SCA Founder Earns Outdoor Educator Award


Liz Putnam Attends a Hudson Valley Homecoming

For Liz Putnam, the weekend was something of a homecoming.

The SCA founder keynoted the annual conference of the New York State Outdoor Education Association (NYSOEA) in Fishkill, NY, just a few miles from Vassar College, where 60 years ago Liz used her senior thesis to construct an “SCA.”

Two of the event’s three co-chairs – Kate Brill and Susan Hereth – are SCA alumnae (and now with Scenic Hudson, an SCA partner), while the third co-chair, Rebecca Houser, regularly interacts with SCA members as a Hudson River environmental analyst with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. And many members of the SCA Hudson Valley Corps, which celebrated the conclusion of its 2015 program year Friday with a ceremony at nearby Sharpe Reservation, stayed to hear and mingle with Liz.

The 150 conference attendees spent most of the weekend in workshops focusing on topics such as Pollution in the Hudson and Saving Seeds. During Liz’s remarks, however, they spent much of their time on the feet, punctuating her presentation with spirited ovations.

Liz lamented the politicization of climate change, championed greater inclusivity in the outdoors, and called for conservation to be a core curriculum in school classrooms, prompting one conferee to comment “I am so inspired! You’ve put into words what everyone in this field thinks!”

And when Liz received the NYSOEA Leadership Award, she turned the spotlight around, telling the association’s members, “To my eyes, you deserve to be recognized. You are opening eyes and minds… and you have opened my heart and filled it with renewed hope for our Earth.”

Liz added that leadership comes in many forms – none more important or influential than that of a teacher.  “Like SCA, you are creating a positive pathway for our youth,” she stated. “A pathway that glows with the promise and commitment and light shining from each and every one of you.”

They stood again, filling the hall with thunderous applause. “Thank you,” said Liz, “for all you do.”

Liz Putnam’s acceptance remarks:

Thank you, Mr. Stanley [NYSOEA president], from the bottom of my heart.  I am both honored and humbled.  Coming from such a remarkable organization and group of people – this means so much to me.

A few weeks ago, my husband, Bruce, and I drove from our home in southern Vermont to Lake St. Catherine State Park in Poultney, Vermont, just across the border from New York.  There we met with three SCA interns – one was still in college, the other two had recently graduated.  We sat at a picnic table near the water where the interns – Maura, Cat and Nate – animatedly shared with us their experiences to date.

All three had been brought on by Vermont State Parks to serve as environmental educators.  They’d go into local classrooms and teach young children about the outdoors, from how the Green Mountains were formed to why we should celebrate bugs rather than fear them. 

The kids, we were told, responded with awe and wonder!  Because even though they lived in rural Vermont – renowned for its autumn splendor, maple syrup and majestic moose – many of these school children had little to no connection with nature.

Sitting in the sunshine and listening to Maura, Cat and Nate was awesome.  They passionately traded stories, compared lesson plans and collaborated behind new ideas.  There were so many sparks flying I thought our picnic table might burst into flames!

Then the conversation turned to Vermont’s heroin epidemic as Cat noted so many young children have addicts as role models.  She said: “One girl in my class declared she wanted to be a scientist.  Now, I don’t know which of my kids will become future scientists and which may fall into drug abuse, but that’s the exciting part!” she said.  “We can put these children on a positive pathway!”

Leadership comes in many forms.  But none is more important or influential than that of a teacher. 

It moves me deeply to accept your award, but to my eyes YOU ALL deserve to be recognized.  Like those SCA interns, you are opening eyes to the marvels of our natural world.  You are opening minds to the challenges facing our great outdoors and how to lead more sustainable lifestyles.  You are opening doors to careers and other opportunities that can make such a vital difference for our beleaguered Earth.

You have also opened my heart and filled it with renewed hope.  As I listened in on some of the workshops here and participated in so many enriching hallway conversations, I saw that “positive pathway.”  And it glowed with the promise and commitment and light shining from each and every one of you.

I have loved being a part of this conference and I congratulate all those who put it together, including co-chairs Kate Brill, Susan Hereth, and Rebecca Houser.  It pleases me to no end that Kate and Susan are SCA alumnae and that Rebecca regularly supervises SCA members in the field.  All three of you personify “Solid Roots” [the conference theme].

I also want to acknowledge SCA’s Eastern Regional Manager Kathy Baugh, Program Director Josh Hunn and their staffs for all they do in leading SCA’s efforts in New York State.  And, of course, I salute the graduating members of SCA’s Hudson Valley Corps, who – after ten months of service and stewardship throughout the region – will soon begin to write exciting new chapters in their respective lives. I am confident we have only seen the beginning of what you will achieve.

Throughout the weekend, I’ve been reminded of the words of John Lubbock: “Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

As I noted earlier, Leadership comes in many forms…and one needs no more proof than this gathering of the New York State Outdoor Educators Association.  Thank you for this award, and thank you for all your are doing for our planet.  Good night.