Most people know SCA Founding President Liz Putnam as the woman who launched the American youth conservation movement, a Presidential Citizens Medal recipient, and a continuing source of inspiration for young stewards everywhere. What you may not realize is that Liz was also an SCA volunteer – in fact, it’s one of her proudest accomplishments.
Liz Putnam | Founder, Student Conservation Association
Liz Putnam could have pulled any number of strings to join SCA’s Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps – after all, she founded SCA! But, in 1989, she filled out an application just like everyone else. “And one day, the acceptance letter appeared in my mailbox,” Liz states. “I shouted ‘Yippee!’ and skipped all the way back to the house!”
She didn’t seek any special treatment when she got to Yellowstone, either. In fact, the matriarch of the youth conservation movement was determined to keep her backstory a secret. Then 56, Liz bunked with her crew in a Canyon Village dorm and swung her pick mattock as well as anyone. “Then one day, a college student from Texas runs up to me and says ‘I know who you are. You spoke at my school!’ I playfully told him to ‘Shut up!’” she recalls, laughing.
The work was intense but rewarding. “We repaired burned out bridges, removed downed trees. Everybody worked like a dog,” Liz says. “We stunk, we were black and sooty, and we wore it like a badge.
“We were all there, in a crown jewel of the National Park Service, and there was so much awareness of the devastation and the enormity of what had to be done. It was very similar to the overall pull of SCA: our national parks needed help, well beyond the point of ‘let the government take care of it.’ And we responded.
“To this day, it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.”
Watch Liz Putnam receive the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama and see how she started SCA in this bonus scene from “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.
Read Jay Satz’s brief history of the Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps here.