February 1, 2003 - Poconos Record: Colombia and Chile Peace Corps Staffer Bud Cook is Award-winning conservationist

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Colombia and Chile Peace Corps Staffer Bud Cook is Award-winning conservationist

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Award-winning conservationist took long, winding road to Poconos*

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Award-winning conservationist took long, winding road to Poconos


Pocono Record Write

LONG POND Bud Cook tried a lot of things before he became one of the loudest voices for conservation in the fast-growing Poconos.

He mastered Spanish and taught it to Peace Corps volunteers in South America.

He researched odd facts for "Encyclopedia Americana."

He bought produce for a food co-op.

Today, Cook heads the Nature Conservancy's local office in Long Pond. He works to protect ecologically unique land by convincing landowners that conservation as opposed to development is an option for those who want to part with their land.

It's not a hard sell, says Cook, who begins his pitch by telling landowners that the conservancy, a private non-profit land trust, is not a government agency.

"We tell people that scientists have found something special on your land which means you have taken good care of your land. We don't want to buy their land if they are going to keep it that way. If they're going to do that, I celebrate that as a victory."

Under Cook, the Nature Conservancy has preserved 7,000 acres in Monroe County. They are eyeing more, including 9,000 acres owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority in Tunkhannock Township and unique wetlands in Cherry Valley.

For his work, Cook was recently awarded the Thomas P. Shelburne Environmental Leadership Award by the Northeast Pennsylvania Environmental Partnership, a coalition of state and private agencies.

City Boy

The oldest of five children, Cook grew up 10 miles from Philadelphia in Delaware County.

"I was a classic city boy," he says, standing stiffly in the rustic conference room at the conservancy's Long Pond office.

Six herniated disks, caused by bad-fitting glasses that forced him for over a year to tilt his head at a weird angle, keep him standing to ease the pain.

After high school, Cook went to Hamilton College, an all-male school in upstate New York where he majored in Spanish. Upon graduation, he headed to Barcelona, Spain, to study law for a year and hone his Spanish doing translation work that included movie subtitles.

He returned to the U.S. and went to New York University in the mid-1960s for graduate work in politics and completed his master's thesis in Spanish history.

Cook headed abroad again to teach Spanish to Peace Corps trainees in Chile, Colombia and Puerto Rico ("Spanish is the only thing I've ever mastered," he said. "The rest is just fluff.") He returned to the States again and got an offbeat job in New York City for an encyclopedia company. His task was to research and write about topics that people couldn't find in their recently purchased encyclopedia sets.

"It was A-Z. Soup to nuts," he said. "You really find out what's on people's minds."

In 1971, Cook got married. He and his wife Mary, a social worker and master gardener, moved to Philadelphia to be closer to family. Cook got a job as a produce buyer for a co-op ("A job for which I had absolutely no qualifications," he said).

In the mid-1970s, Cook began his slide into conservation work.

He got a job with a Philadelphia consulting firm, working mainly on federal environmental impact studies.

It was here he made contacts in the environmental community that landed him a job in 1979 heading up the new Philadelphia-based Nature Conservancy office for Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

During the '70s and '80s, the couple became foster parents for five war refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. The kids have all moved out and now Cook and his wife have seven grandchildren.

"We're not really Mom and Dad," Cook said of his kids. "We're somewhere between big brother and uncle."

In 1990, the conservancy decided to open an office in the Poconos and Cook was tapped to take charge. Two years later, he and his wife moved into an old farmhouse in Blakeslee where they live today.

Local involvement

Cook doesn't shy away from local politics as he goes about preservation work for the internationally active Nature Conservancy.

In fact, he embraces it.

He was a leading proponent of the county's $25 million open space bond and formed a citizens group to push the controversial referendum that narrowly passed in 1998.

"That was one of the greatest things I've been involved in," he said. "It gave people a sense that they could control their future. The fact that it passed changed the dialogue in this county."

He's also argued against a proposed Interstate 80 exit that would be used by Pocono Raceway twice a year for races. Despite the controversy, Cook says there is room for both racing and conservation on the glaciated Pocono Plateau.

"The raceway is an important economic asset to this region," Cook said. "It can continue to prosper in this world-class natural environment."

Cook stresses the importance of being a local in his quest to protect local land.

"You can't be a city boy driving up from Philly and negotiate land purchases," he said. "That doesn't get you very far. The best way to interact with local people is to be a local person."

Copyright © February 01, 2003, Pocono Record

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