WNPA Honors Noted National Park Historian, Two Students

 Dr. Alfred Runte

Tucson, Arizona, (November 22, 2021)—An internationally recognized national park historian and two college students who want to teach their communities about the benefits of national parks have earned annual awards presented by Western National Parks Association.

“The last couple of years have reminded us that our national parks are sanctuaries where we can renew ourselves,” said James E. Cook, WNPA’s executive director. “This year’s award winners allow us to recognize those who continue the spirit of appreciating and protection these American cultural and natural treasures.”

Dr. Alfred Runte, noted Seattle-based historian and author who made major contributions to the Ken Burns America’s Best Idea series on PBS, received the Western National Parks Association’s Stewart L. Udall Award for his lifelong and continuing dedication to sharing his lifelong passion for protecting national parks and other American wildlands.

One of the first books he received from his mother was Stewart Udall’s The Quiet Crisis. Today the copy still sits on his desk. A childhood family camping trip to national parks from coast to coast inspired Runte to become an interpretive ranger at Yosemite National Park for four seasons.

He earned a doctorate in American environmental history at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he subsequently helped build the environmental studies program. He taught at five institutions of higher learning.

Runte speaks and writes regularly about saving America’s national parks and wild places. His 1979 book National Parks—The American Experience is in its fourth edition. He’s also written books about Yosemite, trains, and the need for preserving public lands. He’s written extensively on the subject of nature preservation for magazines and journals, and spoke on national television shows. He appeared on all six episodes of Burns’ documentary on national parks, as well as provide consultation and research.

Anna Flores

“Without the cooperating associations like WNPA, we would not have the fine programs we have today in the national parks,” Runte says. “If there’s any award in the country I would like to have, it’s this one because this one goes back to my childhood.”

Learn more about WNPA’s awards and scholarship program.

Anna Flores and Eva Vieyra, both participants of the SAMO (Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area) Youth program, aim to use the WNPA’s Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Program Scholarship they have earned to bring the message of national parks’ healing powers and cultural heritages to their Latino communities.

Flores thought of outdoor educational leaders as heroes ever since she attended a fifth graders’ camping trip. At SAMO Youth she worked as a Spanish communications assistant and an interpreter. She created programs that brought to light rarely told stories of the park, as well as about its features Paramount Ranch and Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing.

She is studying environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and hopes to work in positions that allow her to continue teaching about nature, especially to communities that are underrepresented as park visitors. “I hope with this scholarship, I can continue my education,” Flores said, “to reconnect my people with nature in a healing and therapeutic way.”

Vieyra also wants her community to discover the joys and benefits of national parks just as she did when she improved trails and planted oak trees in the national recreation area that she did not know existed until she joined SAMO Youth.

Eva Vieyra

As a student of environmental and occupational health at California State University Northridge, Vieyra hopes to gain the skills and knowledge to become a National Park Service employee. She wants to focus on bringing diversity to youth educational programs. “It would … help my Latinx community reestablish a spiritual and personal connection with the earth around them that has been diminished and stolen from them for so long,” she said. “This … would open the doors to those who have not had the opportunity to connect with the lands of the earth ….”

Learn more about WNPA’s awards and scholarship program.