Board of Directors Profile: Hank Ashforth
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the East Coast in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was the second oldest of a family of six. That family dynamic has helped shape my life. Having to work together with five other individuals that are completely different but connected was significant. I’m the son of a real estate developer and am now a sixth-generation owner of that family business.
Has the environment always been a big part of your life?
The outdoors has been a huge part of my life, whether that was as a kid canoeing or as a summer camp counselor on the Delaware River in high school. In college, I worked on cattle ranches in Montana. I always had a fishing rod handy as well. Fishing has been a part of my life since fourth grade. My father introduced it to me, and then my fifth-grade elementary teacher actually was the one who took me often. Many weekends were spent fly fishing in the southern Catskills.
What brought you to the Montana ranches?
A good friend and I decided when we were freshman that we wanted to drive out to Montana and see if we could get a job on a ranch. We had a couple connections and then, as it turns out, in the summertime when these ranches have hay operations going, they need people. It was some of the hardest work of my life. The benefit was that we’d get to fish at night.
Tell me about how you first got involved with The Freshwater Trust?
My wife and I came to Portland not knowing anybody. We happened to have a neighbor who was on the board of Oregon Trout. The first event we ever attended in our new Portland community was for Oregon Trout.
What’s one of the most impressive things you think TFT does?
There are so many components that are impressive, but it’s the math and science combination as the driver of habitat restoration that impresses me most. It’s also the use of local talent and local contractors. And getting out of the way to let nature do what nature does to help clean and keep the water cold. It is an elegant solution to our problems.
Also, many of TFT’s solutions are built on commerce or capitalism or whatever you want to call it. If we are going to solve our problems, we are going to need private and public engagement. Government is not going to solve our problems, conservation or otherwise. The ingenuity of the private sector will really increase TFT’s pace and scale.
What’s been one of the most challenging parts of serving on the board?
The challenging piece has been being a part of the change from Oregon Trout to The Freshwater Trust. Change is part of our lives and it’s hard to go through. Yet living with change is important. The transition from Oregon Trout to TFT were important growing pains. There’s always been a clear goal in mind. If we are all being challenged but have the same goal in mind, it softens the challenge and makes the goal more attainable.
What do you wish more people knew about TFT?
There are a lot of bigger and more powerful conservation organizations out there that may take most of the ink on the press side and the donation dollars. The Freshwater Trust is the one that can actually fix our conservation/restoration problems. Quantified Conservation (a TFT term) can actually tell our donors where their money has gone and show them the positive impact it has created. It’s way more than just a feel-good story. We can tell you that your donations have cooled the water or kept more water in a particular river.
We can connect you better to your donation, and that’s what needs to be communicated. People these days should get the most value for their philanthropic efforts, whether that’s in conservation or other issues.
What’s been one of your biggest successes in life? What about failures?
I am a dyslexic, and that has brought all sorts of failure to me. However, I’ve been able to use my dyslexia to help me process thought even more. I’ve accomplished a fair amount. It wasn’t easy back in the seventies when it wasn’t as well understood as it is today. I had to adjust to just one curriculum. It has made me more adaptable and comfortable with change. I have to constantly change the way I look at things to come up with a solution.
At TFT, there have been some false starts and a number plans that have not gone the way we wanted them. But, if you have a strong enough goal that everyone is committed to, failure just leads you to finding a ladder or a shovel to get over or through the wall. I could not be more excited about the future of The Freshwater Trust.
Do you like to work at night or during the day?
Both, really. I’m an early riser. By 5:15 or 5:20 I’m up exercising. Being on the East Coast and having connections to the West Coast means that some days are certainly longer.
What music is on your iPhone right now?
I’m a closet Dead Head for sure. I’m also now listening to Broken Social Scene. Their new album is terrific. I hope to see Gary Clark Jr. and The Revivalists again this summer. Then I have some Bach or Beethoven or Mozart mixed in there, too.
If you could be any fish, what would you be and why?
I have a final four, two saltwater and two freshwater. One of the saltwater fish is the striped bass. It’s an incredible migratory fish. It needs to be a classified sport fish and not a commercial fish. Alongside the bass is the permit, which is the holy grail of saltwater fly-fishing.
On the freshwater side, there is the brook trout, native to the east and the most beautiful trout of all, and last the steelhead because it is anadromous and has an incredible drive to procreate. The miles it puts in between its birth and death are astounding.
What’s your home river?
Spectacle Brook, which borders our property here in Connecticut. It’s a tiny brook that finds its way to the Long Island Sound. Up where we are, it’s crystal clear and we have tiny brook trout in it.
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