We are sad to share the news that our former director Timothy Lincoln Barnett, 82, of Saratoga Springs and Westport, NY, died at home in Saratoga Springs this morning, August 29, 2022, after a long illness. Tim is survived by his wife Elizabeth Claire Lillis Barnett, their sons Ian Kinnear Barnett and Edward MacInnes Barnett, and six grandchildren, all in Colorado; his brother Robby Barnett in Connecticut; and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents, the Life Magazine editor and science writer Lincoln K. Barnett who authored The Universe and Doctor Einstein and his wife Hildegarde Harris Barnett of Westport, NY.
Tim changed our lives in so many ways. He was funny and fun. He was relaxed but motivated. He was someone you wanted to be around, and he brought joy to conservation work.
His legacy is written in the Adirondack landscape. He deployed his arsenal of high spirits and good fellowship to create and lead highly effective land conservation organizations, bridge gaps between opponents, run back-to-back marathons, and, later, meet 25 years of physical paralysis with grace. And he attributed all his achievements to others: his Adirondack mentors, his Board of Trustees, and the people he hired, whom he considered his greatest contributions to the Adirondacks.
In 1972, Tim and Claire moved to the Adirondacks when he was invited to be the founding executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, an entity recommended by the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks appointed by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
In the late 1970s, to better conserve the Adirondacks, Tim drew The Nature Conservancy away from its tradition of buying small parcels harboring endangered species toward land protection on a landscape scale. Seizing the moment to work with diverse private landowners and the State of New York, he negotiated the protection of tens of thousands of acres through conservation easements and outright purchase for addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve for public use, including the iconic Camp Santanoni and Lake Lila projects which seeded the work of the Adirondack Chapter.
In another bold move, he managed the merger in 1988 of the Adirondack Land Trust with The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, the only such relationship within TNC’s global organization. The resulting organization expanded its mission to preserve the working farms and forests, shorelines, and open spaces that contribute to the intact landscape and economy of the region. In 2017 it was determined that the Adirondack Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy could best serve the Adirondacks as independent organizations again.
In spring 1997, having protected 240,000 acres in the Adirondacks, Tim took a sabbatical to work with the World Bank’s Tien Shen Mountains Trans-Boundary Program to help build teams in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan to manage natural areas. Part of the job entailed riding horseback into mountain villages. In a Zapovednik (State Reserve) in the remote Kyrgyz mountains, he fell from his horse and sustained a severe spinal cord injury. He attributed his survival to Yrysbek Manelov and a traveling support team; his colleague, Nigel Coulson, and his wife Christine and volunteers who orchestrated the cross-border helicopter rescue to an emergency room in Uzbekistan; the local guides who stayed by his side for the 24 hours it took the rescue team to reach him; and the medical staff at Balgrist Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland where he spent two months recuperating after surgery. Thereafter, he credited his quality of life to the support of The Nature Conservancy, the rehabilitation specialists at Kessler Institute in West Orange, NJ, and his wife Claire, the founder of the Healthy Schools Network.
Tim Barnett found that the 1997 accident that kept him wheelchair-bound interfered with his on-the-ground approach, so he stepped down as the ANC/ALT executive in 1998, and later retired in 2018 after 46 years as a Vice President of The Nature Conservancy, saying, “I’m just in awe of how much fun I had.” He credits Mike Carr, who succeeded Tim at the helm, with redrawing the map of the region. The overall organization Tim assembled protected 585,000 acres—an area roughly the size of Luxembourg–and the Adirondacks remain the largest contiguous protected natural area in the Lower 48. That long effort earned him the affectionate tag as one of the visionary charismatic megafauna of the Adirondack Park.
Despite health care detours, Tim traveled every week to spend time in the Adirondack office as an advisor to our local staff. He served on the Adirondack Land Trust advisory board. One year, he participated via wheelchair in the annual foot race up the toll road on Whiteface Mountain to support a staff member. He skied in New York and in Colorado with family using adaptive equipment. He boated Follensby Pond with Mike Carr. He championed the creation of wheelchair-accessible John Dillon Park campground near Tupper Lake.
His unbounded enthusiasm for the Adirondacks and for people allowed him to identify the path to conservation that made stakeholders comfortable. His leadership in land protection has been honored by The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY, by the Adirondack Council where he was a founding board member, by Environmental Advocates of New York, the Adirondack Landowners Association, and by Paul Smith’s College, among other entities.
Tim’s Life Before Conservation
Tim attended Westport Central School, the Riverdale Country School, and the Stockbridge School, then Middlebury College. After serving in the US Army and on the Army ski patrol in Garmisch, Germany, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He worked for the New York City-based Louis Harris opinion polling firm where he met Claire.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. The family requests that donations in his memory be made to The Adirondack Land Trust, P.O. Box 130, Keene, NY 12942, or to “The Adirondack Chapter” of the Nature Conservancy, P.O. Box 65, Keene Valley, NY 12943.
Photo by Ken Aaron courtesy of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter