Nature Conservancy CEO Jennifer Morris’s perfect day in DC

“It’s been a really interesting time for us with our mission and the connections to nature,” Morris says of the nonprofit organization, which works to create a world where people and nature cannot only coexist together, but thrive together.

Morris, 53, had spent nearly 25 years working for Conservation International — she started as wild harvest products manager before rising to president — where she focused on environmental issues outside of the United States. For her new role, she needed to spend some time getting in touch with nature in America. In the summer of 2020, as the pandemic was raging, she rented an RV and drove across the Midwest and Northeast with her husband, Greg Love.

“I really needed to learn about conservation issues and local management and all the great stuff that we’re doing at the Nature Conservancy in the US,” she says. “We were able to really see and meet with folks on the ground and just see the work.”

One place Morris, a New York native, was already intimately familiar with is DC, where she’s lived for a quarter century (bouncing between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan before settling in Georgetown). Befitting the CEO of the Nature Conservancy, Morris would spend her DC’s dream day communing with the natural world. “My whole day is going to revolve around the Potomac,” Morris says. “So that gives us a lot of things to do.”

I might stop at the coffee georgetown and grab a cappuccino and a croissant. That is a go-to spot. I can almost see it from my house, so I go there all the time. The women who own it are fantastic.

I am going to take a stand up paddleboard at the Key Bridge Boathouse. I like to paddle to Theodore Roosevelt Island. I really like being out on the water, looking back at the Key Bridge and Georgetown University and the Washington Monument and the Georgetown harbor. [Roosevelt Island] is 88 acres of flood plains and swamp cypresses. We’ve found a cute little turtle, there are tons of birds and sometimes you will see a bald eagle over there. We found a snake eleven. But it’s an amazing place to think about what the city was like before Europeans came. And it’s absolutely fascinating to be there in the middle of the bustling city and have complete quiet. It’s where I find solace.

What I like to do is go over to the island and then inside into the actual memorial. This is my favorite monument in DC because it’s surrounded by nature, but also just because there’s not very many people there usually. There’s a panel there that I just absolutely love. It has these three quotes. Two really stick with me: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” The second one is “Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” For me, that really hits home, because in my line of work, we often think that protecting nature is against development or is antithetical to farming and to everything else that humans need. But at the Nature Conservancy and myself personally, we are trying to flip the script on that narrative that there is a zero-sum game between development and conservation. To be truly developed as a society, we have to conserve our natural areas — we have to understand the value they bring to us. I love just going over there and reading that and remembering why I do what I do.

Next, we are biking up to Great Falls, up the Chesapeake and the C&O Canal, which is just an incredible place to experience — thinking about the history of DC and the canal. It’s just fascinating to look at the locks and the engineering that went into building this lock system using gravity and the sort of up and down flow of the water. As you’re biking, you can think about that and see the old preserved houses on each lock. Some of the locks have these old stone houses that have been preserved. I run there all the time. It’s just a lovely way to spend the day.

We’re going to keep going up all the way to Great Falls to do a little hike on the Billy Goat Trail. The Nature Conservatory actually owns a two-mile stretch of the Billy Goat Trail: It’s a stretch called Bear Island. The Potomac Gorge is one of the most incredible, ecologically significant natural areas in the region. And, of course, you have the falls, which are amazing to see. It’s home to more than 100 rare, threatened and endangered species. And it’s just gorgeous. It’s kind of where the Piedmont region and the Atlantic coastal plain meet, so it creates this really interesting ecological system. I just love going there and listening to the falls and doing a little hike.

We jump back on our bikes and we’re hungry. And we’re really thirsty. We go back to Georgetown and the first place that we see at the end of the C&O canal in Georgetown is the Berliner. I usually get the lightest beer — they change them all the time.

Then we go and grab delicious veggie tacos at chaya. I’m getting the braised mushroom with feta, red sauce and cilantro. I’m getting the sweet potato hash and a pomegranate juice to quench us after that long ride and the beer. I go there probably once a week. I’m mostly vegetarian but not strict.

Then I’d probably go get another coffee. I’m a big coffee drinker. My other go-to is compass right in the Old Georgetown Theater. I’m getting a medium cold brew with oat milk.

My husband and I would take the Potomac Water Taxi from Georgetown Harbor to the Wharf, which is fantastic. We’d be up on the top of the ferry, having a drink at the top of the ferry. I’d have a DC Brau on the ferry. We love to walk around the fish market, all the intense smells and the atmosphere, then we’d have oysters at the Rappahannock Oyster Company.

After that we would pop into Politics and Prose right there. I love that bookstore; I always buy something there. I read voraciously about climate change, so probably something about that or environmental justice, and something for my daughter.

I’m starting to fade so I would grab espresso and gelato at office and then jump back on the ferry and go back to Georgetown. We’re going to Blue’s Alley to see a late show. Blues Alley is this incredible converted horse barn, a monument to jazz in the city for 50-plus years. We love to see so many acts: Terence Blanchard, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Pat Martino. I really like jazz, but my husband is a deep fan.

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