The People Behind the PCTA: Virginia Esperanza Lorne, Conservation Project Manager

Note: This story also appears in the Summer 2022 issue of the Communicator magazine.

As a land protection professional, Virginia Esperanza Lorne is deeply influenced by her outdoor play as a child growing up in San Francisco. She is guided by a desire to protect wild places, with the knowledge that people, especially in urban environments, need a place to escape.

Virginia Lorne with her dog Honey at Guajome Regional Park in Oceanside, California.

Virginia was born in The Presidio of San Francisco, a former military post that is now a national park. Her father was in the Navy, and she is the youngest of eight children.

“For me, the outdoors was skating or biking,” she says. “We had a playground on our block. When it came to nature, for us that was the fishing piers at Treasure Island or Fort Point, picnicking at Coyote Point on the bay, and even visiting ranches that don’t exist anymore in what is now Silicon Valley.”

“So I was chasing sheep and finding lizards, and not long afterward, I began to realize that those places were disappearing.”

Virginia understood intuitively that people need places to live and also places to breathe and play, in outdoor spaces that aren’t just city parks. Between sixth and seventh grade, she got her first taste of the wild and scenic outdoors in a summer program offered by a local high school and the Yosemite Institute.

“It was wilderness, national parks and how big open space could be,” she remembers. “We were a bunch of middle school kids who might not have gotten out there otherwise, and we got fitted for hiking boots and backpacks and all these foreign things.”

Virginia hiked around Yosemite for a week two summers in a row, and it left a lasting impression.

“There’s really something to be said for getting out there and finding spaces that didn’t exist to you before. It’s one thing to see it on a page or on the TV, but it’s a whole other thing to breathe that air. It was like finding a new world.”

Virginia attended the University of California, Berkeley, and was initially studying  romance languages but then got interested in a friend’s coursework for a class called Conservation and Resource Studies. One class led to another, setting the trajectory for a career in the environmental field.

When an environmental education teaching job after graduation fell through, she joined the California Conservation Corps (CCC).

“That was an eye-opener. I just went into it not knowing what to expect and learned how physical trailwork is.”

The CCC led to Lake Tahoe and an AmeriCorps internship with the Tahoe Conservancy.

“At the Conservancy, I ran the gamut of every department they had: resource management, erosion control, wetland restoration, even recreation and public access. It was pretty fascinating. And throughout all of this work, the common thread was finding that balance between the human element and the need for natural spaces.”

Eventually Virginia found herself in the Conservancy’s acquisition program.

“I began to think, of all things that can be protected, the most fundamental and important is the land itself. Once habitat is displaced by development, it’s really hard to ‘undevelop’ it.”

Virginia and her family—the “Lorne Rangers”—on the PCT near Whitewater Canyon Preserve, California.

Virginia continued her education in graduate school at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where she created an interdisciplinary program for herself in land conservation. In addition to studying land transactions and conservation strategies, she took courses in planning, negotiation, and community and economic development.

“At grad school I learned from a lot of people, in and out of the classroom, who are now doing great work everywhere. We all have our own niche where we can make the world a better place, and mine is in land conservation and protection.”

After graduate school, Virginia’s husband, a biologist, found a job at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Having previously worked as an intern for Trust for Public Land, she was hired part time by the organization to do land acquisitions. Virginia, who has three children in high school, was the Managing Director for Laguna Ocean Foundation when she heard about the position with the PCTA.

“I could see that PCTA is a unique organization receptive to growth and change and has a strong team that learns from one another and is passionate about the PCT. I knew this was an opportunity that wouldn’t come back.”

Virginia joined PCTA in March, and she dreams of being out of a job when all of the land along the PCT is permanently protected. She is comfortable playing the long game when it comes to protecting the remaining private lands along the PCT.

“Many of the people we’ll be working with own relatively small parcels of land that might only include a short stretch of the trail. But these landowners are every bit as important as those who own larger properties.”

Virginia is realistic about the time it takes to make progress: “Land protection is often about waiting — waiting for a landowner to be ready, for funding to be available, and for the permanent steward to be ready to take the property. It’s very much a one-step-at-a-time process, not unlike what it takes to hike the entire PCT.”


Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.