The Pugsley Medal: Celebrating Individuals Who Advance Parks and Conservation

March 28, 2024, Department, by Jane H. Adams

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The Pugsley Medal in Parks and Conservation, established nearly 100 years ago, stands as a prestigious recognition in parks and conservation. This award, named after Cornelius Amory Pugsley, a dedicated advocate for public parks, holds immense value in acknowledging outstanding contributions to the preservation and enhancement of our natural environments. Pugsley, born in 1850 in Westchester County, New York, was a banker, federal legislator and vice president of the Westchester County Park Commission, helping establish it as one of the first park systems in the United States. His son, Chester D. Pugsley, created the award to honor his father.

The medal, first awarded by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, was later transferred to the National Park Foundation (NPF) in 1985. In the late 1980s, Conrad Wirth, former director of the National Park Service, requested assistance from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) in identifying potential awardees with NPF making the final determination. In 1996, NPF requested AAPRA make the final selections. NPF’s contribution continues to be the striking of the Pugsley Medal, while AAPRA is responsible for promotion, selection and record keeping.

Former recipients of the Pugsley Medal include Stephen T. Mather, director and founder of the National Park Service (1928); Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., noted landscape architect (1953); Ralph S. Cryder, director, Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation (1992); Fran P. Mainella, director, Florida State Parks (1998) and director, the National Park Service (2007); Anita Gorman, citizen advocate, Kansas City (Missouri) Parks and Recreation Commission (2017); and Daniel Dustin, Ph.D. (2021), professor, author and advocate for the healing power of nature, parks and conservation.

To be considered, the nominee must have:

  • Preserved, facilitated, enhanced and/or created park and/or conservation lands that have significantly enriched the lives of people and/or made significant contributions to maintaining biodiversity
  • Developed or refined techniques or programs that advance the cause of parks and/or conservation
  • Engaged in advocacy, originality, courageous decision making and dedication to the public good
  • Be living at the time of the nomination and be a U.S. citizen
  • Have no unverified or verified allegations that would tarnish the reputation of The Honorable Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal on their personal and/or professional record

Additionally, the medal is awarded for a life or career-long record of accomplishments; not a “one-time” achievement.

The Pugsley Medal contributes to the elevation of public awareness regarding the significance of parks and conservation. “Bestowing the Pugsley Medal not only celebrates an individual’s lifelong contributions to parks and conservation and the positive difference they have made on the natural world, but also acts as a compelling call to inspire a broader community to join in the vital mission of preserving and nurturing our environment to create a vibrant, sustainable and climate-resilient future where people and nature thrive,” states Elizabeth S. Kessler, 2021 Pugsley Medal recipient and 2024 Pugsley Medal chair.

The Pugsley Medal serves as a beacon of inspiration, a tool for raising public awareness, a source of financial support, a symbol of historical legacy and a catalyst for excellence in the field. Through the recognition it bestows, the Pugsley Medal plays a vital role in shaping the present and future of parks and conservation efforts, ensuring the importance of preserving our natural environments remains at the forefront of societal consciousness.

Nominations for the 2024 Pugsley Medal in Parks and Conservation will be accepted from April 9 to June 7. Potential nominees include citizens, local, state or federal policymakers, and park or conservation professionals or educators who have dedicated their efforts to the advancement and preservation of parks and conservation.

The Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal in Parks and Conservation will be presented at the 2024 NRPA Annual Conference in Atlanta, taking place October 8-10.

The Pugsley Medal in Parks and Conservation is supported by the NPF and The Davey Tree Expert Company, an employee-owned enterprise with more than 11,000 associates, specializing in tree, natural resource and environmental management.

To submit a nomination, visit the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration website.

Jane H. Adams is Executive Director at American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration.