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From the Star-Ledger

January 3, 2010

Montgomery photographer focuses on the environment

By Tiffani N. Garlic/For The Star-Ledger

Clem Fiore, New Jersey Conservation Foundation trusteeMONTGOMERY -- Clement Fiori didn’t start out as an environmentalist, he thought of his work as more of an “art project.”

“I like the ability to be outside doing things with the landscape and seeing it really shape up,” the Montgomery resident said. “It’s almost like an art project for me.”

The 66-year-old photographer said he started on his path to preservation while riding his bike and capturing New Jersey’s eroding landscape.

“The pictures I think are lovely in a certain way,” he said, pointing to black-and-white photos of tree-baren land. “But they also showed how the landscape was changing and I felt I had to do something.”

Fiori began going to planning meetings and took an interest in a housing project that would have paved over 50 acres behind his home. He rallied his neighbors.

“I suggested purchasing the 50-acre park and donating it to the town where everyone could enjoy it,” he said, adding that within a week the developer donated Hobler Park to the township.

That was in 1984. Fiori, who lives in the Blawenburg section of Montgomery with his wife Joanna, has been protecting the land ever since. Last month, Fiori won the Governor’s Environmental Excellence award, which is given to volunteers who significantly impact their communities through environmental protection.

A retired Princeton University Press photographer, Fiori has spent 35 years planting and protecting open space throughout Montgomery. “People look and see a field and think it’s just a field, but when you get down there you see a real diversity of species and plant life,” he said.

Fiori, who has two grown sons, spends several weekends a year making sure that others have a chance to “get down there” by leading volunteers in planting native species and tracking the different kinds of plant and wildlife that live in the spaces he’s helped preserve.

“It’s another way to get people out to appreciate what’s there to see what we’ve set aside with taxpayer money,” he said, adding that aside from lightening the work load, it ensures the work will continue.

“By making the land accessible to the public you create more advocates for open space since they can be on it,” he said.

Montgomery Mayor Louise Wilson said the township owes its strong open space program to Fiori’s efforts and noted that his efforts have inspired others.

“He’s perhaps the finest example in contemporary times of someone putting their heart, soul and mind into perserving what he loves about the town and helping others recognize and appreciate those things too,” she said last week. “He serves as an example that people who are able to and choose to volunteer really do have the ability to shape a community in profound ways that really do last.”

Between his role as chairman of the Montgomery Open Space Committee, adviser to the board of trustees of the Montgomery Friends of Open Space and trustee of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Princeton Artists Alliance member said he tries to find time to exhibit his artwork at least once a year.

The majority of his work, including “The Vanishing New Jersey Landscape,“ - a book he published in 1994 - depicts photographs of the very landscapes he’s trying to protect as well as a series of sculptures carved from his collection of tree stumps.

Though you won’t find the Governor’s award displayed on his coffee table or resting on a mantle near his framed nature prints, Fiori said he will use it to get projects moving.

“When I bring proposals to people who need to make decisions about things, it lets them know that I’m not just coming off the street telling them what to do,” he said. “That (the award) makes things a little easier.”

He hopes it will come in handy with his current project, the 350-acre Cherry Brook Preserve. Fiori wants the township to turn 90 of those acres into hiking trails.


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