Andrew Johnson, William Penn Foundation

TITLE: Program Director, Watershed Protection

FUNDING AREAS: Watershed conservation and protection

CONTACT: ajohnson@williampennfoundation.org, (215) 988-1830

IP TAKE: Johnson leads land and water conservation up and down the Delaware River Watershed region. That includes urban areas, where he directs funds to parks, trails, and other projects to make nature more accessible to the public—and in so doing, he hopes, make the public more interested in protecting it.

PROFILE: Conservation opportunities abound in America’s remaining wilderness areas, needless to say. But Andrew (Andy) Johnson finds them deep within cities, too. As senior program officer for the Watershed Protection program at the William Penn Foundation, he’s led the allocation of numerous grants to Philadelphia and nearby cities for urban parks, nature trails, and other projects that facilitate city folks’ access to, and enjoyment of, the natural world. The more remote wilderness habitats are part of the program, too, though. Johnson’s grantmaking sponsors conservation and restoration efforts across his state and beyond.

The William Penn Foundation has an endowment of close to $2 billion, out of which it dispenses about $110 million in grants a year. Its conservation outreach covers all bases: scientific research, policy development, restoration projects, and advocacy efforts to mobilize the public. It keeps its mission very localized, though. Grants go, with virtually no exceptions, to groups involved in stewardship of the Delaware watershed, the 12,800-square-mile river network that runs through the Philadelphia area, Delaware, and parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

National groups do receive William Penn grants, but they tend to get them for projects in the greater Philadelphia region. The Natural Resources Defense Council and The Nature Conservancy are some examples. So is the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, which has been using its grants from William Penn to finance a Delaware Estuary program since 2003.

Beneficiaries, both local and national, have used grants to track environmental health and water quality throughout the watershed, buy up lands that they identify as critical to water conservation, and develop and implement new models and methods for conservation, restoration, and enhanced public and private watershed protection.

The Delaware River Waterfront Commission, a public-private partnership that’s developing public nature sites on the banks of Philadelphia’s corner of the Delaware River, has been a major beneficiary of William Penn grants. The foundation gave the partnership $10 million—$5 million in 2010 and another $5 million in 2013—for a new nature trail, a public park, and related projects. Philadelphia’s zoo received $6 million to build a new trail that same year; and the city’s 55-acre Awbry Arboretum, a grant of $300,000. These all follow the foundation’s 2012 allocation of $495,000 to the civic association Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future for clean-water and storm-water-management programs.

These city-centric initiatives reflect a philosophy that Johnson and his foundation colleagues hold for furthering conservation by raising interest and awareness among the public. Trails and similar projects connect the public with nature. And this, Johnson and colleagues hope, can lead to more members of the public making personal connections with nature and finding more incentives to protect it.

This philosophy also underlies the foundation’s investment of large sums to complete the Circuit, a network of more than 250 miles of trails that crisscrosses the greater Philly region. And it’s why the foundation likewise issued $350,000 grant to the Wildlands Conservancy to expand a Bike and Boat Program on the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers, and to construct several new nature trails and the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

Many more foundation grants fund work further out in the countryside. The foundation has issued $82,500 over the years to the Manomet Center’s Shorebird Recovery Project, a project to teach area residents and visitors about the region’s migratory shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. Other foundation-sponsored programs work with hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor enthusiasts throughout the region to encourage them to engage in their hobbies in the most ecosystem-friendly ways possible.