Alna resident Cathy Johnson first came to Maine when she was an undergraduate at Yale University in the early 1970s. The summer after her sophomore year, she took a job at Acadia National Park as a student conservation associate.
She was so taken with the beauty of the area she returned to work at Acadia for the next three summers in row. Prompted in part by her experience at Acadia, she transferred from Yale to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, becoming a member of the college’s very first graduating class in 1974.
“I’ve always been interested in the outdoors,” Johnson said. “I was always interested in policies. Not politics so much, but how the government policies can help protect the environment and make sure that our world is managed in a way that is sustainable.”
During her summers at Acadia she was able to combine her interests in protecting the landscape and interacting with people.
“I’m fascinated with habitats and wildlife and plants and how they all fit together,” she said. “I love being out there where it’s quiet … I’ve spent many days hiking and paddling, mostly northern Maine.”
Johnson joined the Peace Corps after college and spent the next two and half years in Nepal, working with that country’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. There her job was to explain to the local residents the purpose of a national park, and why it is important for both the environment and economy.
Johnson is a veteran international traveler. She studied in Athens, Greece while in college and has visited Vietnam, Thailand, and Africa. She has been to China twice and has returned to Nepal three times.
Following her work with the Peace Corps, she moved to Maine, applying to and attending the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. Upon passing the bar, she worked as a trial lawyer for seven years, practicing in Damariscotta where she focused on civil cases related to land use issues.
“Which was great fun,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed it, but then I got a job at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in Augusta.”
Working as a senior staff attorney and forests and wildlife project director for the Natural Resources Council aligned all of her passions and Johnson stayed with the organization for the last 30 years of her professional career, leaving only upon retirement in 2020.
It was while she was working for the council that she bought a home in Alna. She had been living in Bristol while she was practicing law but the commute to Augusta from Alna was only 30 minutes, and the purchase was the right fit.
Johnson said the highlight of her tenure with the Natural Resources Council was working with Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees, who donated 87,500 acres of land to the federal government.
Johnson was on the team who spent five years building support to convince President Barack Obama to sign the proclamation in 2016 designating Quimby’s donation as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Johnson calls this act her biggest achievement. She loved working with the White House, as well as working with Senator Angus King, she said.
After she retired from the Natural Resource Council, Johnson volunteered to serve on the Alna Planning Board multiple times without success. In 2022, she was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy.
Johnson said her favorite part of working on the board is getting to know other people in the community. She said her lengthy career dealing with land-related issues have served her well on the board.
She said her time working on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has particularly helped her in Alna. While supporting the monument, she talked to Millinocket residents and listened to their needs. The skill translates to her service on the board, where she listens to different perspectives.
Johnson still fondly recalls getting off the bus in Ellsworth that very first time she visited Acadia.
“Just getting to know the landscape … the mountains that had been scraped by glaciers, the forest—I love the forest,” she said. “When I got off in Ellsworth, I fell in love with Maine.”
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