SCA Founder, Liz Putnam

Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, SCA Founder

Visionary is an accurate word to describe Liz Putnam. Launching an American conservation service powered exclusively by young people would be ambitious today, but considering that she conceived of the idea in 1957—at age 24—makes her all the more remarkable. While still attending Vassar College, Liz  modeled SCA on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps. and enlisted student volunteers to assist with the upkeep of U.S. national parks and public spaces.

The original idea for the SCA was outlined in geology major Putnam’s Vassar senior thesis, where she conceived of a program that would be a modern day version of the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps: to enlist student volunteers to assist with upkeep at the national parks. Aided by colleague and fellow Vassar alumna Martha Hayne Talbot ’54, Putnam secured the interest and support of officials in the National Park Service and the first SCA volunteers arrived at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957. This program was seen to be benefit both students, the environment, and the national parks, where surging visitation rates had outpaced maintenance budgets.

More than 57 years and 70,000 participants later, SCA is not only a stalwart presence in national parks but also a potent partner with other federal, state and local resource management agencies around the country, helping to protect endangered species, conserving urban green spaces, and restoring landscapes ravaged by wildfires and floods including recent restoration work on national parklands ravaged by Superstorm Sandy ( In 2010, Liz Putnam became the first conservationist to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal – the nation’s second-highest civilian award (created in 1969) – when President Obama presented it to her at a White House ceremony. Today Liz remains on our Board of Directors, still a guiding force, into the future.

“I was brought up to believe that land is a trust and that we are all responsible for taking care of this earth. I was also taught that life itself is a privilege and that we must always give something back. As my father said, ‘If something needs to be done, pitch in and help out.’ I believe we all can make a positive difference with our lives.” —Liz Cushman Titus Putnam, Founder SCA