Lewis Ledford, Chair of the NC State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc. was recently awarded the Pugsley Medal, the most prestigious award recognizing outstanding contributions to the promotion and development of public parks and conservation in the U.S.
Ledford is the Executive Director of the National Association of State Park Directors, a non-profit organization that serves America’s state parks. Prior to his current role, Ledford enjoyed a lengthy career with the North Carolina state parks system. In 2003, he was named director of the division of parks and recreation, becoming the first entry-level ranger to head the division.
During his tenure as state director, North Carolina’s state park system experienced unprecedented growth, including renewed invigoration and expansion of the Mountains to Sea Trail, six natural areas and five new state parks, including two privately owned, iconic natural landmarks: Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock Park. Park lands also increased by more than 50,000 acres. He was successful in working with the state legislature to secure $437 million for state and local parks for land acquisition and capital construction. He also secured more than $23 million in private donations during the years he served as state director.
During his tenure as state park director, Ledford introduced an internet-based reservation system for the 3,000 campsites and other facilities, and completed the first study of the economic impact of the state park and recreation system. Through his leadership, the environmental education programs were dramatically expanded and all major buildings in the state park system were designed to meet green construction standards.
“While the North Carolina State Park System’s history mirrors that of the National Park Service, it was during Lewis Ledford’s term that it might be considered the Golden Era for North Carolina’s State Parks,” wrote Dr. Phil Rea, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Professor Emeritus at NC State University’s College of Natural Resources, in support of Ledford’s nomination. “His leadership has benefitted state park systems across the United States and the citizens they serve.”
On the national level, Ledford has given multiple testimonies to Congress advocating for parks, conservation and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He recently completed six years of service on the National Recreation and Park Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Authority and is a member of the Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and serves as Director of the State Park Leadership School sponsored by NC State University, the Oglebay National Training Center and the National Association of State Park Directors. Internationally, he promoted and participated in World Parks Conference in Australia, and regularly participates in conferences with the Canadian Parks Council.
Ledford has received numerous awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, NC State University Alumni Association Award of Merit, Appalachian State University Alumni of the Year as well as the William Penn Mott, Jr. Award for Excellence from the National Society for Park Resources. He has received special awards from three governors including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest award.
As a Pugsley Medal winner, Ledford is in good company. Previous winners include Stephen Mather, the founder of the National Park Service; former Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall; Noted Conservationist Lady Bird Johnson; American conservationist and philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller; and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics.
“Winners of the Pugsley Medal have made an exceptional difference in parks, recreation, and conservation,” said Pugsley Committee Chair Ron Dodd. “It is the Academy’s great honor to acknowledge them with this award.”
A more complete biography of Lewis Ledford and more information on the Pugsley Award, its history and complete list of winners are available on the Academy’s website at aapra.org and more information about America’s State Parks may be found at http://www.stateparks.org/.