Commercial real estate lawyer Stewart Austin of Glankler Brown, PLLC, has been named the new board president for the Wolf River Conservancy as of Jan. 1.
“Like most people, I was drawn to the group after taking a canoe trip, the river really sells itself once you’ve been out there and seen it,” he said. “But after I did that and got a little more involved it was a big plus that I could use some of my work skills to help a nonprofit.”
The Wolf River Conservancy is a land trust whose mission is to protect the Wolf River and its watershed, a mission that is accomplished by buying land when available and holding conservation easements.
“We’ve taken it a step further in that we not only want to protect the river and the land, but we want to promote conservation, education and recreation,” Austin said. “Those are our three main missions.”
The conservancy has protected more than 18,000 acres so far. That’s a lot of land, and handling any buying of it is what Austin has trained to do since an undergraduate studying business and real estate finance at Texas Christian University.
After school in Fort Worth, he entered the University of Alabama School of Law in 1993. “It was really more of an offshoot of business,” he said about his decision to obtain a Juris Doctorate. “I liked business, but I was intrigued by the law and luckily it came together for me doing real estate law, which is my entire practice now.”
The Memphis native, and Memphis University School alum, grew up with an affinity for the outdoors, but it escalated during his time as a clerk for Federal District Judge Daniel H. Thomas in Mobile, Ala.
“It was a great year and I wouldn’t trade it,” he said. “I loved Mobile, it’s a great place, I loved the outdoors and there was a lot to do with the warm weather there.
“Coming home, it’s always good to get back to familiar surroundings,” he said of moving back to Memphis and working with Glankler Brown where he handles leasing, land sales, bank and loan work. “It gives me a chance to do a little bit of business work and I like the transactional side.”
The work has remained constant even when the real estate industry dipped with the economy, though it did change, he said, and instead of doing closings, there were more foreclosures and loan modifications.
He joined the board of the Wolf River Conservancy more than two years ago and has worked with it to handle transactions of buying land as well as selling it when necessary and to entities such as the state and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which will work to protect it themselves.
Austin fell in love with the river from the vantage point of a canoe on the water and he and his wife, Ellen, have made an effort to impress upon their daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, the importance of the water and land to current and future citizens. To increase awareness among the community at large, the conservancy offers canoe trips on the first Saturday of every month and, though canoeing is a main draw, the Wolf River Greenway is at the forefront of any talk of coming attractions. Many people have already taken advantage of the spur between Walnut Grove Road and Germantown Parkway, only part of the eventual 21-mile trail, but there is a lot more to come.
Austin, at 44, represents the drive to have younger people become involved with local nonprofits in general, and the conservancy in particular.
“As we get more involved in the Greenway, which is more of a city project, we need the help of more people in the city that are excited about it,” he said. “Younger people that are excited about it and can help with talking to neighborhoods, raising money, spreading the word or just any way they can.”