Mark Kimmel, longtime leader of York County Conservation District, retiring

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

In 1985 when Mark Kimmel joined the York County Conservation District, he was one of only three full-time employees in the department, and there wasn't much public awareness about ecology and the protection of natural resources.

A lot has changed in 36 years.

Kimmel, who is retiring from his post as manager of the county's conservation district, will leave behind a staff that's grown to 23 people, all working in an increasingly complex field.

"When I started working to do farm plan mapping, you had to wait two weeks to order in the plan map from Colorado through the Soil Conservation Service back then," he said. "Now, we have GIS and the plan maps are at the tip of our fingers, but it probably takes us longer with all the additional paperwork requirements we’ve added to it over the years."

Mark Kimmel talks outside his office about his 36 years as director of the York County Conservation District. Bill Kalina photo

In addition to the department's early focus on soil and water, the conservation district now deals with issues of historic preservation, cultural resources and wildlife resources.

For example, 20 years ago, bog turtles weren't an issue for developers and builders.

Now, the bog turtle is considered a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, according to the federal National Resources Conservation Service, and there are additional permitting requirements for developers who encounter them on projects.

More:Tammy Klunk, longtime York County Parks director, retires

But Kimmel said the greatest change over the years has been the increased public awareness of ecology and conservation, and much of that has had to do with youth outreach and the ecology movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Today’s decision makers were some of those young people that were first being taught the whole ecology movement," he said. "I remember, that’s what got me thinking about a career in something like conservation."

York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Kimmel has been committed to the work of land preservation, open space protection and other conservation issues.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler
Wednesday, September 16, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"It's great to see somebody have that passion and commitment," she said.

Kimmel's successor, Jeffrey Hill, will join the York County Conservation District after 16 years working in the conservation field, 11 of which he served as the agricultural program manager for the Lancaster County Conservation District.

Mark Kimmel, left, stands with Jeff Hill, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, who will be replacing him as director of the York County Conservation District. Kimmel is retiring after 36 years with the county. Bill Kalina photo

Hill, who grew up in Dallastown, said he's excited to use what he learned in Lancaster County to continue improving the quality of life in York County.

Envirothon: Kimmel said one of his favorite aspects of the job has been youth education, especially Envirothon, an annual high school competition in which students learn about forestry, soil and land use, water ecology and other environmental issues.

The investment in educating young people pays dividends down the road, Kimmel said.

Several current conservation district employees got their first taste of ecology during an Envirothon competition, he said. As Envirothon kids grow up, their appreciation for conservation and ecology influences the people around them, which increases public support for the department's initiatives.

The program is so popular that it's nearly self-funded every year via donations from parents, Kimmel said.

Kimmel has also been instrumental in bringing York County's long-term open space protection plan to fruition, working with the York County Planning Commission, York County Parks and Recreation, the Farm and Natural Lands Trust, the Agricultural Land Preservation Board and members of the county administration.

Kimmel said he won't be far from conservation work, even in retirement, and he plans to work part time with the Cumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board.

More than anything, Kimmel said he'll miss his staff and the people he's worked with over the decades.

"Our staff, they don’t do this for the money because there’s not a lot of money in conservation," he said. "They do it because they love the land."

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