John Ripley Forbes


Founder of Southeast Land Preservation Trust


1913 - 2006 

John Ripley Forbes is recognized as the nation's foremost authority on the development and organization of natural science centers and wildlife sanctuaries for youth. He has personally founded 24 centers and 15 tree, plant and wildlife sanctuaries totaling more than 3,500 acres. As founder of the Natural Science for Youth Foundation, the oldest and most experienced organization of its kind, he has assisted 226 communities in 31 states.     


Born on August 25, 1913, his early years were spent in Boston and Stamford, Connecticut where his father served as an Episcopal priest. In Stamford the young Forbes became friends with William T. Hornaday, a prolific author and one of the world's greatest authorities on the natural sciences. Hornaday nurtured Forbes' youthful interest in nature into a life's calling and professional crusade for saving natural areas and promoting nature education.          

Hornaday was a world explorer and this love of the outdoors and of the unknown was transferred to his young student. While attending Bowdoin College, Forbes went on the 1937 MacMillan Arctic Expedition as Ornithological Collector for the Museum of Biology. More than 50 years later, Forbes was still exploring...this time as Naturalist-Lecturer on the 1989 Bahia Parisio Antarctic cruise. 

Atlanta was  first introduced to the work of John Ripley Forbes in 1944 by First Lady  Eleanor Roosevelt. Writing in "My Day," Mrs. Roosevelt called national  attention to the work of the William T. Hornaday Foundation in establishing children's museums in crowded urban areas. She wrote: "I have seen how  much the children enjoy these museums planned for their benefit, and I  am sure that this is one of the ways in which we can promote a development of a very healthy interest in nature." The founder of the Hornaday Foundation was John Ripley Forbes. 

While Forbes was in Atlanta in 1946 organizing the first Fernbank Children's Museum, he met Georgia native and his future wife, Margaret Sanders, Atlanta field Director for the Camp Fire Girls. They were married in 1951 in Atlanta's St. Philips Cathedral and in 1971, moved to Dunwoody, Georgia where they presently reside. 

Since moving to Atlanta in 1971, Forbes has organized and established natural science centers such as the Outdoor Activity Center and the Chattahoochee Nature Center. In 1976 Forbes founded the nonprofit Southeast Land Preservation Trust to preserve Atlanta's increasingly scarce open space. 

Forbes has been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles and has received numerous conservation honors and awards throughout his life. He is listed in "Who's Who in America" and received an honorary doctorate in 1987 from his alma mater, Maine's Bowdoin College. 

In January of 1989 Forbes first learned of a beautiful forest in Sandy Springs about to be marketed as land suitable for a car dealership. Upon visiting the property he was awed by the beauty of the forest and felt it should be saved for use as an urban forest education center. He thought the large  trees were so historic and inspiring, that immediate action was needed to preserve the forest for the enjoyment of future generations. 

Through a co-operative partnership with Southeast Land Preservation Trust, Fulton  County, the State of Georgia and private citizens, a total of 30 acres of this forested land was purchased. For over a decade, Forbes has worked to develop and promote Big Trees Forest as a Tree, Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary and Urban Forest Education Center. Through his leadership, this  special place has evolved as a model in urban forest preservation, management, stewardship and use. This special preserve is a living legacy to John Ripley Forbes' commitment to conserving our natural heritage for future generations. 

John Ripley Forbes has long believed that discovery of the natural world ennobles  the human spirit and enriches the community. As the Johnny Appleseed of our nation's natural science centers, he has linked America's natural environment to the education, health and well-being of its people. He has truly opened to all youth pathways to the natural world.



In 2012 a book about John Ripley Forbes was published.

Nature's Keeper

Here is a review by the National Science Teachers Association