WILLIAMSTOWN — Conserving open spaces is nothing new to David McGowan.

But soon he'll be taking up that challenge for a new organization: the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation.

McGowan has been selected as the next executive director of the group. He will replace Leslie Reed-Evans, who is retiring after her 23-year run operating the land conservancy.

McGowan, who was chosen from a pool of about 30 applicants, recalled meeting his predecessor years ago at a foundation event.

"I remember thinking what a beautiful spot that is and how lucky she is to work in such a wonderful place," McGowan told The Eagle on Friday. "So when this job came up, I naturally responded."

According to its website, the nonprofit Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation "has been working to protect valuable and scenic natural resources, and to develop and maintain trails and trail systems for public recreation" for 30 years and is "committed to its role as an educational and recreational resource in the community and its work to promote wise land use and sustainable development."

McGowan said he has a three-pronged approach to land conservancy: Connecting the land to the people, conserving land to keep it open, and keeping the important farm land to work it sustainably.

He said Reed-Evans and her staff did a "fantastic" job building the Sheep Hill nature education facility into a "regional educational resource."

McGowan noted that climate change and the warming of the planet will lead to a number of species migrating north to cooler climes.

"The Berkshires and the North Taconic (Mountain) Range will be an important corridor for species migrating north," he said. "So I think Williamstown has an important role to play in conserving some of those wildlife corridors going forward."

After receiving his graduate degree from Antioch New England University in 1996, McGowan worked at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. There, he worked on projects throughout the Commonwealth — securing critical inholdings at Bradley Palmer State Park and Willard Brook State Forest, and helping conserve the 900-acre Spectacle Pond Farm at Otis State Forest.

In 2006, McGowan took a position with The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. Many of his projects at the Conservancy focused on adaptation to climate change, including a project to provide flood storage along the Taunton River, and the protection of an 800-acre property in Copake, N.Y., that creates a large wildlife corridor within the Berkshire-Taconic landscape.

Foundation President Philip McKnight said the organization will be sorry to see Reed-Evans depart, but looks forward to McGowan's arrival.

"We are grateful for Leslie's commitment over more than two decades to the mission and the purpose of Rural Lands," Knight said. "David McGowan's role as our next executive director will permit us to continue our important work in both the preservation of the town's beautiful landscape and in aiding in the equally important task of fostering the town's economic development by helping make our community a destination for visitors and new homeowners alike."

McGowan is planning to move his family of four to Williamstown from Brookline in July.

News Reporter

Scott Stafford has been a reporter, photographer, and editor at a variety of publications, including the Dallas Morning News and The Berkshire Eagle.