Passing Nature Forward, The Making of an Ecological Landscape Architect
by Mary Jasch
So what makes one person stand from the herd and strike out his own way? And even create his very path?
Gene Huntington, landscape architect, did just that. In a lucrative, white collar business with its own language and guidelines, Huntington changed it up. It couldn’t be more timely in this era when “green” is in, but for Huntington, it comes from the heart.
Gene Huntington grew up on a dairy farm in Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania above the Poconos. An only child, he helped his father work 500 acres of crops and manage a 130 Registered Holstein dairy herd. They ran a tight ship, kept things clean, and he was taught good work ethic and values.
“I was given as much responsibility as I could handle. When my father took sick in my high school years, I managed the farm for periods of time. It was good experience for me. I have always felt best when I have been connected to the land,” he says.
Farm life led Huntington to his career in Landscape Architecture.
During summer after his junior year in high school, he "picked rock" out of newly tilled fields. He drove large dump trucks of field stone to the house and dumped them on the front lawn. His father was enraged at the mess, but after several nights of building a 200 x 20-foot stone wall on an embankment in front of the house, Gene’s dad supported his effort. He used farm equipment and materials to finish building the wall, removed invasive vegetation, and built planters and a split rail fence.
He eventually submitted this project upon applying to Penn State's Landscape Architecture program.
Huntington constantly connected to the land while making a living from it. He equates it to using a bank account. "You can make choices how to use it: 1. 'short term and easy' is to take what you need without investing; or 2. 'long term, sustainable but harder' is to benefit more through constant investment. The first way doesn't last very long.
“We were constantly improving the land, making it fertile, helping it to be healthy, and it gave back to us,” he says. “That hard work has always paid off.”
On the farm, whether he picked rock, spread manure, rounded up cattle, mowed hay, rode horses or bikes, hunted, climbed hills, schlepped rock, ran, swam or just explored, Huntington was always connected. “And I was in awe of it.”
So what does a spiritual nature boy who loves to design, create and restore his own spaces do? Huntington wants to, as the saying goes, pass the experience forward.
“I am pleased when I can facilitate making an outdoor experience for someone enjoyable, educational and meaningful. It starts with my kids, my friends. It extends to folks who visit a place like Fox Hill Preserve and have a wonderful afternoon hike and learn about the importance of native plants for water quality. Or the woman in an elderly facility somewhere, anywhere, who cannot get out anymore, yet so enjoyed an afternoon watching live web video of wildlife getting fed by their parents. And then it gets to my faith in God, that He gave us all this. We should not only enjoy it, yet respect the blessing and be good stewards. I want my great grandkids to be able to explore and enjoy the way I was able to.”
Huntington still gets excited every spring to get his bike out and take it for a ride. “I still get stoked about seeing black bears, or other wildlife and love to look for signs and help others to see wildlife that they didn't even know existed where they live, like coyotes, great horned owls, flying squirrels. I get satisfaction when I see my 21-year old daughter Sydney encourage her boyfriend to go for a walk in the park, or when I get invited to go for a 3-mile run through the fields with 16-year old daughter Abbey. It makes me feel like its sticking.”
One of Huntington’s best friends is a pastor. When Gene told him about his invasive fauna and plant management strategies, he asked him to write a talk for married couples on managing and monitoring their relationships. He even talked to youth groups about it and applied to their young lives.
“I am glad I do what I do,” Huntington says. “I feel it's increasingly more important everyday. And I enjoy it. I am glad I was raised on a farm with lots to do and felt a sense of accomplishment early in life. It has served me well, and I look forward to continuing the journey.”
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published December 13, 2011