“When it comes to getting kids outdoors, no one has done more over the past sixty years than Liz Putnam,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, as he presented Liz with the Society’s Robert Marshall Award at a VIP-studded ceremony in Washington, DC.
In bestowing the award, named for one of The Wilderness Society’s founders, to SCA’s founder, the two organizations celebrated the notion of empowering young people to protect wild places.
“Liz is an inspiration to all of us,” Williams continued. “She has led the largest youth effort in the nation. As an enduring model, the Student Conservation Association has sparked the creation of similar youth conservation programs over the years. At the same time, on a personal level, Liz’s dedication shines as a brilliant example of how to foster our next generation of conservation leaders.”
As Liz rose to accept the award, the audience also stood: the chief of the US Forest Service, a former Secretary of the Interior, United States senators and leading philanthropists. As their thunderous applause filled the hall, a real thunderstorm raged outside. It was as if nature wanted to join the ovation.
Liz paid tribute to Doug Walker, the immediate past chairman of The Wilderness Society who tragically lost his life late last year, and congratulated Senator Dianne Feinstein, who took home the Society’s Ansel Adams award for her career-long commitment to conservation, including the California Desert Protection Act and, most recently, the creation of three new national monuments to be forever preserved.
Then Liz saluted colleague Martha “Marty” Talbot, who was also in attendance, and recalled their adventure nearly 60 years ago as they joined US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, naturalist Olaus Murie, Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser and other leading conservationists on a 22-mile hike along the Olympic coastline to protest a planned highway. Liz and Marty were barely out of college at the time (and Murie and Zahniser were leading figures in The Wilderness Society), but those at the forefront of the 20th century wilderness movement wanted to kindle their passion in a new generation. And Liz has dedicated her life to ensuring that spirit continues.
“I am humbled and deeply grateful for this award,” Liz stated, “and I accept it on behalf of the SCA staff, board, supporters and, most of all, on behalf of SCA members and alumni, and all the young people who volunteer to make our world and our wilderness a safer and better place.
“They are the William Douglases, the Olaus and Mardy Muries, the Dianne Feinsteins and the Bob Marshalls of tomorrow. They deserve our support, and they hold our utmost dreams for our land, our youth and our future.”
Many in the crowd, including numerous Wilderness Society staff members, told Liz afterward they had started their careers by volunteering with SCA. And you could tell from her joyful expression that those heartfelt words meant as much to her as the award she held in her hands.