Jerry Adelmann to retire as President and CEO of Openlands this year


Jerry Adelmann
Jerry Adelmann became the head of Openlands in 1988. Photo credit: Openlands.

Contact: Huan Song, Director of Communications, 312-863-6153

Yamys Urbano Valencia, PR and Communications Associate, 312-863-6287/415 712-5427

Leadership transformed conservation organization over 35 years.

CHICAGO (April 20, 2023) After 35 years of exceptional and deeply committed leadership at Openlands, Jerry Adelmann, plans to step down from his role as President and CEO this year, the 60th anniversary of the organization. Openlands was founded in 1963 in response to a nationally recognized call for more natural and recreational open spaces in urban areas. 60 years later, its mission is more relevant than ever. Under Adelmann’s dynamic leadership the organization has grown to be an innovator of powerful nature-based solutions to our growing climate crisis, a trusted collaborator in our region, and an impact-driven leader in the conservation community on a local, regional, and national level. 

“Jerry’s transformative vision and extraordinary leadership have advanced Openlands’ mission for more than thirty years. Not a step will be missed as the baton is passed to the next CEO and our crucial work continues,” said JoAnn Seagren, Chair of the Openlands Board of Directors. “My fellow board members and I appreciate Jerry’s remarkable stewardship of Openlands, and we join him, the Openlands staff, and all our wonderful supporters in embracing and welcoming the next stage with excitement.”

Adelmann, 73, joined Openlands in 1980 to coordinate a special program that led to the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, the first federal land designation of its kind. He founded the Canal Corridor Association in 1982. There are now 62 heritage areas in 36 states around the country, based on this model. In 1988, Adelmann was appointed as head of Openlands. Under his tenure, Openlands’ net assets grew from under $100,000 to over $35 million in 2022, including a $9 million endowment. The organization launched the 21st Century Open Space Plan in 1990, which called for greatly expanding existing parks and establishing 4,000 miles of greenways in northeastern Illinois. Adelmann was an instrumental champion for the establishment of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in 1996, the nation’s first tallgrass prairie. Midewin is considered one of the most important conservation initiatives in the state and a model for the country. To date, Openlands has protected over 70,000 acres of land in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

“I am proud to have spent much of my career at Openlands, working towards conserving nature and building access to nature across our metropolitan region,” said Adelmann. “Nature is vital to all people and in turn, we can all play a part in protecting and caring for it. I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of working alongside passionate colleagues to advance this vision.”

In addition to his work at Openlands, Adelmann is a leader of the conservation community in the region, nationally, and internationally. He has served on many boards and commissions, including as a founding member of Chicago Wilderness, a coalition of more than 330 agencies, organizations, and corporations working on biodiversity issues in metropolitan Chicago and the vice chair of the Center for Humans and Nature. He has also been involved in various conservation and preservation projects throughout the United States and in Yunnan, China and Myanmar.

The Openlands board of directors will oversee the transition process. 

The Board has retained Russell Reynolds as consultants with expertise in mission-driven executive searches. The team specializes in CEO-level searches and has extensive experience leading work for regional and national environmental/conservation organizations.

“Jerry’s thoughtful leadership leaves the organization on strong footing as we begin our next chapter,” said Carrie McNally, Chair of the Search and Transition Committee of the Openlands Board. “The Board is looking forward to working with Russell Reynolds to find the next leader of Openlands to build on the important legacy of the organization and to continue our vital work at the forefront of the urban conservation movement.”


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