Gleeful children pose for a photo during the Cathance River Education Alliance’s 2022 summer camp. The Education Alliance is merging with the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and the Cathance River Education Alliance are merging, following approval from their boards and members.

The two organizations have been partners since the early 2000s, when the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust was granted a conservation easement at the Cathance River Nature Preserve and the Cathance River Education Alliance was founded to use the new preserve as a place to educate people about ecology and the natural world.

Since then, the organizations have co-managed the trails with the landowner, co-hosted programs and events, and supported each other’s efforts to promote appreciation for the environment. In recent years, the organizations began looking for ways to complement one another in more effective ways.

“We started this process thinking about administrative efficiencies, but came to realize we could do more for the community — and do it better — as a single organization,” said Ellen Bennett, board president at the Education Alliance. “One of our board members, Dave Keffer, said it so well when he described this union as ‘1 plus 1 equals 3.'”

The merger is expected to create new opportunities for growth. The Education Alliance’s programs will have the potential to expand beyond the preserve to new habitats and agricultural assets on Land Trust properties.

“Our signature programs at the preserve and Ecology Center are at full capacity,” said Caroline Eliot, executive director of the Education Alliance. “CREA summer camp is full and has a waitlist of over 200. We’re fully booked with school field trips this spring. We’re delighted by the possibility that we can serve more children in the future by expanding to BTLT locations.”

Local and national trends favor unions like this. Many foundations support consolidation of small nonprofits, and experienced leaders and development professionals are in short supply.

“We started by talking about different ways to collaborate, but eventually realized that joining forces to become one organization would provide the greatest benefit, from staffing to delivering services to the community,” said Emily Swan, president of the Land Trust.

The organizations co-located their offices in July 2020. Occupying adjacent office space in Brunswick facilitated conversation and collaboration during the pandemic. “It made taking this next step very easy,” Eliot said.

All programs associated with the organizations will continue and the Education Alliance will continue to use its name for its signature programs — summer camp and school-based educational programs.

“CREA is well known and respected in the schools and community,” said Angela Twitchell, executive director of the Land Trust. “We want to honor its great reputation and history by continuing to use its name.”

The missions of the organizations are complementary, evidenced by the fact that all staff will continue in their current roles but with greater potential to grow into new roles and responsibilities in the future. Twitchell will remain executive director of the Land Trust, while Eliot will assume the role of deputy director and director of education.

The boards of both organizations voted unanimously to support the merger in December 2022. On March 30 of this year, the memberships of both organizations also voted enthusiastically to support the merger.

Twitchell and Eliot emphasized that conservation and education are natural partners. “We need to make sure future generations value and protect the places, wildlife and resources that we love — and that we need to survive,” Twitchell said.

“We need to teach youngsters why all those things are important,” Eliot said. “That starts with tapping into children’s natural curiosity and fascination with bugs, frogs, fish and really all the cool things that exist or happen in nature.”

The merger is expected to take effect in July, although implementation will continue for the next six to 18 months.

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, established in 1985, is supported by more than 1,100 members. It has conserved and currently stewards 68 properties totaling more than 3,100 acres.

Founded in 2000, the Cathance River Education Alliance uses the natural world to engage and captivate students and people of all ages, with the goal of inspiring a sustainable future.