The SHIFT Awards recognize individuals, initiatives, or organizations that make innovative, impactful and replicable contributions to the advancement of the health benefits of time outside.
Since 2014, our annual SHIFT Awards have identified, and then evaluated, initiatives from around the United States, seeking out work that advances or promotes the health benefits of outdoor recreation. In 2020 alone, we identified more than 200 such initiatives, then used this criteria to evaluate more than 50 initiatives that had been nominated for Awards in the categories of Non-Profit Leadership; Public Land-Management Innovation; Youth Engagement; Research; and Health and Nature Champion.
As part our 2020 evaluations, we took into consideration initiatives’ impact on equitable access to nature for the first time as well.
SHIFT Award recipients receive complementary Summit passes and are invited to become part of the programming—part of our commitment to highlighting on-the-ground work that is successfully meeting challenges at the nexus of outdoor recreation, conservation and public health.
Categorical award winners will be announced at this year’s SHIFT Summit, which will be broadcast virtually October 14-16 from Jackson, WY.
This year’s SHIFT Award Official Selections are as follows.
Location: Denver, CO
Overview: Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A) is a Latina-led and founded environmental nonprofit based out of Colorado but with an international reach. AFC+A houses initiatives that advance community resilience and citizenry of environmental stewards while leveraging arts and culture for conservation gains. Their programs promote a diverse and non-segregated conservation movement through culturally relevant education that addresses the needs of previously underserved and underrepresented communities in the green movement.
Their flagship program of Promotores Verdes is centered in giving low-income and underrepresented populations (mostly people of color) access to public lands and cultural institutions and assisting agencies and institutions in attaining their diversity and inclusion goals via collaboration or partnership with AFC+A. Promotores Verdes curriculum is anchored in the interdependence of personal/public health and a healthy environment through guided outdoor recreation and environmental literacy and interpretation.
AFC+A works to bridge the environmental gap through a youth leadership model anchored in the community health worker model that champions citizen driven socio-economic advocacy, grassroots governance, and authentic engagement and capacity building.
Location: Charlottesville, VA
Overview: Biophilic Cities partners with cities, scholars and advocates from across the globe to build an understanding of the value and contribution of nature in cities to the lives of urban residents. As a central element of its work, Biophilic Cities facilitates a global network of partner cities working collectively to pursue the vision of a natureful city within their unique and diverse environments and cultures. These partner cities are working in concert to conserve and celebrate nature in all its forms and the many important ways in which cities and their inhabitants benefit from the biodiversity and wild urban spaces present in cities. Biophilic Cities acknowledges the importance of daily contact with nature as an element of a meaningful urban life, as well as the ethical responsibility that cities have to conserve global nature as shared habitat for non-human life and people.
Researchers at the University of Virginia partner with city collaborators to assess and monitor biophilic urban qualities and conditions, to identify obstacles and impediments to achieving more biophilic cities, and to identify and document best practices in biophilic urban design and planning. The Biophilic Cities Network helps to foster discussion and dialogue between and among researchers, planners, and policymakers in partner cities; periodically convenes researchers and practitioners; and publishes working papers, reports and a journal that disseminates best practices.
Location: Bronx, NY
Overview: The Bronx River Alliance works in partnership to restore the 23-mile long Bronx River so that it can be a healthy resource for the communities through which it flows. The Alliance is a celebrated model for urban open space development and river restoration, engaging the community in cleaning up一and canoeing!一the river, restoring wildlife, creating waterfront parks, and leading outdoor, experiential learning. Since its founding in 2001, the Bronx River Alliance has brought residents, especially young people, to the river to help build an involved, active constituency for the river’s future through five major programs: Ecological Restoration, Education, Greenway, Outreach, and Recreation.
The Bronx River flows through some of the wealthiest (Scarsdale, Bronxville) and poorest urban communities in the nation, including the poorest Congressional District in the country (NY 15, Serrano) at the mouth of the river. The Bronx’s social and environmental problems are daunting, but they are not insurmountable. Through a process of partnerships and coalition building, an asset-based approach to community development, and building community leadership and power, the Bronx River Alliance helps build an involved, active constituency for the river’s future.
Location: Easton, PA
Overview: Get Your Tail on the Trail engages the communities of eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey, the employees within the St. Luke’s University Health Network, and partnering organizations by providing free tools and incentives to promote accessible physical activity outdoors throughout regional trails (the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor).
St. Luke’s and the D&L co-host two annual challenges aimed at increasing the overall number of people who engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week using regional health networks and trail-centric organizations. Activity is logged for walking, running, biking, kayaking, or any other activity that can be measured in miles.
St. Luke’s healthy lifestyle expertise, combined with the recreational and heritage leadership of the D&L, a historic rail-trail, allows members of the community to log miles while participating in scheduled challenges and events on their way to achieving their personal goals of health, fitness, community, and fun.
Location: Washington D.C.
Overview: The Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK) is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors. OAK’s members are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors.
OAK advocates for equitable and readily available opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors by bringing together and leveraging a national strategic partnership of over 100 businesses and organizations from diverse sectors to advocate for policies and programs that advance the mission of the organization.
Movement-wide, OAK’s most significant contribution is bringing together a network of diverse groups to recognize and address the need to equitably connect children, youth, and nature. Through elevating this work, OAK worked to expand First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to Let’s Move Outside and championed President Barack Obama’s Every Kid in a Park program (now Every Kid Outdoors thanks to OAK’s efficacious advocacy work with the Department of Interior via administrative action and with Congress via the John Dingell Public Lands Act of 2019).
Location: El Paso, TX
Overview: The Paso del Norte Health Foundation (PdNHF) leads, leverages and invests in initiatives, programs and policies that promote health and prevent disease in the Paso del Norte region. The Paso del Norte Region, including El Paso and Hudspeth Counties in Texas, Dona Ana, Luna, and Otero Counties in New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than state and national rates. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) priority area has made significant investments in promoting nutrition and physical activity.
The Paso del Norte Trail (PdN Trail) is a 68-mile community-driven, collaborative effort to develop a county-wide trail in El Paso County designed to create a regionally significant landmark that promotes active transportation, preserves the history and culture of the region, highlights the Rio Grande river, supports economic development and ecotourism, provides educational and volunteer opportunities, and makes healthy living the easy choice for the unique, binational community.
Located in an area of the city that lacks public amenities that promote outdoor physical activity, the existing 3.4 mile segment of trail now provides residents a connection to parks, schools, and local businesses as well as a place for safe outdoor recreation. PdNHF is currently completing the design phase of a second portion of this trail segment that connects to other trails. When design and construction is finished, the completed trail segment will be 8.4 miles in length.
Location: Boulder, CO
Overview: Louise Chawla, Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado Boulder, is an environmental psychologist whose work focuses on the benefits of access to nature for children, the development of active care for the natural world, and participatory methods for engaging children and youth in design and planning. Until January 2016, she served as co-editor of the journal Children, Youth and Environments, and currently serves as advisory board member of the Children and Nature Network as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Children and Nature Network. She remains active with Growing Up Boulder, a project that connects faculty, students, city agencies and community partners to improve access to nature for children and youth and integrate young people’s voices into urban planning and the design of parks and housing sites.
Location: St. Louis, MO
Overview: Dr. Christine Ekenga is an environmental epidemiologist focusing on conducting research on environmental health disparities. The goal of her work is to promote health and well-being through healthy environments, particularly in underserved communities. She studies how nature-based education and nature-contact influences the health-related quality of life, environmental awareness, and STEM-capacity for low-income, urban, non-white youth.
As a Black scientist and educator, she strives mentor and teach others on how to inspire and inform African American communities who are seeking resources to serve their unique health needs. She is currently starting a study on how low-income families are impacted by COVID-19 in regards to family time, time spent outdoors, children discussing environmental issues with their family, and physical activity.
Location: Portland, OR
Overview: The Legacy Health Therapeutic Gardens Program (LTGP) offers daily nature and wellness opportunities for employees, patients, families, visitors and community members at all hospital campuses to promote stress coping, support well-being, and prevent burnout. Part of Legacy Health (Legacy), a locally owned nonprofit health system driven by the mission to improve the health of those around them, LTPG provides a program of events
Legacy knows that nature contact is essential for physical, mental and emotional health and well-being for employees, patients, visitors, and all community members across the region. They use an innovative, collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach by LTGP, Sustainability and Employee Health in 12- hospital gardens where all users reap benefits of health and well-being. Legacy strives to make nature a health intervention for everyone.
Location: Boulder, CO
Overview: Dr. Jill Litt studies health inequalities, food access and availability, nutrition, physical activity, mental health, time outdoors, and nature-health connections. While there has been tremendous focus on nature-based solutions to promote ecological, environmental, and economic benefits, her work leverages these investments as a way to address loneliness among diverse populations, by increasing the number of visits to green spaces and number of hours spent in nature, as well as by promoting diversity of individuals along gender, economic, social, geographic, and age dimensions. Additionally, it deepens our collective understanding by moving beyond the vague ‘more-is-better’ nature-based interventions towards more targeted solutions that are based on understanding the mechanisms of how nature-based interventions impact wellbeing.
Dr. Litt’s work applies mixed-methods, generating and synthesizing evidence from randomized controlled trials and observational studies with a strong data safety and monitoring plan and robust measurement techniques to measure the effects of nature-based interventions. Moreover, her approach is grounded in local knowledge and builds on almost two decades of formative work by her partners.
Location: Ithaca, NY
Overview: Dr. Donald Rakow at Cornell University has been one of the primary driving forces behind integrating Campus Nature Rx programs for universities and colleges in the US and Canada. He started the Campus Nature Rx network and has been collaborating with several researchers to look at how Nature Rx programs impact students’ mental and physical health.
Through his research, Dr. Rakow highlights the significance of public gardens and parks as environmental, cultural, and social organizations. This focus bridges consideration of how campus landscapes can be leveraged for health and wellbeing of students, staff and faculty. He is committed to facilitating mental and physical health on university and college campuses through nature engagement that is inclusive of individuals of all ethnicities, abilities, and age groups.
Location: University of Exeter Medical School, England
Overview: Dr. Mathew White is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and the lead academic for BlueHealth’s Understanding the evidence research area. BlueHealth has increased understanding of how urban blue spaces can affect people’s wellbeing.
The majority of Europe’s population live in urban areas characterised by inland waterways and coastal margins. BlueHealth’s interdisciplinary research has combined large-scale survey data with localised interventions to understand the effects these environments might have on health.
BlueHealth has worked with communities, private sector organisations and policymakers to ensure their findings are focused and relevant. BlueHealth’s recommendations will help decision makers and communities promote health through access to good quality blue spaces, informing the development of towns and cities fit for the future.
Location: Baltimore, MD
Overview: Backyard Basecamp’s mission is to inspire Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color (BIPOC) across Baltimore City to find nature where they are and empower them to explore further. They achieve this mission through place-based activities at BLISS Meadows, a 10 acre land reclamation project in their neighborhood that is at the intersection of food, environmental, and racial justice and has stemmed from folks inside of the community being the change they wish to see for their neighborhood without displacing folks.
By centering communities of color in the environmental space, and advancing the narrative that BIPOC also enjoy the beauty of green space in their neighborhoods, Backyard Basecamp addresses the challenges at the intersection of park equity, environmental education, food justice, and community green space. By investing in their own community and educating their neighbors of the environment, health, nature, and nutrition they add to the economic, ecological, and public health of the community.
Location: Anniston, AL
Overview: CFNEA works to achieve long-term, positive change for the residents of northeast Alabama. They do this through the Stringfellow Health Fund Grant of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, which focuses largely on preventative health issues, risks or diseases and on serving those with chronic or acute health conditions. Through this foundation, investments have been made in a network of community-designed greenspaces intended to connect the community with nature.
Through the creation of Sacred Places, CFNEA has drawn people and communities together, particularly in areas where people don’t otherwise have the opportunity or means to spend time outdoors. The spaces promote individual and public health by drawing the local communities outdoors, providing them with the opportunity and place for meditative time in nature.
Location: Birmingham, AL
Overview: Freshwater Land Trust conserves, connects, and cares for land and water in Central Alabama, including Jefferson County, which is the most populous county in the state with close to one million people, thus creating dynamic green spaces for future generations.
Since 1996, Freshwater Land Trust has conserved and managed over 11,000 acres of land that protect rivers and wildlife. In 2012, in an effort to connect more people to the outdoors, Freshwater Land Trust developed the Red Rock Trail System, a 750-mile planned network of parks, trails, bike lanes, and sidewalks with the goal of connecting every resident of Jefferson County, Alabama to a green space within one mile of their home where they can take active steps towards a healthier lifestyle. To date, Freshwater Land Trust has facilitated the completion of over 120 miles of the Red Rock Trail System. The Red Rock Trail System increases the number and accessibility of recreational trails in Jefferson County, thus making it easier for residents to spend time outside and experience the physical and mental benefits associated with outdoor recreation.
Location: Toledo, OH
Overview: The mission of Metroparks Toledo is to conserve the region’s natural resources by creating, developing, improving, protecting, and promoting clean, safe, and natural parks and open spaces for the benefit, enjoyment, education, and general welfare of the public. With tremendous use by walkers, hikers, bikers paddlers and runners, Metroparks Toledo is a destination for fitness. When Metroparks Toledo determined it was time to address the need for outdoor fitness that would engage new and different users in exciting ways, they knew they would need a great partner. Metroparks Toledo is expert in the preservation of natural areas through clean, safe and natural parks. Public health and wellness components such as fitness training represented new frontiers.
Through a $100,000 annual donation from Mercy Health, Metroparks Toledo has been able to purchase and install FitPark equipment to provide a variety of outdoor wellness activities. From climbing to paddling to mountain biking, the FitParks will be a fitness destination for everyone to access, regardless of their age, ability or income.
Location: Chicago, IL
Overview: Space to Grow is co-managed by two Chicago-based nonprofit organizations: Openlands, a regional conservation organization focused on connecting people to nature in their daily lives; and Healthy Schools Campaign, which works to ensure that all students have access to healthy school environments where they can learn and thrive. HSC and Openlands conduct an inclusive design process that engages students, parents, teachers, and community members in creating schoolyard spaces that fit their unique needs. In addition, parents, principals, and teachers in Space to Grow schools receive specialized support that helps them connect their wellness priorities to the resources provided by the schoolyards. The schoolyards include edible and native plant gardens, trees, play spaces and outdoor classrooms, and Space to Grow partners provide ongoing capacity-building and training for parents, community members, teachers, and principals.
Space to Grow is a critical initiative for building equity, community cohesion, and climate resilience, especially for Chicago’s Latinx and African-American communities that have faced years of disinvestment – all by leveraging the restorative benefits of nature and green stormwater infrastructure. This community engagement is crucial to the long-term success of the schoolyards, ensuring that the schoolyards are viewed as an important school and community resource and that stakeholders are welcomed and engaged in caring for and promoting the use of the schoolyards.
Location: Chula Vista, CA
Overview: The SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project’s mission is to empower local organizations, cities, and towns across the country to seek innovative community-based solutions for wildlife conservation and meaningful community engagement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supporting a suite of partners who are using multiple strategies to engage local communities and serving a demographic reflecting the nation’s changing racial and ethnic mix.
Working together, Project leaders and program partners are successfully: Connecting diverse urban youth and adults to nature— reversing the current trend of a U.S. population becoming increasingly isolated from nature; creating ways for individuals to interact with the natural environment by observing wildlife, restoring habitats, learning about nature—to help them gain an appreciation and understanding of what nature offers, and why it should be protected; providing opportunities for historically underrepresented young people to explore and develop an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers; empowering teachers by increasing their understanding of effective and creative strategies to instill the wonder of science in their students, to develop the next generation of scientists needed in our changing world; and, inspiring people to become tomorrow’s stewards of the environment and be aware of their impact on the world around them.
Location: St. Louis, MO
Overview: Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO) was developed to provide low-income students across the US equitable access to a comprehensive nature-based education. By combining STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) instruction with outdoor learning, GGO enhances the quality of health, science literacy, and environmental stewardship for children who would otherwise be excluded from this transformative experience. GGO presents children an opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch a more fascinating world than the one to which they have grown accustomed.
GGO provides low-income youth with extensive environmental, outdoor, and STEAM education through weekly in-class interactive lessons and monthly nature-based adventure outings. GGO’s innovative approach of combining outdoor time with classroom learning solidifies science curricula with meaningful real-world experiences and promotes healthy lifestyles.
Location: Washington D.C.
Overview: Green Muslims serve as a source in the Muslim community for spiritually-inspired environmental education, action, and reflection. They engage locally through presentations and outdoor classes and activities while serving as a national resource for information about Islam and the environment. By hosting outdoor educational programs, including the grant-funded “Our Deen (faith) is Green!” youth program, and providing speakers and teachers for Muslim communities and organizations, Green Muslims addresses a lack of knowledge of and engagement in environmental issues within the Muslim community and lack of Muslim representation in environmental work, as well as the need for outdoor experiences linked to the Islamic faith.
Through education and bridge building, Green Muslims improves the environmental health of their community. They provide information and experiences to educate the community, and connect individuals and religious institutions with climate action groups. Additionally, by providing opportunities for youth and families to get out into nature and learn about it as well as experience it, they are introducing the community to the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of outdoor experiences.
Location: Bellingham, WA
Overview: OUT There Adventures (OTA) is an adventure organization committed to fostering positive identiy development, individual empowerment, and improved quality of life for queer young people through professionally facilitated experiential education activities. In its five programmatic seasons, OTA has run in-house summer multi-day expeditions for queer teens and year-round day adventures for queer teens and young adults in the PNW. It has also partnered with other youth-serving outdoor nonprofits to support and sustain LGBTQ specific programs.
It is difficult to quantify the individualized impact as it relates to confidence, community and self-actualization, but on a practical level, OTA has supported the first LGBTQ teen programs in two nationally recognized outdoor education schools, engaged in federal policy education that promotes LGBTQ history preservation in our public lands, co-created the largest outdoor-focused gathering of LGBTQ individuals in the nation (LGBTQ Outdoor Summit), and co-created the award winning “Rainbow Crew” LGBTQ teen conservation corp program.
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Overview: The RIVERSPORT Foundation manages a variety of urban adventure facilities including a whitewater center, ropes course, zip lines and biking trails for people of all ages and abilities. The aim of the organization is to inspire excellence, enhance communities, and change lives through Olympic sports and outdoor urban adventures.
The RIVERSPORT Foundation provides free program and facility access to youth and families from under-resourced neighborhoods, those who identify with a racial background that is under-represented in the outdoor industry, or anyone who encounters barriers to participation. Locally, RIVERSPORT is challenging the outdoor and physical fitness culture. In Oklahoma, kids who do not initially excel at traditional ball sports start to self-identify as being non-athletic. RIVERSPORT is redefining “athlete” by offering non-traditional water sports and outdoor recreation to youth from under-served communities.
Location: Bellingham, WA
Overview: Wild Whatcom fosters lifelong connections to nature in order to promote the health and well-being of young people in the community and to support the community in raising a generation of environmental stewards who care about each other and the planet. Wild Whatcom prioritizes outdoor education, long-term mentorship, and service through a variety of programming to fit the various needs of the community. These include in-school programs, after-school programs, weekend exploration groups, and family & community programs.
Partnering with the schools to provide access to nature during the school day reduces many of the barriers students face to getting outside including transportation, supervision, comfort outdoors, and peer support. The barriers to getting outside are many, especially for students from low-income families and students with disabilities. Wild Whatcom is actively breaking down those barriers by bringing programming directly to students in their school.
Location: Danville, PA
Overview: One of the country’s earliest and leading proponents of the health benefits of nature, Michael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, MBA, is currently System Wide Chairman of the Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute for the Geisinger Health System and a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association.
Chosen in 2003 as a White House Fellow with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Dr. Suk, as Special Advisor to former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, co-wrote a law landmark article that investigated the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and participating in outdoor activities such as bicycling, hiking, and camping. In 2011, Dr. Suk’s activism in this matter contributed to the National Park Service’s adoption of a number of key values in its Centennial “Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement.” He has been a vocal advocate and leader in health promotion in the outdoors for nearly two decades.
Location: Baltimore, MD
Overview: Atiya Wells is a pediatric nurse and nature educator in Baltimore City. Her love for nature began after college, during a spontaneous hike with her husband in Western Maryland.
As a pediatric nurse caring for children unable to go outside, she was determined to ensure her children spent time outdoors as much as possible. She has since dedicated her free time to fostering nature connection in urban environments and creating equitable access to nature.
She is the founder of Backyard Basecamp, an organization geared toward connecting Baltimore’s residents to wildlife in the city. Atiya also serves as the Executive Director of BLISS Meadows, an innovative social justice project which creates equitable access to green space in her community, and preserves 10 acres of land in order to connect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), to African-American agricultural history and culture.
Location: Washington, DC
Overview: Florence Williams is a journalist, author, and podcaster. A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science. Her most recent book, The Nature Fix, offered up an intrepid investigation into nature’s restorative benefits that has helped to mainstream the health and nature movement.
From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, Williams’ book investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.