Her eyes were glued to the Harper’s Magazine headline: “Let’s Close the National Parks.” Author Bernard DeVoto reasoned that under-resourced parks were being “loved to death” and had to be shut down for their own good. Bring in the Army if you have to, he declared. But Elizabeth Cushman had a different force in mind.
It was 1955 and Liz, then a senior at Vassar College, drafted a thesis outlining a “Student Conservation Corps” modeled after the old CCC. The paper, 36 doubled-spaced pages, got an “A”. And although she didn’t realize it at the time, Liz got her life’s work.
More than half a century and countless awards and tributes later, Elizabeth C. Titus Putnam remains an inspiration to SCA members, staff, and anyone who cares about the environment. “Nature is a need,” Liz states. “We need it for our spirit. We need it for our soul.”
1955: Vassar College student Elizabeth Cushman earns an “A” for her senior thesis proposing a Student Conservation Corps. Many in the conservation field encourage her to pursue the concept of engaging young people as park volunteers, which she does with aid of colleague Martha “Marty” Hayne.
1957: SCA (then called the Student Conservation Program, or SCP) places 53 summer volunteers in Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in its first year of operation.
1960: As Grand Teton and Olympic projects continue, SCP marks first expansion adding Zion National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
1961: Partnerships grow further to include US Forest Service as volunteers begin service at Dixie National Forest
1964: Organization incorporates as Student Conservation Association, Inc. (SCA); former NPS Director Conrad Wirth becomes SCA Chair, then-Elizabeth Cushman Titus named President; headquarters established at Sagamore Hill Natonal Historic Site (home of Theodore Roosevelt) in Oyster Bay, NY.
1967: SCA places first volunteers outside of federal public lands at Merck Forest and Farmland Center, VT.
1968: SCA begins special recruitment effort to attract young people of color to conservation programs, in cooperation with The Ford Foundation. Partnership with US Forest Service begins.
1970: SCA headquarters moves to Vashon Island, WA. First co-ed high school crews enter the field. Number of alumni surpasses 1,000.
1971: Testimony from SCA officials helps to win Congressional approval of Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).
1972: National Park Service models new Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program after SCA.
1976: SCA headquarters relocates to Charlestown, NH.
1977: SCA begins offering conservation programming for urban youth in Washington, DC.
1981: Bureau of Land Management begins partnership with SCA.
1982: Ronald Reagan presents the President’s Volunteer Action Award to SCA Founding President Elizabeth Cushman Titus. Cooperation with US Fish and Wildlife Service begins.
1983: Membership exceeds 1,000 volunteers in calendar year for first time.
1986: SCA’s first international project occurs through exchange program with Germany.
1988: SCA opens regional office in Washington, DC.
1989: SCA creates the Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps in response to previous year’s wildfires in first US National Park; program continues for three years involving more than 600 members.
1990: SCA begins work with US Armed Forces, partnering with US Navy’s Natural Resource Program. New exchange program opens with Soviet Union.
1991: SCA urban program evolves into Conservation Career Development Program. International programs expand to Canada and Mexico.
1993: SCA mounts Everglades recovery effort following Hurricane Hugo.
1994: SCA begins partnership with AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Service.
1996: SCA publishes Lightly on the Land: The SCA Trail Building and Maintenance Manual.
2000: PBS television documentary profiles SCA volunteers in North Cascades National Park and members of SCA’s urban initiatives in Washington, DC.
2003: National Fire Plan Council presents SCA Fire Education Corps with inaugural Excellence in Community Assistance Award for helping communities reduce their risk of wildfire. ChevronTexaco presents SCA Founding President Elizabeth Titus Putnam with Conservation Hero Award. SCA adds US Army Corps of Engineers and US Geological Survey as latest partners.
2004: In cooperation with The Home Depot and the USDA Forest Service, SCA initiates California Wildfire Recovery Program in wake of devastating Fall ’03 wildfires in Southern California.
2005: SCA earns USDA Forest Service Centennial Award for conservation leadership.
2006: SCA earns US Deparment of the Interior's "Take Pride in America" volunteerism award for work with native and invasive plants.
2007: SCA launches 50th Anniversary celebration.
2007: SCA chosen to lead Northwest Recovery at Mount Rainier and other area parks after devastating floods of 2006.
2008: SCA hold EarthVision: Actions for a Healthy Planet in Washington DC