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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

A Strong Kinship with Nature: Tin Smith

Posted by | July 9, 2024 | Filed under: Culture

From a very early age Tin felt what might best be described as a strong kinship with nature. Very likely because of his mom, Marie Louise. She grew up in Denmark, where spending time outdoors was traditional, so she naturally took Tin, his brother and sister camping, biking and to the seashore every minute she could. Working as an au pair in Paris after WWII, she met his dad when they were both learning French at the Sorbonne. When his dad returned to the states, his friends couldn’t believe he’d left this wonderful woman in France. Realizing his mistake he returned to France, found her and brought her back with him. They married soon after, settling in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

With a love for nature firmly instilled, Tin entered the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He described himself as a “typical lost college student” who often found himself “in trouble” spending so much time out of doors it was hard to find time for schoolwork. Throwing himself whole-heartedly into rock climbing, hiking and caving with the Outing Club, he feels lucky to have been inspired by one of his U. Mass professors. At the time, you couldn’t major in Environmental Sciences, but you could choose your own degree if you found a professor to sponsor you. Dr. Haim Gunner was that professor. Finding him still listed just a few years ago, Tin wrote to tell him how much his support and help had meant. Dr. Gunner received Tin’s letter on his 95th birthday. He wrote back delighted to hear from his former student.

Tin and Jane attended the same high school and after she transferred from Keene State to U. Mass at Amherst, she even went so far as to take part in some of Tin’s tricky Outing Club caving adventures. This involved having to squat along narrow passages with only a headlamp to light your way. Where one wrong move could (and sometimes did!) land you in deep water on your bottom. “She was a good sport”. Married in April 1976 and living on Martha’s Vineyard at first, Tin and Jane moved to Wells in June 1978 without jobs. They decided to build their own house because they “were too poor to do it any other way”. Luckily Jane got a job teaching at Sanford Junior High in August. They planted a garden right away, but their apple trees (for cider!) and haying the fields with his horses came just a bit later.

Tin knew Mort Mather through their time together at MOFGA. So when Mort was spearheading the effort to save Laudholm Farm from developers in 1978, it wasn’t long before Tin was on board. The original plan was to make Laudholm an organic demonstration farm. Learning they needed 2.1 million dollars, they looked to the federal government and the National Estuarine Program that had recently been created.

Wells was selected as a possible site. Then the real work began. They needed to convince NOAA to award the money. Always willing to pitch right in, Tin went to Washington DC to plead their case at the offices of George Mitchell, Bill Cohen, and Olympia Snow. Their new plan that the Wells site be BOTH an organic demonstration farm and a national research reserve was eventually nixed by the government. They would be awarded the money, only if the farm was taken out of the plan. The course was set.

As Tin notes, “Sometimes it’s good to be naïve about how much work a project will take. It’s stunning in retrospect - the people who came together to save this place.”

In 1996 Tin was hired by the Reserve’s first Research Director, Dr. Michele Dionne. Serving for 21 years as Stewardship Coordinator of the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, Tin helped develop a unique approach to harvesting trees on the Yankee Woodlot, worked to manage rainwater in a changing climate and was instrumental in bringing together conservationists and citizens to discuss lessons from Superstorm Sandy to name but a few of his accomplishments. Tin’s favorite place at the Reserve is the research dock where the pontoon boat is tied up and where he spent so many hours with fish weirs and kayaks.

Tin in his favorite spot at the Wells Reserve research dock.

At nearly the same time he was helping save Laudholm, Tin was helping form Great Works Regional Land Trust where he took an immediate leadership role “harnessing up every day for conservation”. Being someone who thinks outside of the box has served him well when working with landowners and towns to find ways to protect vital natural places. “He looks for new ways to do things, he asks ‘how can we do this?’” So said Jean Demetracopoulos of the Great Works Regional Land Trust describing her nominee and eventual recipient of the 2006 Land Heritage Award, Tin Smith.

Tin receiving the 2006 Land Heritage Award.

Always quick to downplay his own contributions to these far-reaching projects, he says “Conservation is really a team effort, a lot of people have put in a lot of work. I’m happy to be part of that effort”. Still, it’s undeniable that Tin also joined with others to establish the Mt. Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative that has conserved over 15,000 acres, helped found the Maine Land Trust Network and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the EPA’s New England office.

So, from all of us at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm - for not only helping save this incomparably beautiful and vital estuary on the southern Maine coast, but for his quiet, yet untiring efforts to save fast-disappearing natural spaces all over Maine – thank you, Tin! You have helped protect Maine for generations to come.

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