants, and small businesses along the way. “Local realtors say that our trails are one of the best things to help sell this area,” says Maron. “We get positive feedback almost everywhere we go.”

Chris Maron and crew of workers with tools
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Maron’s work with CATS has been the perfect outlet for his lifelong commitment to service, beauty, and conservation. But the journey from southern California to upstate New York would not have been possible without a crucial stop in central Indiana.

When it came time for Maron to make a college decision, DePauw was a natural choice. In addition to several family connections with the university, its picturesque campus filled him with a sense of historical tradition when he visited – a feeling he says was like stepping into an old movie. Maron played on the Tiger football team and joined Phi Gamma Delta, but it was a trip to the Big Walnut Nature Preserve with Professor Jim Gammon’s first-year zoology class that would provide one of the most pivotal moments of his education.

“That experience opened my eyes to a whole different type of forest,” Maron recalls. The place fascinated him, and it served as one of the factors that would eventually persuade him to steer away from his intended career path in medicine and pursue the work of conservation. “Instead of a doctor of people, I guess you could say I became a doctor of nature.”

Several years after that initial visit, Maron would return to the Big Walnut Nature Preserve and implement a plan he designed for its significant expansion. By that point he had completed a graduate program at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and successfully turned an internship with the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy into a full-time job – a role that he enjoyed for 15 years before relocating to the Adirondacks. 

As Maron looks back on his trailblazing path, he recognizes how his liberal arts education helped get him to where he is now. “It’s not so much about what you learn, but about how you learn,” he says. “DePauw taught me how to figure things out and evaluate situations, how to accommodate changes and come up with new strategies. I learned to experience success, but I also learned to have resilience when success doesn’t happen.”

An important part of that growth process has involved cultivating the skill of collaboration, something that Maron has used extensively as a community builder and the leader of a non-profit environmental organization. “Getting to know so many wonderful people at DePauw allowed me to understand the broader picture of what humanity is and what the natural world is,” Maron recalls. “Having an open mind has been key in everything I’ve accomplished.”

Chris Maron stands with mountains in background
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Despite having accomplished so much already, Maron isn’t ready to hang up the hiking boots quite yet. He still has a few big land conservation projects to complete before the end of the year, and he’s making plans with several of his fraternity brothers to meet up together on the trails this fall. 

“I still want to be involved in community things,” Maron notes. “Even after retirement, I want to be a facilitator – to help towns increase economic growth and maintain the wonderful quality of life we have here.”

Thanks to Maron’s work, an auspicious future awaits the Champlain Valley and all those who visit. In many ways, his retirement is just the beginning.

“People will still be enjoying these trails 50 years from now,” he says. “That makes you feel pretty good. It’s a really cool thing to be able to have an impact like that and leave something for people in the future to enjoy. They probably won’t remember me, but they will definitely continue to enjoy this place.”

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