Story by Ryan Lorenzo
Few days go by nowadays when we don't hear of someone "going green." Well, Jane Rau has been doing her part (and more) for the environment since she moved to the Pinnacle Peak area in 1967. Eighty-six-year-old Rau has done everything from cleaning up our roadsides to speaking at Scottsdale City Council meetings to ensure the continued existence of our natural landscape and its wildlife. But she made her biggest mark on the Valley when in 1990 she co-founded the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a nonprofit group that has saved about 16,000 acres of land from commercial use through government preservation initiatives.
If you wake up early enough, you can find Rau biking through the desert that she has worked so hard to protect. In fact, we owe much of the fact we can still hike the trails on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve today to Rau and the Conservancy staff, who have implemented a plan to keep the terrain true to Arizona. Their first landmark victory came in 1998 when then governor Jane Hull signed a bill to conserve 2,800 acres. Since then, the group has accrued an additional 13,000 acres and opened an office that now has five staff members.
Today the Conservancy continues to attract volunteers and donations. Which seems appropriate, considering Rau raised the initial funds to start the group by asking strangers for donations. During the early days of the foundation, she ran into a friend on her morning bike ride. She explained to him the group's cause and asked him for $3,000. Moved by her story, he came back with a check for $2,864.20, just short of her request. Later that year, she received a Christmas card from him with a check for the remaining amount.
Rau's accomplishments for the environment have not gone unnoticed. The Hon Kachina Council honored her with the Hon Kachina Volunteer Award last September; during the same month, the Land Trust Alliance rewarded her with the 2008 National Conservation Volunteer of the Year Award. At the ceremony, she wore a yellow ensemble that stood out amid an array of black business attire. It's no coincidence that the color yellow invokes hope, a hope she had and still has to keep Arizona green. That hope has since turned into achievement, which traces back to her life's philosophy: "Do what you can. See the things and take care of them. Don't just sit there and complain." Clearly, Rau takes her own advice to heart; after all, she has no time to sit when there are such gorgeous mountains to climb.