Liz Putnam, SCA Founder

“Visionary” accurately describes Elizabeth Titus Putnam. Launching an American conservation movement powered exclusively by young people would be ambitious today, but considering that Liz conceived of the idea in 1953—at age 20—makes her all the more remarkable. While still attending Vassar College, Liz modeled SCA on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps and enlisted student volunteers to assist with the upkeep of U.S. national parks and public spaces.

Liz first outlined her concept in her senior thesis. Then, aided by colleague and fellow Vassar alumna Martha Hayne Talbot, Liz secured the interest and support of officials in the National Park Service and the first SCA volunteers arrived at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957. The program was seen to be benefit students, the environment, and the national parks, where surging visitation rates had outpaced maintenance budgets.

Sixty years and 90,000 participants later, SCA is not only a stalwart presence in national parks but also a potent partner of other federal, state and local resource management agencies around the country, helping to protect endangered species, conserve urban green spaces, and restore landscapes ravaged by wildfires and floods, including those ravaged by Superstorm Sandy (

In 2010, Liz Putnam became the first conservationist to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal – the nation’s second-highest civilian award  – when President Obama honored her at a White House ceremony. Today Liz remains on our Board of Directors, still a guiding force.

“I was brought up to believe that land is a trust and that we are all responsible for taking care of this earth. I was also taught that life itself is a privilege and that we must always give something back. As my father said, ‘If something needs to be done, pitch in and help out.’ I believe we all can make a positive difference with our lives.” —Liz Putnam, Founder, SCA

Awards & Honors

  • 2016: The Wilderness Society’s Robert Marshall Award
  • 2015: New York State Outdoor Education Association Leadership Award
  • 2014: Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Wooster
  • 2012: The Corps Network Lifetime Achievement
  • 2010: Presidential Citizens Medal
  • 2009: The Audubon Society Women in Conservation Rachel Carson Award
  • 2008: Society of Woman Geographers Outstanding Achievement Awards
  • 2007: Chatham University Rachel Carson Leadership Award
  • 2007: LL Bean Outdoor Hero Award
  • 2007: Sterling College Trustees Environmental Leadership Award
  • 2006: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Honorary Doctorate
  • 2006: University of Vermont Honorary Degree
  • 2003: ChevronTexaco Conservation Award
  • 1996: National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award
  • 1996: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Sol Feinstone Environmental Award
  • 1989: National Park Service Honorary Park Ranger Award
  • 1989: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Commendation
  • 1987: U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary’s Commendation Award
  • 1987: Student Conservation Association Resolution
  • 1982: President Reagan presents the President’s Volunteer Action Award
  • 1982: Student Conservation Association 25th Anniversary Award
  • 1980: Garden Club of America Conservation Achievement Award
  • 1974: U.S. Department of the Interior Distinguished Service Award
  • 1971: Arizona Federated Garden Clubs Distinguished Service Award
  • 1966: Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Award