Lewis Ledford received the 2017 Alumni Association Award of Merit at the NC State Evening of the Stars, a special event recognizing alumni and friends of the university who have given back to their professions, their communities or their alma mater.
Ledford has dedicated his life and career to building and protecting public parks to ensure that they remain special places for all people to enjoy and an important part of our state and national environment, heritage, health and economy. He joined the state parks system in 1976 and was named director of the division in April 2003. He is the first director to rise from entry-level ranger to head of the agency. After beginning his career at William B. Umstead State Park as a ranger, he served as superintendent at Mount Mitchell State Park for five years and as western district superintendent for 16 years.
A Remarkable Leader
As director, Ledford was a driving force in creating five new state parks, a state trail and six state natural areas in North Carolina, including the iconic landmarks of Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock. In a state with one of the country’s highest population growth rates and many competing interests in commercial land development, Ledford led the expansion of state park lands, adding more than 50,000 acres during his tenure. He also initiated an extensive staff training and expansion; justified and secured funding for significant park employee salary increases; implemented the first LEED-certification building program in the state agencies for non-universities; completed the first study documenting the economic impacts of NC State Parks; implemented major expansion of technology for parks management including centralized reservations, social media, and natural resource management databases; and led a remarkable increase in the park volunteer and donations program, bringing in more than $23.1 million documented donations since 2009.
Ledford retired in 2014 with more than 37 years of service to the state of North Carolina. In 2016, he was appointed by the Office of the Governor to the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Authority. He has also been active in service to NC Recreation and Park Association on boards and committees, especially as a liaison to Division of Environment and Natural Resources and worked closely with the state legislature to support parks, resulting in $437 million being invested in state and local parks for acquisitions and capital construction during the past 10 years.
On the national level, Ledford gave testimony in Congress advocating for funding to support parks and the conservation of natural resources through reauthorization of the national Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of the oldest federal programs providing resources for acquisition of parks and other protected areas. He served for six years on the National Recreation and Park Association Board of Directors, chairing the Public Policy Committee for two years.
Ledford has also been active in service as an officer and board member of the National Association of State Park Directors and the America’s State Park Foundation, and a longtime board member of the NC Recreation and Parks Scholarship Foundation. He is currently the executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, chair of the NC State Natural Resources Foundation, and a member of the Recreation Advisory Committee for the U.S. Forest Service.
Other awards and recognitions
- 2017 Honorable Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal
- Order of the Long Leaf Pine awarded by Governor McCrory, 2013
- 2011 Governor’s Award for Excellence, the highest honor state employees can receive in North Carolina for dedicated service to the state
- 2015 President’s Award of Merit for LWCF Advocacy, National Association of State Outside Recreation Officers
- Governor’s Individual Award for Outstanding Service, presented by Governor Perdue
- Citizens Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, 2011
- Outstanding Community Volunteer Service award presented by Governor Hunt
- The 2013 Distinguished Service Award, National Association of State Park Directors,
- Conservationist of the Year, 2011, NC Wildlife Federation
- Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award, Conservationist of the Year, 2010
- Brad Davis Lifetime Achievement Award, Partners for Parks, 2015
- Lifetime Achievement Award, 2010, NC State University, College of Natural Resources Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management
- Induction in the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administration
- Alumni of the Year, 2012, Appalachian State University
- William Penn Mott Excellence Award, 2007, National Society for Park Resources
- America’s Leaders, Governing magazine
- Special Achievement award from the Carolina Region of the American Red Cross
- Recognized by the JC Penny Golden Rule Program for community service