Libba Vaughan spent five years at the Freshwater Land Trust between 2005 and 2010, when she served as director of development and communications. She then moved on to lead the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It wasn’t until recently, when Libba accepted her new role as executive director of the Freshwater Land Trust that she realized her unique professional journey equipped her with the exact tools she needed to succeed in this job — a position that seemed perfectly suited to her skill set. Libba is passionate and excited to take the organization into a new era of conservation, continuing its renowned efforts to protect major river watersheds throughout Central Alabama, as well as leading trail and greenway projects in the Birmingham metro area, including Red Mountain Park, the Village Creek Greenway and the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. We are delighted to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Libba Vaughan!
Where did you grow up and what inspired your passion for conservation?
I grew up in Guntersville in North Alabama. I spent so much time outside, either on the lake or in the woods around my house or my grandparents’ houses. We had tons of places to play and Guntersville is still one of the most beautiful places to me. I love being outdoors but the Freshwater Land Trust taught me how vital land conservation is for a community. When I first arrived at the Freshwater Land Trust in 2005, the idea of Red Mountain Park was in its early stages. We collaborated with so many individuals, community and interest groups, foundations, corporations and local governments who all came together to make that wonderful place possible. That process taught me so much about how community engagement is vital for land conservation.
Tell us about your professional journey. Did you study conservation in school?
I went to college and learned about the things I was interested in: trees, plants, soil, rocks and how they all interact. I went to graduate school later to learn more about ecology and plants but it took a bit longer to know how to use my interests in a meaningful way. My favorite cartoon is one from The New Yorker of a boy and his dad walking through a forest. The dad says, “It’s good to know about trees. Just remember nobody ever made any big money knowing about trees.” So true! I knew my interests but work experience at a few different places really taught me what my strengths are and how I could best use them. Today, I see how my education, interests and work experience have prepared me for leading the Freshwater Land Trust into its next 20 years.
What are you charged with accomplishing in your work with the Freshwater Land Trust?
I am charged with leading the organization in our efforts to acquire and care for lands that enhance water quality and preserve open space in central Alabama.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I get to do something that is transformational for the communities we work in and the people we work with and it’s also work that is incredibly meaningful to me. I am inspired by my colleagues and our board of directors, so it’s just plain fun to come to work.
What is most challenging about your job?
Prioritizing the important conservation, trail and restoration projects we have now and the new projects that arise and making sure we are continually talking to everyone about the places that matter to them. There is so much good work to be done!
What is your favorite thing about Birmingham?
My favorite thing right now is the vibrancy of downtown. I love that I can’t get a parking space outside of our offices on First Avenue North after 5 p.m., because of all the people who live and socialize downtown. Seeing so many people downtown just makes me happy.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Taking a long walk somewhere pretty with my husband, our boys and our dog — or with good girlfriends. There is no problem that a long walk with good friends can’t solve.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Be patient when your path does not look like anyone else’s you know. Your gut instinct is almost always right but you won’t always know it immediately. And you will regret ever wearing frosted lipstick, so don’t do it.
Any guilty pleasures?
The expansion of the Oreo brand is challenging my need to eat healthy. I cannot have them — especially the peanut butter Oreos — in my house. If I do, they don’t last long.
Favorite local eatery?
Over the years, Bottega Café has been the place I return to for a great meal with old friends. So many good things have happened in that dining room!
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I am a certified barbecue judge.
What are your three must-have style staples?
Indoors, it’s a black dress, a good blazer and a white shirt. Outdoors, it is my pair of Vasque hiking boots (circa 2001), Atlas garden gloves and a green sun hat that I bought at Alabama Outdoors years ago. It must be noted that I am the least stylish person you know.
What the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Musician Warren Zevon was dying of lung cancer in 2002 and on one of his last appearances on David Letterman, Zevon told him to enjoy every sandwich. I think about that every day.
Aside from faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Good books, sunscreen and my hiking boots.
Thank you, Libba! Learn more about Libba’s work at the Freshwater Land Trust at freshwaterlandtrust.org.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Libba at the Homewood Forest Preserve.