Imagine Excellence: The GWS Awards Program

Imagine Excellence, the GWS Awards Program, recognizes outstanding accomplishments in fields associated with research in, administration and management of, and communication about parks, other kinds of protected areas, cultural sites, and related supporting activities.

The five main awards are given every two years at the GWS conferences. In addition, a Special Achievement Award may be bestowed from time to time by the GWS Board of Directors.

The next round of awards will be presented during the 2015 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites in Oakland, California.

The GWS awards consist of a plaque, payment of the winner’s expenses to travel to the GWS conference, and a year’s complimentary membership in the Society.  Peer recognition is high and competition for the awards can be keen.

The awards are:

  • The George Melendez Wright Award for Excellence, given in recognition of lifetime contributions on behalf of the Society or in furtherance of its purposes. This is the Society's highest award, and it is reserved for exceptional achievements in any of the areas with which the GWS is concerned. It is a top-of-career award.
  • The GWS Cultural Resource Achievement Award, given in recognition of excellence in research, management, or education related to the cultural resources of parks, cultural and historic sites, reserves, and other protected areas. This award is generally aimed at mid-career to senior-level accomplishments.
  • The GWS Natural Resource Achievement Award, given in recognition of excellence in research, management, or education related to the natural resources of parks, reserves, and other protected areas. This award is generally aimed at mid-career to senior-level accomplishments.
  • The GWS Social Science Achievement Award, given in recognition of excellence in social science research, management, or education related to parks, reserves, and other protected areas. This award is generally aimed at mid-career to senior-level accomplishments.
  • The GWS Communication Award, given in recognition of excellence in communication, interpretation, or related areas pertaining to the purposes of the Society. This award is given specifically to recognize outstanding efforts in communicating highly technical or controversial park-related subjects to the public in a clear and understandable manner.

Applications for the 2015 round of awards are now being accepted.  The deadline is November 1.  Please note: nominations for GWS Awards must come from current GWS members, though the person being nominated need not be a GWS member.

Nomination form



Galvin, five others honored with 2013 George Wright Society awards

Denver, Colorado (March 14, 2013) — Former National Park Service Deputy Director Denis P. Galvin received the highest honor of the George Wright Society at a March 14 awards ceremony capping the Society’s biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites.  Galvin received  the 2013 George Melendez Wright Award for Excellence for his outstanding lifetime achievements on behalf of America’s national parks as a leader, innovator, and mentor to countless NPS employees.

“If one looks at the history of America’s national parks over the past 40 years,” the Society noted, “Deny’s fingerprints can be found on virtually every advance that has been realized over the period.”  These include seminal roles in creating the Natural Resource Challenge, designing professional development and recruitment programs, and championing national heritage areas, among many other accomplishments. 

The Society’s award citation concludes: “Like George Melendez Wright himself, Deny realizes that our calling is not merely to be managers of parklands.  We are stewards of a priceless heritage, and our stewardship must be informed by the highest ethical and professional standards we can bring to bear.  That is just what Deny did every day of his career.”

At the same event, five other winners in the Society’s “Imagine Excellence” Awards Program received their honors:

  • Vernon C. “Tom” Gilbert received a GWS Special Achievement Award for his ongoing work to support and reinvigorate the system of biosphere reserves in the United States.  Gilbert had a long career in the National Park Service and with UNESCO before retiring, after which he became the founding president of both the George Wright Society and the United States Biosphere Reserve Association.
  • Hugh C. Miller, who retired from the National Park Service in the post of chief historical architect, was recognized with the 2013 GWS Cultural Resource Achievement Award for his career-long achievements in preservation planning and design, which have “helped shape the policies, practices, and techniques that are at the core of modern-day preservation.”
  • Robert Winfree, chief science advisor in the National Park Service’s Alaska Region, was given the 2013 GWS Natural Resource Achievement Award for making scenario planning the centerpiece of NPS’s plans to respond to climate change-related impacts in the Region’s parks, and for boosting effective science communication among his peers inside the agency and elsewhere.
  • Peter Newman won the 2013 GWS Social Science Achievement Award for his cutting-edge research on visitor-related impacts in parks and protected areas while at the same time mentoring future researchers and park managers as associate professor of protected area management at Colorado State University.
  • Charles Jacobi was honored with the 2013 GWS Communication award for his innovative work to promote Leave No Trace principles at Acadia National Park, where he is a resource specialist.  Thanks to Jacobi, over 4,000 visitors are contacted each year and educated about the benefit of low-impact outdoor recreation.

Complete citations for all the awards can be found at  Photos of the winners can found at the web albums of photographers Brent Mitchell ( and Samantha Weber (


2011 Awardees

  • The 2011 George Melendez Wright Award for Excellence, the Society’s highest honor, was given to Richard West Sellars. He was cited for his lifelong contributions to historic preservation and other forms of cultural resource management, and for his seminal book, Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History, which has transformed natural resource research and management in the National Park Service.
  • The 2011 GWS Cultural Resource Achievement Award was given to Ernie Gladstone of Parks Canada for his pathbreaking leadership in integrating Native science and worldviews into the management of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, of which he is superintendent.
  • The 2011 GWS Natural Resource Achievement Award was bestowed on David N. Cole of the USFS Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute for more than three decades of pioneering practical and applied research in recreation ecology and wilderness management.
  • The 2011 GWS Communication Award was given to Paul Schullery, who was recognized for his career of distinguished publications in conservation history and the natural history of the Greater Yellowstone Area.

You can download a PDF of the 2011 awards banquet program containing full citations of these awards, as well as those of the NPS Director's Awards for natural resources, cultural resources, and wilderness.


Full List of Past Awardees

GWS Cultural Resources Achievement Award (established 1997; prior to 2009, called the GWS Cultural Resources Management Award)
1997: Rowland Bowers
1999: Jerry L. Rogers
2001: Ann Hitchcock
2003: Denzil Verardo
2005: Nora Mitchell
2007: Nelly Margarita Robles Garcia
2009: Edwin Colón
2011: Ernie Gladstone
2013: Hugh C. Miller

GWS Natural Resources Achievement Award (established 1988; prior to 2009, called the GWS Natural Resources Management Award)
1988: Roland Wauer
1990: Robert Moon
1992: No award given
1995: Robert J. Krumenaker
1997: Russell E. Galipeau, Jr.
1999: R. Gerald Wright
2001: Vincent Santucci
2003: Jerry Mitchell
2005: Linda Drees
2007: Charles van Riper III
2009: Kate Roney Faulkner
2011: David Cole
2013: Robert Winfree

GWS Social Science Achievement Award (established 2009)
2009: Robert Manning
2011: No award given
2013: Peter Newman

GWS Communication Award (established 1999)
1999: Tim Davis
2001: Stephanie Dubois
2003: Jeffrey Cross
2005: David Andrews (on behalf of the staff of Common Ground)
2007: Harry Butowsky
2009: Yvonne Menard (in conjunction with colleagues at The Nature Conservancy)
2011: Paul Schullery
2013: Charles Jacobi

George Melendez Wright Award for Excellence (established 1992)
1992: Jerry F. Franklin
1995: Robert M. Utley, Jean Matthews, William B. Robertson, Jr. (co-winners)
1997: Bruce M. Kilgore
1999: Bryan Harry
2001: Robert M. Linn, Theodore W. Sudia (co-winners)
2002: Boyd Evison
2003: Daniel Lenihan
2005: John Hope Franklin, Jan van Wagtendonk (co-winners)
2007: George B. Hartzog, Jr.
2009: Michael Soukup
2011: Richard West Sellars
2013: Denis P. Galvin

Special Achievement Award (occasional; given at discretion of GWS Board)
2001: George J. Minnucci, Jr.
2003: Wesley R. Henry, Jr.
2007: Gary E. Machlis
2013: Vernon C. "Tom" Gilbert