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Kerry Kirk Pflugh, a lifelong conservationist, civil servant, and environmental advocate, has been selected to serve as the new executive director of the New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC), the world-class outdoor education institution in Stokes State Forest in Sussex County. 

Pflugh will fill the role once held by her late father, John J. Kirk for 38 years from 1963-2001. 

Earlier this year, Friends of NJSOC, the nonprofit that manages the site, signed a 20-year lease with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Friends of NJSOC was founded to save the school after it was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the long-term lease paves the way for the resumption of a full range of educational activities there, including overnight stays for students and researchers. 

Pflugh joins the NJSOC team in this new capacity after spending almost two years at the New Jersey Conference of Mayors. She invested the bulk of her career at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where she served in various roles for 35 years. 

In a volunteer capacity, she served as president of the Friends of NJSOC beginning in 2014, when the former NJSOC director asked Pflugh and others to reconstitute the group. At the time, Pflugh was chosen to lead the group whose purpose was “to serve as an independent support group, assisting in financial needs and support services.” 

However, Friends’ purpose shifted when it was announced, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that NJSOC would be closed indefinitely. The Friends group, led by Pflugh, mobilized and pursued a successful campaign to save the school and allow Friends of NJSOC to assume management responsibilities. 

As the Friends of NJSOC have stepped into their management role, the campus has undergone $907,000 in renovations, welcomed back school groups of all ages, and is working on a strategic plan to expand and continue NJSOC as a statewide resource for years to come. 

“The New Jersey School of Conservation has been in my life since I was 5 years old,” Pflugh said. “I know firsthand the value, importance, and enrichment this magical place has brought to my life and the lives of others. I am overjoyed to accept the role of executive director and look forward to cementing the legacy of NJSOC in our shared history.” 

As the Friends and school work to restore programming on campus, they face a potential threat from a historic dam on Lake Wapalanne that requires significant upgrades to meet safety standards. The recently signed lease agreement lays out a process for the Friends and NJDEP to develop a mitigation plan for the structure, which dates to 1932 and was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

The dam supports a lake located at the very center of the school that is critical to environmental and recreational activities at the site. While the exact cost of upgrades is not yet known, the Friends anticipate needing to raise millions of dollars to bring the dam back up to Class II Significant Hazard standards. 

The Friends are launching an aggressive fundraising campaign to raise the funds to complete the necessary upgrades to the CCC dam and protect Lake Wapalanne – which is at the heart of NJSOC programming.