The deadline for the Call for Award Nominations has passed. All participants who submitted a nomination will be notified by March 1, 2024.

The Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals (SORP) is excited to announce the 2024 Awards at the National Outdoor Recreation Conference in South Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada from May 2024. The awards luncheon will take place on Tuesday, May 7, 2024 at the Tahoe Blue Event Center. The awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in the field of outdoor recreation planning, management, research, and policy.

View previous award winners here.

2024 Award Recipients


National Recreation Resource Leadership Award



Deb Haaland

United States Secretary of the Interior

Secretary Haaland has broken barriers throughout her career in public service. Secretary Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. As the Department of Interior Secretary, she has focused on connecting all Americans to public lands and reconnecting tribal nations back to their lands. She is committed to advancing environmental stewardship and environmental justice through implementation of the Biden administration's America the Beautiful and Justice 40 initiatives. She has advanced tribal stewardship and co-management through a commitment to government-to-government consultation and honoring tribal treaty rights. Finally, she is creating more inclusive land management approaches through programs such as the tribal conservation corps and a reconciliation of derogatory place names.

Individual Service


Clement Lau

Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation

Dr. Clement Lau is a leader in the field of park and recreation planning, and a prolific and influential writer who highlights the importance of parks and recreation in the creation of healthy and equitable communities.

For 20+ years, Dr. Clement Lau has demonstrated distinguished leadership as a planner focused on parks and recreation, writing, education, and mentorship. Dr. Lau has advanced and contributed significantly to the practice and advancement of parks and recreation, with a strong emphasis on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. His five most distinguished accomplishments are:

  1. Lead Planner for the L.A. Countywide Parks Needs Assessment, a trailblazing study of the park needs of a county of 10 million residents, resulting in increased parks funding.
  2. Lead Planner for the L.A. County Master Plan for Sustainable Parks and Recreation and follow-on projects serving six very park-poor communities with 257,000+ residents.
  3. Author of successful grant applications, securing significant amounts of funds to plan, design, and deliver much needed park projects in underserved communities.
  4. Thought leader and writer of 100+ articles, contributing to increased knowledge sharing and expanded literature on park planning for practitioners and scholars. 
  5. Mentor to planning students and young planners, guest lecturer, and presenter/speaker at conferences hosted by APA and allied organizations.


Mercy M'fon

Wild Diversity

Mercy M’fon is a preeminent leader in creating a new model for decreasing the diversity gap in the outdoors.

Mercy dreams of endless opportunities for Black, brown, queer, and trans people to thrive in nature. She works tirelessly to create a sense of belonging in the outdoors for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and all people of color) and LGBTQ+ communities through outdoor adventures, education, and community workshops.

Mercy’s vision of helping BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people access rest and renewal in nature solidified in 2017 with her founding of Wild Diversity, a powerhouse nonprofit delivering outdoor experiences, trainings, and community building opportunities. Each year Wild Diversity hosts over 40 single day and 20 overnight adventures and workshops, as well as 25 outdoor youth events, for nearly 1,000 BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth, adults, and families.   

Mercy, who is Black and queer, is building community for herself and others by intentionally centering those who are often marginalized, erased, and tokenized. She believes that someone who wants to summit a mountain isn’t more outdoorsy than someone who wants to chill by the lake. It’s why she focuses on meeting folks where they are at and supporting whatever their needs might be. 

For those ready for more, she’s created the Adventure Guide Leadership Development program focused on increasing BIPOC and LGBTQ+ visibility in advanced outdoor skills through access, training, and community connection. 



Michael A. Allen

National Park Service

Michael Allen has been instrumental in establishing multiple African American historic sites and areas in the Carolinas, including the nationally significant Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

Michael grew up in Kingstree, South Carolina, and began his public career with the National Park Service in 1980. He served as the education specialist and site manager for the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site for 12 years, and was later appointed community partnership specialist for the Fort Sumter group. In 2007 he became the executive director for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. As a result of groundbreaking efforts by Michael and the community, the Reconstruction Era national monument (now the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park) was established in Beaufort county, South Carolina, by presidential proclamation in 2017. Michael has been involved in several other projects designed to engage new audiences in understanding and appreciating African and American history. He was a founding board member of the International African American Museum, which opened in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2023.



Project Excellence


Native Lands - National Trails

Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps

This nomination celebrates a collaborative project born out of the need to educate federal agency staff, partners, and the public on meaningful ways to acknowledge indigenous land/communities along National Scenic and Historic Trails. 

Formal land acknowledgements became very popular in the United States on calls and at virtual conferences during the summer of 2020. The Bureau of Land Management’s National Scenic and Historic Trails Program wanted to start a crucial conversation and foster a deeper understanding about the communities where these 32 congressionally designated trails cross these sacred, relevant, ancestral lands. Through a Financial Assistance Agreement BLM partnered with a diverse collaborative that contributed to the perspectives and validity of what would become Native Lands, National Trails. 

BLM, Native Land Digital, Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, and the Partnership for the National Trails System embarked on a project to create a platform that invites the user to learn from and engage with indigenous communities, with the hope of building lasting relationships that include informed consent and deepening the understanding of Indigenous Knowledge associated with these unique landscapes and trails. 

Employing an indigenous youth/AmeriCorps intern was essential to curate the project’s perspective. Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa (Zuni/Hopi) was hired and went on to create the Native Lands, National Trails Map, an interactive GIS map hosted through ESRI. Kiana excelled at outreach, developed her new skills in GIS and trails, presented at major conferences in person and virtually. She has proven to be a shining star and it will be exciting to see where she takes her career. As a result of her leadership on this project, she was recently hired permanently as a Placement Coordinator at Ancestral Lands. 

This work acknowledges the past, educates the present, and gives hope to future generations that their stories matter. The trails community is made stronger with stewardship from the indigenous communities that these trails run through.


Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan

Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Council

Honored for their comprehensive plan aimed at sustainable stewardship of the Lake Tahoe region. For the first time ever, the Tahoe Region has a shared vision for the future of outdoor recreation and tourism. The shared vision is for Tahoe to become a cherished place, welcoming to all, where people, communities, and nature benefit from a thriving tourism and outdoor recreating economy. In 2023, a new coalition of partners in outdoor recreation, environmental protection, and tourism unveiled the inaugural Destination Stewardship Plan for the Tahoe Region. Eighteen regional organizations collaboratively crafted the plan's vision and actions, engaging over 3,000 residents, visitors, and businesses through surveys, interviews, and workshops.

Plan partners have established a Destination Stewardship Council to manage the implementation of the plan. Without this plan and new vision for the region, there would not be the collaboration they are seeing today at Tahoe.



Anza Trail Cultural History Park 

National Park Service-Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (NPS-RTCA)

Acknowledged for their efforts in creating a cultural history park along the Anza Trail, enriching the understanding of the area's heritage.

The Anza Trail Cultural History Park was realized through a unique and extraordinarily meaningful student design process that brought together students from a school for the deaf and blind, local high schools, and landscape architecture graduate students with land managers and other partners to create an inspirational one-of-a-kind universally-designed park in the heart of Tucson, Arizona that provides a physically accessible urban park and outdoor classroom for the community enriched with tactile and multilingual art and cultural history exhibits.



Youth Outdoor Ambassador Program

Forest Preserves of Cook County

Celebrated for their initiative in engaging youth in outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.

Launched in 2014, the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Youth Outdoor Ambassadors program engages young people to serve as “ambassadors” to the forest preserves–  introducing them to different career paths in conservation and introducing them to a wide variety of conservation career paths, celebrating the important role that local nature plays on physical and mental health, and what actions can be taken to protect the forest preserves.

Ambassadors are between the ages of 16-20 and participate in a 10-week summer paid internship that introduces them to Forest Preserves’ operations and career opportunities, as well as other job possibilities in conservation and outdoor recreation, provides leadership and job readiness skills, and introduces them to local and global environmental issues. 

To date over 300 Ambassadors have been hired with an average of 22 youths participating in a single season and 35% of participants returning the following season. The Ambassadors represent a diverse group of youth with different backgrounds, ages, education levels, and experiences and who come from locations throughout Cook County. 

The Forest Preserves is committed to the success of this program and strives to bring together staff and youth in a way that promotes an open dialogue and allows for flexible ways to respond to youth feedback and criticism. The Youth Outdoor Ambassador Program serves as an excellent model for other organizations on how to genuinely engage young people in influencing and improving programming and communication strategies ensuring that both people and nature will thrive.



Genesee ValleyTrail Towns

Friends of the GeneseeValley Greenway

Recognized for their collaborative efforts in developing trail towns along the Genesee Valley Greenway, enhancing recreational opportunities and community connections. They are an effective model for sustainable outdoor recreation-based economic development in post-pandemic rural America.

The Genesee Valley region of Western New York offers unique outdoor recreation opportunities, including Genesee Valley Greenway State Park, a 90-mile multi-use trail established in 2010 on a former canal and rail corridor, and the beautiful 14,427-acre Letchworth State Park. While a short distance to Niagara Falls, Erie Canal, Finger Lakes, and population centers such as Buffalo and Rochester, the largely rural region has experienced cycles of depressed economic activity– loss of farms and key industries, neglect, and lack of reinvestment in local Main Street businesses.

Through the herculean efforts of local volunteers who embraced the vision of local leaders and professionals, work was underway by 2018 to focus on solutions. Stakeholder meetings, workshops, assessments, and studies cleared a path to recovery by 2020 with a network of key partners emerging. These collective efforts resulted in the formation of Genesee Valley Trail Towns. The vision was clear– to tap into recreation-based opportunities alongside the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and create a robust, sustainable outdoor recreation economy focused on natural assets, access, equity, and quality of life for all. Ten local communities fulfilled the challenge and are now certified as Trail Towns, sharing a regional Genesee Valley brand and identity that serves as the basis of continued execution and promotional efforts for years to come. 

Professional-led efforts, drawing from national and local sources, included accomplished authors, outdoor practitioners, engineers and planners alongside local talent representing multiple layers of the local economy agriculture, small business and academia. The creation of the Genesee Valley Trail Town Handbook, representing the collaboration of partner organizations will serve as a lasting testament to the success of the project. Genesee Valley Trail Towns is on the path to long-term sustainability and enthusiasm for years to come.

Previous Award Winners

Each year SORP recognizes and honors individuals and groups for their outstanding accomplishments in the field of outdoor recreation planning, management, research, and policy, as well as in service to SORP. We have a list of previous award winners , please check them out here.