The SHIFT Awards

The 2019 SHIFT Festival will showcase the work of 2019 SHIFT Award Official Selections by integrating their representatives throughout the 2019 program, with keynote presentations, think tanks, workshops and networking opportunities.

The SHIFT Awards will be announced at 3 p.m. on Oct. 16 at the Center for the Arts as part of the SHIFT Summit.

  • Tickets for the SHIFT Summit may be purchased here.
  • Discounted lodging for The 2019 SHIFT Festival is available here.
  • A full schedule of events for The 2019 SHIFT Festival may be found here.

The SHIFT Awards recognize individuals, initiatives, or organizations that make innovative, impactful and replicable contributions to conservation and/or public health through outdoor recreation—part of SHIFT’s commitment to showcasing on-the-ground work that is successfully meeting challenges at the nexus of outdoor recreation, conservation and public health in communities around the country.

This year, SHIFT researchers identified more than 300 individuals or initiatives from around North America that leveraged outdoor rec for conservation gains and/or advanced and promoted the health benefits of time outside.

Researchers then used this criteria to make further evaluations of more than 130 initiatives that were nominated in seven categories: Non-Profit Leadership; Business Leadership; Public Land-Management Innovation; Technology; Youth Engagement; Research; and Adventure Athlete.

Representatives of the top 25% of the nominees are invited to participate in this year’s SHIFT as SHIFT Award Official Selections. They receive complementary Festival passes and are integrated into the programming as a way to highlight their work.

Categorical award winners will be announced at on Oct. 16 at The Center for the Arts.

This year’s SHIFT Award Official Selections are as follows.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

New for 2019, SHIFT’s Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to the individual whose commitment to leveraging outdoor recreation for conservation gains has brought the greatest value to American society.

The first recipient of SHIFT’s Lifetime Achievement Award is Yvon Chouinard, the climber, surfer, fly fisherman and falconer whose disruptive approach to environmentalism has inspired a generation of activists to fight for the places in which they love to play.

When not enjoying the “Fun Hog” lifestyle he and four other young men—Lito Tejada-Flores, Dick Dorworth, Chris Jones and Doug Tompkins—pioneered during a 6,800-mile roadtrip from Ventura, CA, to Argentine Patagonia in 1968, Mr. Chouinard runs Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company he founded in 1970 to supply the nascent American climbing community with clothing that would stand up to the rigors of the pursuit. 

Mr. Chouinard’s vision, as well as his commitment to the ideals born from far-flung adventures, have guided his company to become one of the leading corporate advocates in the world for environmental issues. The recent simplification of the company’s mission—from  “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” to ”in business to save our home planet”—captures Mr. Chouinard’s constantly evolving vision as well as his approach to life in general: perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away.

Business Leadership

Amos Clifford

M. Amos Clifford, Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Description: The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT)’s mission is to embed forest therapy in health care systems around the world. They have built an international network of trained and certified forest therapy guides who are connecting people to nature in 40 countries. They are scheduled to train 18 more cohorts of guides in 2019; by autumn, they expect to have trained at least 600 guides and to be operating in over 50 countries. 

Based loosely on a Japanese practice, shinrin-yoku, that was started in the 1980s, “American-style Forest Therapy” was brought to the US in 2012 by M. Amos Clifford, who drew on four decades as a wilderness guide, educator, psychotherapist, zen practitioner, and restorative justice trainer and practitioner in adapting the training for Western practitioners. Today, the training is based on a Standard Sequence of guided invitations that is culturally adaptable and combines a reliable structure with room for individual guides to be creative and responsive to the needs of those they guide and the lands upon which they are guiding.

luis benitez

Luis Benitez

Luis Benitez, Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office

Location: Denver, CO

Description: During his four-year tenure as Director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (COREC), Mr. Benitez provided visionary leadership to the nascent proliferation of state offices of outdoor recreation, broadened the outdoor recreation conversation to include stewardship, education and health as core values, and elevated the outdoor recreation industry’s voice nationally in response to the public land transfer movement.

In the fall of 2017, under Mr. Benitez’s direction, the Colorado Outdoor and Health Collaborative convened leaders from the outdoor business, conservation, and healthcare industries, and across public, private, nonprofit, and academic sectors, with the goal of improving all Coloradans’ health through nature-based recreation. The resulting Colorado Outdoor Rx Report offered a guide that states could use to advance complementary health and recreation initiatives. It also epitomized Benitez’s approach: a combination of cross-sectoral thinking, collaborative engagement and unbridled enthusiasm that positioned him as a leader of a state-based outdoor recreation movement.

Mr. Benitez also played a pivotal role in the development of the Confluence of States, a bipartisan movement to bring outdoor recreation to the political table. In 2017, he was instrumental in moving the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show from Salt Lake City to Denver, galvanizing an industry-wide response to Utah’s adversarial public land policies. At the Trade Show, he helped convene, for the first time, a Tribal Summit, creating a seat for indigenous communities at the outdoor recreation industry table.

At the state level, Mr. Benitez helped forge a partnership between Leave No Trace and Colorado’s Department of Tourism that resulted in the state’s adoption of LNT Principles, and was instrumental in the adoption of the SHIFT Principles by Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department. Together with Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, then the Outdoor Industry Association’s State and Local Policy Manager, and Marc Berejka, REI Co-Op’s director of community and government affairs, Mr. Benitez played a pivotal role in the development of the Confluence Accords, which institutionalized four “pillars”—Conservation and Stewardship; Education and Workforce Training; Economic Development; Public Health and Wellness—that state offices could use to “protect and sustain our water, air, land, and wildlife for current and future generations for the betterment of the economy” while ensuring “outdoor recreation retains a bipartisan approach.”

REI Rewilding project San Francisco

REI Co-op, Rewilding Project

Location: Seattle, WA

Description: Three years ago, REI launched the first of their Rewilding Projects, part of their  long-term strategy to help provide millions of people easier access to nearby outdoor places. The goal is to reshape how people in large urban and suburban areas connect with the outdoors. Their five initial large-scale rewilding projects total up to just over $2M since 2014 in the following projects:

  1. Accelerating efforts to complete the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail (370 miles are complete), which surrounds 8 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  2. Improving access to and enhancing outdoor recreation infrastructure at the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which is located within an hour’s drive for 10 million people in the greater Los Angeles area.
  3. Reimagining Southeast Chicago as an outdoor recreation hub just 25 minutes from the urban core, with a mountain bike park, trails, paddling, climbing and more.
  4. Creating a world-class network of multi-use trails that are equitably distributed throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region providing healthy, low-stress access to open space and reliable transportation for people of all ages and abilities.
  5. Restoring and improving access to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area near Seattle, the 15th largest metropolitan statistical area in the nation.

This describes multi-year regional rewilding projects, but REI also invests in smaller rewilding projects in all of the markets/regions where they have retail stores.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife COTREX app

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Trails Explorer App

Location: Denver, CO

Description: Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado Trails Explorer (COTREX) app helps to connect residents of communities around the state with recreation opportunities out their back door and further from their homes via a free mobile trails applications that connects people to all the trails in Colorado. COTREX, in its current form, was “soft-launched” in October 2018. By their May, 2019, “hard launch,” more than 33,000 apps had been installed and 9,000 new accounts created.

Colorado has more than 39,000 miles of trails spread among 236 land managers. The state is also the first in the nation to map all legal trails across all public lands. The resulting trails data informs COTREX in a variety of ways that are important to conservation:

  • Keeping people on official, legal trails
  • Informing the public of wildlife closures, before they leave the house.
  • Instilling responsible recreation values and ethical wildlife viewing tips
  • Using COTREX data as a trail and wildlife planning tool
  • Opportunities to donate to CPW, which benefits wildlife conservation across the state

Colorado’s Department of Public Health, Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and other partners are currently working to connect patients with outdoor recreation opportunities via COTREX, and to incorporate COTREX into the state’s CafeWell Program, which will allow state employees to use the tool to earn points by recreating, eating well, and generally supporting healthy behaviors. This in turn will translate to discounted health insurance.

Fitbit and Solera Health, Diabetes Prevention Program

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Description: Research has shown that people with prediabetes who lost 5% of their body weight through healthier eating and 150 minutes of activity per week cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half. Beginning in 2017, Solera began offering Fitbit devices to individuals who used Solera to enroll in community-based or digital diabetes prevention programs (DPP). An analysis of more than 1,700 people who enrolled between January 1, 2017 and March 31, 2017 included the following findings:

At the one-year mark, DPP participants who redeemed a Fitbit device lost a larger percent of their starting weight than non-Fitbit participants (-3.38% vs -2.27%) and are much more likely to achieve the 5% weight loss milestone compared to those who did not (51% vs 36%).

By weeks 10-16, DPP participants who redeemed a Fitbit device reported an extra 60 minutes of weekly activity compared to non-Fitbit participants and continued to report at least 45 minutes more activity through the maintenance phase of the program in months 6-12.

Participants age 60-69 years old are more likely than any other age group included in the analysis to redeem a Fitbit device through the program, which is significant given that 61% of all healthcare costs attributed to diabetes care are for people over age 65.

The Trust for Public Land, Geospatial Data and Analytics Services

Location: San Francisco, CA

Description: Today, 1 in 3 people—more than 110 million—do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home and thus do not have ready access to the many benefits of spending time outdoors. The Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) geospatial data and analytics services allows their field teams and partners to locate parks and identify specific lands for conservation, and helps them work with communities to build and manage parks and open space in a way that maximizes their benefit and increases their use by underrepresented groups and others who currently underutilize the outdoors. TPL also developed ParkServe, the most comprehensive database of parks for 14,000 U.S. cities and town, and ParkScore, a rating system to measure how well the 100 largest U.S. cities are meeting the needs for parks. Together these tools provide the data infrastructure to help TPL and their partners fund, develop and design parks and open spaces. 

Youth Engagement

Looking at critters found seining on the beach in Galveston State Park

Families in Nature

Location: Austin, TX

Description: The mission of Families in Nature (FIN) is to connect children and their families to nature and to each other through time spent learning, playing, and volunteering outdoors. 

FIN engages families with nature by creating opportunities for families of all kinds to experience and fall in love with nature, which in turn fosters the next generation of conservationists. FIN’s outdoor programming includes hands-on S.T.E.A.M.-based lessons that promote ecological literacy, leadership and volunteerism through their Ecologist School Program. Since FIN’s 501(c)3 non-profit status was granted in 2015, the organization has helped 14,472 FIN participants spend 158,482 hours in nature. During that time period, FIN facilitated 615 outdoor adventures, 89 camping trips and 75 visits to Texas State Parks. 

Gateway Mountain Center

Location: Truckee, CA

Description: Gateway Mountain Center transforms the lives of youth through nature-based learning, environmental literacy, and wellness adventures. Helping youth of all backgrounds learn, heal and thrive, they offer a broad scope of dynamic, peak experience, hands-on learning that ranges from multi-day school field trips to one-on-one, nature-based therapeutic mentoring for youth impacted by mental health or behavioral issues.

Their innovative program “Whole Hearts, Minds & Bodies” is the first of its kind to be awarded Medi-Cal certification, and to win acceptance by two counties for partner contracts. They have authored a method, “The Four Roots For Growing a Human,” provides game-changing solutions to the challenges in mental health systems of care for youth, and shows great clinical results in early research. They specialize in re-setting the sense of self through many evidence-based practices, particularly utilizing current research in somatic, vestibular  and sensory training in nature based activities.

There is an alarming increase in youth negatively impacted by the stressors of adverse childhood experiences, traumatic exposure, and complex trauma, resulting in declining resiliency and increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and youth suicide. Gateway Mountain Center has turned 40 years of elite mountain guiding into ground-breaking new insights and real accessibility for improving health in youth, families, schools, and communities.

They are partnering with a number of academic institutions, including UC Davis Medical School (with whom 4th year psychiatric residents can elect a rotation in their method) and UCSF Professor Kathleen Tebb (with whom they’re developing new assessment tools to further this important research). Their schools’ programs supports over 2,000 youth annually ~ many from extremely under-resourced communities ~ with trips to the Sierra Crest each year; and with expertly guided, support trips accessing Nature and wellness practices in their parks at home.

Na Kama Kai

Na Kama Kai

Location: Waianae, HI

Description: Na Kama Kai’s mission is to empower youth by connecting children to the land and sea to deepen their love and responsibility to the natural environment and themselves. Na Kama Kai takes children (2-17 years of age) surfing, standup paddling and canoe paddling while simultaneously teaching them how their impacts on land affect the ocean through rivers, drains and mismanaged rubbish. Children learn about Hawaii’s endangered species and how marine debris from all over the world is impacting Hawaii’s ecosystems.  

Founded in 2008, Na Kama Kai has worked with more than 24,000 children ages 2-17. The Hawaii Department of Health and the Hawaii Department of Education are now adopting Na Kama Kai’s work and implementing their curriculum. Currently all 10,000 4th graders in the state receive Na Kama Kai’s Ocean Safety and Stewardship’s 12-minute video and Activity Book. Their Ocean Clinics are held at least once a month free of charge to 1,200+ children a year. They also manage more than 700 volunteer opportunities throughout the year, connecting their communities to their local ecosystems.

National Indian Youth Leadership Project, Project Venture

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Description: The National Indian Youth Leadership Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that advances positive youth development, based on traditional wisdom and values common to Indigenous people across North America. Outdoor adventure (hiking, backpacking, ropes course, rappelling, rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking) lies at the core of NIYLP programming, reconnecting contemporary Indigenous youth with the Natural World. Service Learning is a cornerstone of NIYLP’s work, with cultural themes and activities blended throughout.

NIYLP’s Project Venture (PV) is an evidence-based program that works with middle school aged Indigenous youth. PV has been implemented in over 25 states, multiple sites in 8 Canadian provinces, as well as with Native Hawaiian youth. In 2004, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention awarded Project Venture “Model Program Status” based on consistent outstanding evaluation data over several years. 

Project Venture was designed for and tested with early adolescents in grades 5-9 in American Indian school and community settings in rural and low-socioeconomic areas. Evaluation outcomes include: in 2001, program participants demonstrated a 32% decrease in past 30-day alcohol use; in 2003, program participants did not significantly increase alcohol or marijuana use compared to control group youth, who increased use by 16% and 14% respectively; and the National Study of High Risk Youth found that two years after program enrollment, PV participants had a 25% increase in past 30-day alcohol use, compared to a 64% increase seen in control youth group.

Outward Bound Adventures

Outward Bound Adventures

Location: Pasadena, CA

Description: Outward Bound Adventures uses nature-based, environmental education and backpacking, wilderness travel, camping, hiking and natural resource restoration projects to expose underserved youth to careers in conservation as well as to upgrade academic and social skills. Two primary goals of OBA are to develop informed new outdoor users in communities that traditionally have few, if any, and to create a pool of educated, diverse outdoor users who are prepared to succeed in the conservation employment sector. 

OBA’s programs include introductory camping programs for families, the Natural Resources and Stewardship Academy, and environmental restoration teams. Since its founding in 1962, OBA has engaged more than 80,000 inner-city urban youth and families to the restorative effects of time spent in wild places and open spaces. OBA holds the distinction of having placed some of the first people of color with the U.S. Forest Service in the United States. 


The University of Utah, The Applied Cognition Lab 

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Description: The Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah aims to understand the underlying neural correlates of attention restoration through exposure to nature. Their research uses neurophysiological techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) to identify a biomarker for the restorative effect of exposure to nature in correlation with changes in behavioral measurements and subjective reports. The Lab’s objective is to determine the underlying neural processes of restoration, as well as to understand how restoration can be enhanced or induced to support nature-based therapies. The Lab takes a traditionally “lab-based” neurotechnology (EEG) and brings it into a very applied setting—nature.

In order to address the challenge of identifying neurological changes in nature, the Lab annually takes participants on 5-day camping trips near Bear’s Ears National Monument in southern Utah. On these camping trips, they record brain activity as a participant completes multiple cognitive tasks, and compare that to brain activity while completing the same tasks in an urban environment back at the University of Utah both before and after the trip.

Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, The Christy Brown Envirome Institute

Location: Louisville, KY

Description: The Christy Brown Envirome Institute investigates how our natural, social, and personal environments impact human health and chronic disease. Directed by Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, the Institute pioneers a new, interdependent vision of health, supports research on the effects of the environment on health, and promotes holistic scholarship, locally and globally. 

Widely regarded for spearheading the new field of Environmental Cardiology, Dr. Bhatnagar, a Smith and Lucille Gibson Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville, has spent more than 25 years studying the impact of toxic substances, tobacco smoke constituents and environmental pollutants on heart disease. Within the University of Louisville, Dr. Bhatnagar’s work is helping transform the city of Louisville into an urban laboratory and establish the University as a repository of knowledge about the environment. 

The Envirome Institute is creating a new framework to understand how characteristics of our environment result in health outcomes via projects such as Green Heart, a first-of-its-kind scientific experiment that is testing whether increasing green space in a neighborhood improves air quality and human health.

Keith G. Tidball, PhD

Location: Seneca Falls, NY

Description: Keith Tidball, PhD, conducts integrated research, extension, and outreach activities in the area of ecological dimensions of human security. The overarching theme of his work is better understanding how to amplify recruitment of citizen conservationists and resulting development and proliferation of a 21st century land ethic. This conservation ethic often emerges intensely in places and time periods characterized by violence, conflict, disaster or war. Thus, his work often occurs in “hot spots” or “red zones” and is focused on therapeutic attributes of nature and outdoor recreation among returning combatants and  survivors of traumatic large scale events such as major disasters or war.

Dr. Tidball approaches this work through integration of anthropology and ecology and draws heavily from fields such as environmental psychology and philosophy, ecological anthropology, social-ecological systems resilience theory, and international relations theory. Emerging areas of inquiry and practice are (1) outdoor recreation activities as therapeutic for combat-wounded veterans, leading to increased conservation attitudes and behaviors, and (2) recruitment of citizen conservationists via combinations of sustainable food cultures, hunters and anglers.

Randy Rosenberger and Tara Dunn, Oregon Outdoor Recreation Health Impacts Estimator Tool 

Location: Corvallis, OR

Description: Randy Rosenberger, PhD, and Tara Dunn with the College of Forestry at Oregon State University developed, in collaboration with the Oregon Health Authority, an Oregon Outdoor Health Impacts Estimator tool. They used this tool and data from a statewide outdoor recreation participation survey conducted by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to calculate the amount of energy people expend and their associated health care savings when engaging in 30 outdoor activities of moderate to vigorous intensity, including walking, hiking, skiing, and paddling.  Health care savings are associated with reductions in risks for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, depression, depression, dementia, and several cancers.  Their 2019 report, Health Benefits for Oregonians from their Outdoor Recreation Participation, calculated that Oregonians’ participation in outdoor recreation activities saves the state $1.4 billion annually in health care costs.

The Oregon Outdoor Recreation Health Impacts Estimator tool estimates health benefits in an easy and accessible way. It is gaining increased attention across the nation and its outputs from the application to the state of Oregon has entered into many discussions at local to state-scales.

Non-Profit Leadership

Urban Ecology Center

Urban Ecology Center

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Description: The Urban Ecology Center started in a 12-acre, high-crime urban park by providing consistent environmental education to neighborhood children, outdoor recreation opportunities, land stewardship work, community science research projects, community gardens, and a community gathering space. Their goal was to maximize contact with the limited nature in the city for neighborhood residences while encouraging cross generational connections.

In their initial park, crime was reduced by more 90% in the park, academic achievement improved, community pride blossomed, volunteerism exploded, jobs were created, the abused land and waterways were healed and health of both the neighborhood itself and the people in it improved as well. 

Since its inception, The Urban Ecology Center has replicated the model for other communities experiencing the same impacts. More than 100,000 people a year come through their doors for programing, while more than double this visit the parks they have either restored or built from abused land. They have replicated four times from the trailer and now have three vibrant community centers.  

The Green Road Project

The Institute For Integrative Health, The Green Road

Location: Baltimore, MD

Description: The Green Road is a 2-acre site within a wooded stream valley at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  The Green Road was among the TKF Foundation’s National Nature Sacred Award winners, which made the construction possible.Located between the main patient residence and the hospital rehabilitation facilities on the military medical base, the Green Road is essentially a master plan for preserving the woodlands, restoring the natural stream, improving water quality, and creating a series of linked pathways that connect nodes of interest and places for rest, solace and remembrance, all in service of catalyzing new ideas in health, understanding the complex network of factors that influence health, and promoting the well-being of individuals and communities. 

Envisioned and spearheaded by Institute for Integrative Health Scholar, Frederick O. Foote, MD, and made possible by the grant from the TKF Foundation’s Nature Sacred Awards, the Green Road project began as a search for alternatives to common medical practice used in the federal system to treat our nation’s Wounded Warriors who suffer from visible and invisible wounds of war. This includes traumatic brain injury (TBI); psychological health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, anger, and cognitive impairment; somatic health issues, such as chronic pain and fatigue; and increased spiritual burden. The Institute for Integrative Health is leading the Green Road at Bethesda initiative, which aims to provide a natural green environment to facilitate psycho-social-spiritual healing for Wounded Warriors and their families and caregivers at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) / Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, MD. 

The Green Road also provides a unique opportunity for research.  While a large body of evidence supports the benefits of exposure to nature in wellness and healing, to date, most studies have not had a comparison group, appropriate measures of physical activity, or importantly, any objective biomarker of health or well-being. Moreover, few studies have investigated the healing effects of nature in our active duty service members, families, and caregivers. The current study is addressing these gaps by comparing pre- and post-intervention measures across two conditions (Green Road vs. Urban Road walks) in a prospective, crossover design, incorporating qualitative and quantitative psycho-social-spiritual measures, as well as physiological and biochemical measures, in a population of wounded and non-wounded service members (active duty, reserve, and National Guard, retirees), military family members, and caregivers.

GP RED, Healthy Communities Surveillance and Management Toolkit

Location: Louisville, CO

Description: GP RED’s mission is to fill the gaps in Research, Education, and Development (RED) for recreation, land management, health, and allied professionals by providing proven translational, innovative, and practical management strategies and knowledge. The Healthy Communities toolkit provides  a step-by-step process that provides systems approaches to identifying the gaps within a community, along with best strategies customized to that community, that can work for implementation and management. 

The Toolkit uses organized convening and engagement approaches, a multi-attribute utilities technique, customized advanced component-based geo-spatial analysis, combined with analysis of evidence-based health factors, nature-based attributes, physical activity indicators, and policy-focused management strategies, all effectively combined for implementation going forward.

The Toolkit and its various methods have been tested and validated in Bloomington and South Bend, IN; Liberty, KS; Arlington Heights, IL; Halifax County, NC; and Hutchinson, KS, along with Delphi Panel analysis of the related health factors, indicators and methods by representatives from 17 local agencies in the U.S. and Canada. All test sites have reported beneficial outcomes. 

International Surf Therapy Organization

International Surf Therapy Organization

Location: Manhattan Beach, CA

Description: Over the past twenty years, surf therapy programs have developed around the world as a means of promoting physical and mental health by combining psychoeducation, peer support, and surf instruction through an inclusive social environment. The International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO) is a global collective of the world’s leading surf therapy organizations whose mission is to create a world where the lives of people dealing with physical, mental and social disadvantages are enhanced through the therapeutic benefits of surfing and the ocean. ISTO, which was started in 2017 by eight founding contributors in Cape Town, South Africa, promotes best practices and risk management and facilitates outcome research on the efficacy of surf therapy. 

Since their inception, ISTO has engaged 50 surf therapy programs, 98% of which are nonprofit organizations. They are bringing together experts in the field of surf therapy and collecting research data that underscores surf therapy’s efficacy. Anxiety, stress, and depression are the leading causes of illness worldwide—so much so that the UN has made Good Health and Wellbeing #3 on its list of Sustainable Development Goals. The collection of data on the ability of surf therapy to address these causes, as well as the establishment of best practices around this burgeoning field, represents ISTO’s unique contribution to the space.

Outdoor Council Canada

Outdoor Council of Canada, Field Leader Program

Location: Calgary, Alberta

Description: The mission of the Outdoor Council of Canada is to promote and enable accessibility to outdoor education and activity for every Canadian. Access to outdoor education and activity is currently limited to a minority of the population. In the broadest sense, the OCC seeks to understand how the system currently works and then design and implement strategies to change it. 

The OCC’s Field Leader Program is an innovative and powerful program designed to meet the challenge of providing universal and affordable quality outdoor education and activity to all children. At full build-out, the program enables a school to empower its teachers to take the classroom outside for high-quality, low-risk programming—and to do so within the school budget.

Above and beyond the Field Leader Program, the OCC is very active in promoting the health benefits of time outside. As such, the Field Leader Program is integral to their vision that “Every Canadian will have access to outdoor education and activity.”

8 Shields

Location: Santa Cruz, CA

Description: The mission of Nature Connection Mentoring Foundation, aka 8 Shields, is to re-awaken the 8 attributes of connection in people (quiet mind; happiness of a child; vitality and abundance of energy; unconditional listening and mentoring; empathy; truly helpful; full alive; unconditional love and forgiveness), and in turn help heal the widespread disconnect from nature and concomitant loss of connective cultures worldwide. Over the past 30 years, 8 Shields has developed training pathways that support mentors and leaders to empower individuals and entire communities to become more connected to nature. This model incorporates traditional mentoring and deep nature connection practices, fully supported through humans’ neurological, emotional, and physical connection to the natural world.

Since inception, 10,000 people have been through their programs. Of that number, 3,000 were teachers. The 8 Shields alumni network has more than 300 programs worldwide that have been inspired by their model, while schools such as The Manzanita School near Los Angeles incorporate the 8 Shields into their organizational structure. 

Corazón Latino

Corazón Latino

Location: Washington, D.C. 

Description: Corazón Latino is a national non-profit organization that seeks to generate social, environmental, and conservation initiatives that in turn foster natural resource stewardship. Corazón Latino catalyzes conceptualization, design, and implementation of culturally relevant campaigns to inform, empower, and mobilize diverse communities around environmental, conservation, education, civic engagement, social justice and health issues through strategic communications and grassroots mobilization tools.

Corazón Latino has increased diverse community engagement in the outdoors, in collaboration with many traditional organizations that would otherwise not have the insight, knowledge or capacity to do so alone. The organization has developed community engagement models that are culturally and linguistically relevant to the communities they serve. These models are replicable, adaptable and scalable. During the pilot phase of the program, implemented in the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC region in 2018, Corazón Latino engaged 1,912 participants at 11 events with 21 partner organizations, and generated over 825,000 media impressions. They engaged approximately 2.4 million users through the Descubre El Bosque Platform.

Rails to Trails Trail Nation

Rails to Trails Conservancy, TrailNation

Location: Washington, DC

Description: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy believes that communities are healthier and happier when trail networks are central to their design. They’re committed to connecting trails and building comprehensive trail systems that bring people together and get them where they want to go. Their TrailNation™ brings to life their vision of trails at the heart of healthy, thriving communities from coast to coast.

In eight places across the country—Baltimore, MD; San Francisco Bay Area; Washington, DC; the Greater Philadelphia-Camden, New Jersey, region; a 48 county, four state region in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York; Brownsville, TX; Miami-Dade County; and Southeast Wisconsin—Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is investing in projects and partnerships that demonstrate what is possible in all types of places when 21st century trail networks are central to our lives. Benefits of their trail projects include expanding transportation options; fueling strong businesses and economies; promoting social equity; protecting the environment; and improving health and wellness. 

Texan by Nature

Location: Austin, TX

Texan by Nature CEO Joni Carswell (L) and Founder, First Lady Laura Bush.

Description: Texan by Nature activates new investments and amplifies ideas in conservation that are Texan-led, collaborative, and data-based. In 2011 Mrs. Laura Bush founded Texan by Nature to unite business and conservation leaders who believe the state’s prosperity is dependent on the conservation of its natural resources. The organization brings business and conservation together; amplifies projects and activates new investment in conservation, which returns real benefits for people, prosperity and natural resources; and achieves its goals through its Texan by Nature Certification program, Conservation Wrangler program, and Symposia series.

The symposia around the intersection of Health and Nature spurred the creation of the Center for Health and Nature in 2018, a partnership between Texan by Nature, Texas A&M University, and Houston Methodist. The Center works to be at the forefront of research that will help determine the importance of nature as a healthcare delivery system, thus enabling conservation organizations to make a stronger case for the work they are doing to preserve nature.

Public Land Management

Diana Allen, The National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People Program

Location: Washington, DC

Description: The National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People has worked with national, state, and local parks, as well as business innovators, healthcare leaders, scientists, foundations, and advocacy organizations to foster and build upon the role parks play in the health of our society. Launched under the management of Diana Allen in 2012, HPHP addresses serious public health issues facing our nation and demonstrates how our parks/public lands and outdoor spaces can serve as resources for health. The program has documented more than 400 activities in one year implemented in parks nationwide that connect people to public lands. NPS has identified a set of Healthy Parks Healthy People promising practices for broader application nationally. 

In 2017, Diana Allen led an effort to bring together an interdisciplinary team of National Park Service staff representing 25 programs convened to develop the next iteration of a strategic plan for Healthy Parks Healthy People to provide overarching direction for health promotion across the NPS.

Trailhead Direct Shuttle

King County, WA, Trailhead Direct

Location: Seattle, WA

Description: Trailhead Direct is a pilot project co-led by two departments within King County, Washington: King County Metro and King County Parks. This project seeks to ease vehicle congestion and reduce traffic safety hazards near popular trailheads, and expand access to public open space for people from the Seattle metropolitan area.

In order to meet the environmental and community challenges brought on by population growth in the region, King County Parks and King County Metro are working with a number of partners, including the Seattle Department of Transportation, REI Co-op, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Trails Association, and The Wilderness Society, to provide a sustainable solution.

Trailhead Direct, which debuted for three months in late summer 2017, offers affordable public transportation to some of the more popular trailheads on weekends and holidays during the hiking season, reducing vehicle congestion and safety hazards at the trailheads, cutting back on carbon footprints and providing people who live in urban areas with the opportunity to visit and enjoy public lands.   

During its first full season in 2018 (April – October), Trailhead Direct provided more than 20,000 rides. In the 2019 season, which started April 20th, ridership is trending higher: the number of boardings through Memorial Day was nearly 8,000. 

Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan

Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan

Location: Brownsville, TX

Description: The Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan, or “Active Plan,” is a blueprint for a 428-mile trail network — including 230 miles of multi-use trails, 120 miles of U.S. bicycle routes and 78 miles of paddling trails that will showcase the vast, expansive beauty of the region’s beaches, wildlife preserves, waterways, cultural sites and geographic landmarks, thereby creating a unified regional identity for outdoor tourism, promoting healthier lifestyles and generating a new sense of community pride for all residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The LRGV Active Plan integrates active transportation and active tourism development to help communities and businesses maximize the economic benefits of the area’s recreational, natural, cultural, and historic resources. The program springs from, and aims to build, regional cooperation and to strengthen connections between the region’s active tourism assets and the cities and towns they serve. At its core, the Active Plan leverages the community’s commitment to local economic development in a county with one of the highest poverty rates in the country—and is designed to tap into the rapidly expanding market for “active tourism” to support job creation and small business activity and encourage tourist spending that injects money into local economies.

The Active Plan also serves as a “catalyst” for healthier lifestyles among a population with disproportionately high rates of obesity and chronic disease by: 1) providing more safe routes for exercise and outdoor recreation; and 2) encouraging locals to hike and bike to destinations—and even ditch their cars.

The City of Brownsville (TX) quantified annual health care cost savings of $5.9-$12.3 million from increased physical activity on 291 miles of the Active Plan’s multi-use trails.

Adventure Athlete

Paloma Aguirre

Paloma Aguirre

Location: Imperial Beach, CA

Description: Paloma Aguirre is a conservationist, competitive bodyboarder and city councilwoman in Imperial Beach, CA. She has been working for more than twelve years to address Imperial Beach’s most pressing threats to its quality of life, including both environmental and public health issues. 

Early in her career, Aguirre, who has a Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, worked as a social-justice community organizer in South San Diego, helping low-income Hispanic families address immigration, foreclosure, and predatory lending issues. In 2006, she joined WILDCOAST, where she became U.S.-Mexico Border Director, leading efforts to conserve 79,642 acres of coastal, marine and island ecosystems in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. She currently oversees projects to conserve coastal ecosystems in the border region, ocean policy at the state and federal levels as Coastal and Marine Director. In 2014, Aguirre was named Woman of the Year by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez for outstanding leadership in environmental conservation and for her work restoring the Tijuana River Valley. 

Aguirre represents the City of Imperial Beach on the Metropolitan Transit System Board, is the elected Citizens Forum Board Co-chair for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), served as an advisor to the State Lands Commission in their development of its Environmental Justice Policy, is co-founder of the Tijuana River Action Network, a member of Tijuana and Rosarito Clean Beaches Committees, and is a member of the IBWC Minute 320 Binational, Water Quality, and Solid Waste working groups.

Clifford Kapono

Dr. Cliff Kapono

Location: Hilo, Hawai‘i

Description: Cliff Kapono, PhD, is a professional surfer, chemist and journalist. Born on the eastern shores of Hawai‘i, his life involves equal parts science as it does surf. While contributing several peer-reviewed publications to the fields of molecular bioscience, he has also produced a handful of award-winning films that discuss indigenous activism, ocean conservation, global food security and virtual reality. 

His current projects include The Surfer Biome Project, a scientific project that looks at the chemicals and bacteria found on surfers and that seeks to address issues around environmental conservation, food security and public health; Digitizing the Natural World, a project with the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo that uses next generation analytical techniques to digitize and recreate environmental systems in 3D before they are lost; and Ocean Conservation, in which he partners with several agencies including Save the Waves Coalition and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, looking to share stories of environmental conservation and community stewardship.

Bruckner Chase

Bruckner Chase

Location: Ocean City, NJ

Description: Bruckner Chase has a multi-prong approach that leverages the outdoors, and specifically our oceans, to impact the environment and communities around the world. The non-profit organization Ocean Positive Foundation he founded with his wife, Michelle Evans-Chase, works with partners, communities, schools, corporations, agencies and governments around the world to design, develop and implement research-based programs and opportunities for sustainable positive impacts on the health, wellbeing and strength of our oceans and communities.

Bruckner also developed an initiative of the Ocean Positive Foundation, called Blue Journey Unified, that creates ongoing opportunities for those with spinal cord injuries and disease to train, compete and play in the surf sports of prone paddling and open water swimming. His Ocean City Swim Club, which hosts roughly 1,000 ocean swims during the summer, helps people get stronger, wiser and safer in the ocean.

Bruckner’s current work under a 5-year Collaborative Research and Development agreement with NOAA National Weather Service as their expert and ambassador for ocean and coastal safety, science and conservation will shape community engagement initiatives that impact millions. As part of this collaboration, theWave Safe” series shares expert tips and local knowledge on how to ensure visits to any beach are fun and safe.

At 53, Bruckner still competes at the professional, international level, and uses his platforms to promote the idea of responsible stewardship of the bodies of water in which we recreate.



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