Saving Walden Woods


What do the following people have in common? Author James Michner, former President Jimmy Carter, actress Whoopi Goldberg, and food company executive John Tyson?

They, along with dozens of other celebrities, have joined with singer Don Henley from the Eagles to save Walden Woods. “But what,” you may be wondering, “is so special about Walden Woods?”

Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond

Walden Pond is where Henry David Thoreau, 151 years ago in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, began working on a book that was destined to change the world. WALDEN chronicles the two years and two months that Thoreau lived in isolation pondering man’s relationship to nature. The book has since been translated into every major language. It is widely described as one of America’s greatest literary achievements.

The conservation part of the book is arguable the most powerful part of the book. As Don Henley puts it, “Thoreau is considered the guiding hand behind the modern conservation movement”. The pond that inspired the book recently faced a serious problem. The same pristine beauty that made Walden Woods so attractive to Thoreau also made it attractive to developers. In the 1980s, a New York developer proposed building a three-story office building there, accompanied by a parking lot for more than 500 cars. Other developers followed with plans for condominiums. To those who valued Thoreau and his work, it seemed that a living symbol of the American conservation movement was about to be lost forever.

The Walden Woods Project

In 1989, however, a happy coincidence occurred. Don Henley happened to have CNN turned on and caught a story about the plight of Walden Woods. The story moved him so much that he traveled to Concord to learn more. What he learned there was that to save Walden Woods, people would need to raise money to buy the land from the developers.

Henley formed a non profit organization and began recruiting people to help raise the money. “The response was wonderful,” Henley says. “Since 1990, we’ve raised in excess of $15 million.” He and his entertainer friends raised much of the money through concerts, and additional money came from foundations and the government.

The Walden Woods Project was able to buy the threatened land from the developers. Today, Walden Woods houses the new Thoreau Institute. “We want to take Thoreau’s teachings as the foundation of our work,” explains Henley, “but we intend to go much further than that. We want to teach environmental science and environmental philosophy.”

Teaching Conservation

One of the institute’s principal efforts will be teaching the educators who will be teaching conservation in America’s classrooms. Henley worries that without such education, the future of life on this planet could be in doubt. Even with our present consumption and population levels, every life sustaining system, whether oceans or atmosphere or soil, is in decline. We haven’t succeeded in accommodating our current levels of population yet, as he says, “The world’s population is growing by about 100 million people a year. That’s the equivalent of a New York City each month, or an entire Mexico each year.”

Henley pins his hopes for the future on education and expects that the Thoreau Institute will play a role. If you’d like to know more, send $21.95 for the book HEAVEN IS UNDER OUR FEET, an anthology of conservation essays. The address is: Walden Woods Project,, 18 Tremont Street, Suite 522, Boston, MA 02108. All profits will go to the Walden Woods Project. Or call 1 800 554-3569.


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