Nature Conservancy CEO Jennifer Morris’ Perfect Day in DC
“It’s been a really exciting time for us with our mission and the connection to nature,” Morris says of the nonprofit, which works to create a world where people and nature can not only coexist, but prosper together.
Morris, 53, had spent almost 25 years working for International custody — she started as a wild harvest products manager before becoming president — where she focused on environmental issues outside of the United States. For her new role, she needed to spend time connecting with nature in America. In the summer of 2020, as the pandemic raged, she rented an RV and drove through the Midwest and Northeast with her husband, Greg Love.
“I really needed to learn more about conservation issues and local management and all the great things we do at the Nature Conservancy in the United States,” she says. “We got to really see and meet people on the ground and just see the work.”
One place Morris, a New York native, already knew intimately is DC, where she lived for a quarter of a century (bouncing between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan before settling in Georgetown). Befitting the Nature Conservancy CEO, Morris would spend his dream day in DC communing with the natural world. “My whole day is going to revolve around the Potomac,” Morris says. “So that gives us a lot to do.”
I could stop at George Town Cafe and have a cappuccino and a croissant. It is a must visit place. I can almost see it from my house, so I go there all the time. The women who own it are fantastic.
I’m going to take a stand up paddle at the Key Bridge Boathouse. I like to paddle for Theodore Roosevelt Island. I really like being on the water, looking at the Key Bridge and Georgetown University, the Washington Monument and Georgetown Harbor. [Roosevelt Island] is 88 acres of floodplain and swamp cypress. We found a cute little turtle, there are tons of birds and sometimes you will see a bald eagle there. We found a snake once. But it’s an amazing place to think about what the city was like before the Europeans arrived. And it’s absolutely fascinating to be there in the middle of the bustling city and to have absolute calm. This is where I find comfort.
What I like to do is go to the island and then inside the memorial. This is my favorite landmark in DC because it’s surrounded by nature, but also because it’s usually not crowded. There’s a panel there that I love. It has these three quotes. Two really stick with me: “The nation does well if it treats natural resources as assets, which it must hand over to the next generation augmented and not depreciated.” The second is “conservation means development as well as protection”. For me, this really touches me, because in my profession, it is often thought that the protection of nature is against development or is antithetical to agriculture and everything that humans need. But at the Nature Conservancy and myself personally, we try to reverse the script of this narrative that there is a zero-sum game between development and conservation. To be truly developed as a society, we need to conserve our natural spaces – we need to understand the value they bring to us. I love going out there and reading that and remembering why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Then we cycle to great falls, to Chesapeake and the C&O Canal, which is just an amazing place to discover – thinking about the history of DC and the Canal. It’s just fascinating to watch the locks and the engineering that went into building this system of locks using gravity and the up and down type of water flow. While you cycle, you can think about it and see the preserved old houses on each lock. Some of the locks have these old stone houses which have been preserved. I run there all the time. It’s just a nice way to spend the day.
We will continue to go up to Great Falls to do a short 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 region’s most incredible and ecologically significant natural areas. And, of course, you have the falls, which are amazing to see. It is home to over 100 rare, threatened and endangered species. And it’s just beautiful. It’s sort of the meeting point between the Piedmont region and the Atlantic coastal plain, which creates this really interesting ecological system. I love going there and listening to the falls and taking a little hike.
We jump on our bikes and we are hungry. And we are really thirsty. We return to Georgetown and the first place we see at the end of the C&O Canal in Georgetown is the berliner. I usually take the lightest beer – they change them all the time.
Next, we’ll pick up some delicious veggie tacos at Chaia. I have the braised mushroom with feta, salsa roja and cilantro. I’m going to get the sweet potato hash and a pomegranate juice to quench our thirst after the long drive and the beer. I go there probably once a week. I am mainly vegetarian but not strict.
Then I’d probably go for another coffee. I am a big coffee drinker. My other appointment is Compass right in the Old Georgetown theatre. I get a medium cold brew with oat milk.
My husband and I took the Potomac water taxi from Georgetown harbor to the wharf which is fantastic. We would be at the top of the ferry, having drinks at the top of the ferry. I would have a DC Brau on the ferry. We love strolling through the fish market, all the intense smells and ambiance, then we would eat oysters at the Rappahannock Oyster Company.
After that we would go into Politics and prose just there. I love this 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’ll have an espresso and ice cream pharmacy then hop on the ferry and return to Georgetown. We will Blues Alley to see a late show. Blues Alley is this incredible converted stable, a landmark of jazz in the city for over 50 years. We love seeing so many actors: Terence Blanchard, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Pat Martino. I really like jazz, but my husband is a big fan.