Trees and farms line US Route 150 in Washington County, Kentucky, and one might believe that environmental sustainability would not be of great concern to those who live in the area.
Washington County was the subject of Sr. Claire McGowan’s thesis as she earned her Master’s degree in Earth Literacy. She had served at the St. Catharine, KY, Motherhouse for many years and was drawn to a unique opportunity.
“Only two percent of the land in Washington County had been developed,” Sr. Claire said, “There was opportunity for farmland preservation, a local food economy, and economic growth linked to sustainable development and agri-tourism. It was time to act.”
In 2005, Sr. Claire founded the first rural county sustainability office in the state: New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future. From a bartered office space on a shoestring budget, this citizen-run civic organization created a free curbside-pickup recycling program; a green home program, and sustainability study groups that involved local farmers and business people to ensure community buy-in.
Sr. Claire was also instrumental in the 2014 defeat of a planned gas pipeline that had the potential to pollute underground water supplies in 13 counties. “It is our sacred duty to protect the land, the water, and all of the communities here in the Commonwealth,” Sr. Claire said at the time.
At 77, Sr. Claire is transitioning from her position as director of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future to a less visible, more specialized role… but she plans to keep her feet in the dirt and her hands in the work. She has been involved in the recent successful effort to keep a gas pipeline and a state highway from cutting through the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and plans to continue her work in rural Kentucky to protect Earth and ensure a green and resilient future.