As a boy, John Judge ’89 loved doing yard work with his father, a former U.S. Marine turned landscape architect and horticulturist. While tending to the earth, transplanting trees and growing a garden, father and son bonded.

That early experience, along with the pursuit of the outdoors with the Boy Scouts of America in his teens, helped guide Judge on his professional and personal paths in life.

"My dad, who we called our ‘Green Marine,’ was a great teacher, always curious and ahead of his time in conservation thinking. Both he and my mom understood how the outdoors offer a pathway to a fulfilling life and sparked my passion for nature,” says Judge.

At camp as an Eagle Scout, Judge taught and explored environmental science, wilderness survival, nature and ecology. That’s where he began developing his leadership and management skills and first came to appreciate the threats to biodiversity.

Today, he is an internationally known advocate for connecting people with the outdoors, conservation stewardship and addressing climate change.

Outdoor Citizenship

In December, America’s oldest land trust, The Trustees of Reservations, named Judge as their new president and CEO. A dynamic nonprofit, The Trustees acquire and protect special places in the Commonwealth such as museums, woods, public gardens and farms, preserving them “for everyone, forever,” according to their website.

With a membership of 100,000 households, the group’s 123 Massachusetts locations attract two million visitors annually. Judge, who took office in February, is only the fifth person to lead The Trustees in its 130-year history.

Central to his appointment was Judge’s decade-long, transformative leadership of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). America’s oldest outdoor group, AMC offers a mix of outdoor recreation and environmental activism while working to protect trails, forests, mountains and waters in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

As Judge told the Boston Globe, both The Trustees and AMC “have the same DNA.”

His passion for outdoor citizenship and his ability to make the work of The Trustees accessible and inspiring for everyone in Massachusetts resonated with the search committee.

“His track record of success as a national voice for climate and environmental justice will enable The Trustees to build on its initiatives in these critical areas,” said search committee chair Nicie Panetta.

Whether at AMC or in his previous positions— revitalizing Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston, serving the City of Springfield on the redevelopment and planning fronts or running his own development company—Judge has been a community builder with a depth of expertise in conservation policy. His skills include engaging stakeholders, driving growth and membership, innovative programming, rallying volunteers, marketing, raising funds and successfully linking strategy and vision.

My dad, who we called our ‘Green Marine’...was ahead of his time in conservation thinking.

In 2019, just prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Judge published The Outdoor Citizen: Get Out, Give Back, Get Active—a call to action in support of natural conservation that Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun called “a bold new model for environmental policy and action.”

The book, Aoun added, “is a visionary blueprint for how individuals, communities and, indeed, our entire civilization must act to become outdoor centric in an epoch defined by climate change and miraculous technological promise.”

Other reviewers highlighted some of Judge’s key career accomplishments with Outdoor Afro CEO Rue Mapp noting that he prioritized inclusion and diversity by “building hundreds of miles of trails in underserved areas; and establishing outdoor centers and nature-based programs in urban areas.”

The entrance to the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate, a Trustees property, in Canton. 

Judge in front of the future site of Piers Park III, a new Boston Harbor park to be built by The Trustees that will be open to all. 

Digital Detachment

Nature is not just part of Judge’s professional life—it is integral to his private life as well.

An avid hiker, kayaker and cross-country skier, he sees the outdoors as “one of the last bastions of digital detachment” and encourages others to “get out every day, away from the screens, the connections, and to appreciate what it means to be human.”

One of his favorite outdoor locations is in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—a trail that runs 20 miles across a range of three mountains in Grafton called the Bonds.

“The hike is less crowded, more remote and takes about a day to complete. It’s just a two-hour drive from Boston, and you are in the middle of the wilderness with spectacular views. And getting a really good workout,” he adds.

Every day, he and his dog take a morning walk towards the Atlantic Ocean where they stop to “take in the air, the view and the feel of the breeze.”

And, following in his father’s footsteps, Judge very much enjoys doing yard work as well as bonding with his five-year-old daughter while introducing her to the joys of nature such as skiing on a snowy day.

Just in Time

A proud, involved Stonehill alumnus today, Judge initially applied to and was accepted by Boston College, but at the time, BC’s tuition presented a challenge for his family. Fortunately, a call from Stonehill offering a partial scholarship arrived just in time for Judge.

“Coming to Stonehill was the best thing that happened to me. My first week, however, was miserable, as I had not attended orientation and therefore knew nobody. Plus they put me in a room by myself,” he recalls.

Using his initiative, Judge hit the library to study the New Student Record, a pre-social media book that featured student photos, names, hometowns and hobbies.

“With that information, I was able to break the ice and settled into college life swiftly. The rest is history,” says Judge, who invested himself in curricular and cocurricular activities, spinning discs on WSHL, sketching cartoons for The Summit, participating in student government and getting to know the grounds, especially walks on Rhododendron Drive and to Holy Cross Center.

Judge also got his first taste of philanthropy and the mechanics behind the profession as an Advancement Division work-study student, “toiling away in the basement of Donahue Hall, licking stamps on fundraising envelopes to alumni.”

He credits Economics Professor Hossein Kazemi for winning him not just to that academic discipline as his major, but also to the creation of a student Economics Club. In particular, he recalls working with campus partners to host a summit on international debts, with world renowned economists Anna Schwartz, Allen Sinai and Rachel McCulloch.

Judge also fondly remembers, “Physics Professor Chet Raymo explaining plate tectonics, being immersed in biblical scholarship with Religious Studies Professor Michael Coogan and learning about the practicalities of politics, government and representation from Professors James Millikan and George Hagerty ’75.”

In 1987, his peers elected him president of the Student Government Association, a role that helped prepare him for the demands of public life. During his first year in the position, rumors circulated that Commencement 1988 would be moved indoors, with the opening of the Sally Blair Sports Complex.

With Judge at the fore, seniors planned to protest in front of Donahue Hall against that possibility. Then he had a call from and a conversation with then-President Bartley MacPháidín, C.S.C. ’59. “Fr. Bart heard me out, and as we wrapped up, he said, ‘Okay, we will keep Commencement outdoors,’ which was great news. It means so much for seniors to be on the quad at the end of their four years. That’s our tradition,” he recalls.

For Judge, having that closeness or connection with his professors and many administrators was a form of mentorship that helped him find his way and get the most out of his education.

“I graduated with a global perspective, with more confidence in my ability to engage others and take the initiative and with an overall deeper appreciation for the promise of life itself,” says Judge.

It is crucial to preserve these spaces and ensure that they are accessible to our entire community.

Outdoor Reset

Given the pandemic and with so many people discovering or rediscovering the value of the outdoors for recreation and fun, Judge, in his leadership of The Trustees, sees an opportunity for a wider outdoor reset in society and deeper awareness or urgency to take action against climate change.

While the majority of Americans now believe in climate change—75 percent, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago—many skeptics remain. Yet, according to Judge, even the skeptics are increasingly aware of extreme changes in the natural world, a change in perspective driven by experience.

“Take the forest fires in California, flooding in Houston and Louisiana and rising sea levels in many cities, including Boston, Fall River, New Bedford and Lawrence. The scope and scale of these shifts in weather patterns and the problems they cause are resonating with more people,” he says.

And that, for him, means there’s an opening for making the case for using nature to solve critical infrastructure issues such as creating more green spaces to reduce the effects of heat islands that are caused by clusters of dense buildings and pavement in urban areas.

With The Trustees owning 120 miles of coastline, he says, the group has a responsibility and an opportunity to lead on critical issues. Nature and the outdoors often come last in municipal budgets. As a well-financed organization with considerable expertise, The Trustees are in a position to partner with and assist many communities.

“Our beautiful coastlines, waterfronts, agricultural land, and many cultural and historic sites are all part of the fabric of Massachusetts. It is crucial to preserve these spaces and ensure that they are accessible to our entire community,” says Judge, who also believes that Massachusetts can be a leader in solving climate change challenges just as it now is a leader in medicine, life sciences and biotechnology.

“Through its work in conservation, preservation and placemaking, the reimaging and reinvention of public spaces, The Trustees have the opportunity to become a potent national voice in addressing the climate crisis,” he says. “I am excited to be a part of it.”

As he works to improve the environment, Judge often thinks of his daughter and wonders what the world will look like for her in 50 years’ time. And, more immediately, what are we doing now to preserve nature for future generations?

“My wife and I want to show our daughter what’s really important in life, passing on my father’s passion for being active in the outdoors and welcoming each day with gratitude,” he reflects. “As my daughter reaches up in wonder to touch a tree leaf or spies a bird flying overhead, I remember our Green Marine.”

Tips for Getting Outside

Based on lessons learned from his father, Judge offers five tips for engaging with and enjoying the outdoors.

Get outdoors every day, regardless of the weather, and have the right gear for what comes your way.

Have gratitude for the natural world and a mindfulness of the bounty of what is around us.

Doing yard work is fulfilling as is the joy of growing your own food.

Recycle or reuse everything—throwing something away should be a last resort.

Steward the natural environment and continue learning about it.

"The Goods to Lead"

John Judge ’89 delivered the Commencement address to the Class of 2022 in May and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.