Welcome New Executive Director: Alan Branhagen

The Board of Trustees of Natural Land Institute (NLI) is pleased to announce that they have hired a new Executive Director, Alan Branhagen, who will start on July 15, 2023.

Since 2017 Alan has been Director of Operations at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Chanhassen, MN), where he has managed and supervised horticulture and natural resources, plant curation, facilities, I.T., and all Arboretum capital projects. Prior to this he served as Director of Horticulture at Powell Gardens (Kansas City’s Botanical Garden) for 21 years. Alan’s career started as Deputy Director of Resource Development for Winnebago County Forest Preserve District more than 30 years ago, in 1987, where he spent nearly a decade planning acquisition, design and development of all Forest Preserves, including the establishment of Klehm Arboretum.

NLI’s President, Paul Baits, said, “The Board of Trustees and I are thrilled that Alan will be the next leader of NLI! Alan has amazing experience in land protection, land conservation, and leading a large organization that gives him the knowledge to ensure that NLI continues to be a leader in our environmental protection community. Alan’s tenure begins at our Wine & Brew at the Wetland event at Nygren Wetland Preserve on July 15, where we will give him an enthusiastic welcome.”

“I’m excited for my career to come full circle back to Rockford with the opportunity to carry on the Natural Land Institute’s legacy of land preservation and stewardship. I look forward to return and build relationships with the Rockford and Northern Illinois community — fostering a sound system of natural lands and nature that will benefit the citizens of the region into the future,” said Alan.

Branhagen holds Bachelor and Master Degrees in Landscape Architecture, is an author of three books: Midwest Native Plant PrimerNative Plants of the Midwest, and The Gardener’s Butterfly Book. He has served as editor of several publications and was the Project Coordinator for the update to the Flora and Vegetational History of Winnebago County. In addition to writing for numerous periodicals, Alan is a frequent public speaker on the topics of gardening, horticulture and natural history throughout the Midwest.  He has received many awards including the National Conservation Award: D.A.R. 2005, Award of Merit: Perennial Plant Association 2003, Horticulture Journalism Award: The Gardeners of America 2002, Environmental Award: Sinnissippi Audubon Society 1995, Public Service Award: Rockford Council of Garden Clubs 1991, The Garden Club of America, Zone XI horticulture award 2013.

NLI has had a long adopted key-staff succession plan. After current Executive Director, Kerry Leigh, announced her retirement plans the Board of Trustees began the process of forming a search committee, writing the job description, announcing the open position, and interviewing candidates. Kerry Leigh has been Executive Director of Natural Land Institute since 2013. Her last day as Executive Director will be July 14, however she will assist with the transition for the new Executive Director and continue to be involved with the organization as a volunteer.

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