Climate Adaptation Award

The Climate Adaptation Award recognizes those who have taken remarkable steps in preparing for and protecting against the adverse and imminent consequences of climate change impacts; wildfires, flooding, erosion, air pollution and droughts, as well as threats to park habitats, ecosystems and people.

To combat continually evolving risks, State Parks must strategically adapt to changing conditions and implement creative ways to prepare for and protect against climate change and public health threats. The Climate Adaptation Award recognizes employees and teams who fully understand these risks, and take important and innovative steps to make a difference for their parks and natural and cultural resources, and for the surrounding communities.

The first Climate Adaptation award was presented in 2018 to Dr. Reinhard E. Flick of the Natural Resources and Boating and Waterways Divisions. 

Compass Award

Karl Knapp inspired State Parks staff to work together to best serve our visitors. In his 45-year career with State Parks he held many classifications including; Seasonal Park Aid, State Park Ranger, Park Maintenance Worker and Supervisor, District Maintenance Chief, Staff/Senior Park and Recreation Specialists and Special Advisor to the Director.  Karl produced lasting process-based trainings of the highest standards that are now part of our everyday State Parks culture. His commitment to training, teaching and mentorship extends to the next generation. Karl’s integrity, leadership, wisdom, vision and ability to collaborate with all types of State Parks professionals guided significant and fundamental change for the department.

In honor of Karl Knapp’s persistence and diligence and his unwavering dedication to State Parks, this award is given to staff members or volunteers who have demonstrated remarkable long-term visioning, mentorship that fosters talent and provides support to staff at all levels, and innovative thinking to develop strategies that improve all facets of department operations. Award recipients will have created collaborative processes to form multidisciplinary partnerships, connections and teams to establish sustainable outcomes.

The first Compass Award recipient was Barry Smith, Gold Fields District Superintendent. 

Equity and Diversity Award

The Equity and Diversity Award, established in 2022, recognizes and celebrates a park individual or team that has made an exceptional contribution to ensuring all Californians have access to the outdoors and cultural sites and has significantly contributed to the department’s values of equity and inclusion. Through their efforts, the award recipient has further advanced the Newsom Administration’s “California Outdoors for All” initiative to enable all, regardless of zip code or income, to access and enjoy the cultural, historical, and natural resources found across the state.

Creating the Equity and Diversity Award highlights the importance of removing the barriers many Californians face in accessing their parks for recreation or employment. By eliminating barriers and creating equitable park access, more Californians can explore the outdoors, experience improved health, and make meaningful historical and cultural connections.

Innovation Award

The recipient of the Innovation Award has demonstrated, despite constraints, the remarkable ability to complete tasks and projects or address park problems through creative and innovative means. Recipients of this award have shown resourcefulness in using tools and materials to accomplish an objective, as well as have applied a unique skill, technical ability and imagination to deliver results.

The Innovation Award was previously called the Mott Award, named after William Penn Mott Jr. (1909–1992), who served as the director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation from 1967–1975, the executive director of the California State Parks Foundation and director of the National Park Service from 1985 to 1989. He encouraged creativity and innovation everywhere he went, establishing the nation’s first ranger training facility, the nation’s first automated campsite reservation program and the first underwater area. Mott also created the State Parks Foundation, established the publicly owned off-highway vehicular recreation areas and gave formal recognition to State Parks volunteers as an essential part of the State Park System.

The Sierra District Resource Team, Southern District Service Center, received the first Innovation Award in 1994.

Inspiration Award

The Inspiration Award is presented to an individual or team who has inspired public support and successfully achieved a major public objective. The recipient must also have resolved a substantial problem through sustained, long-range planning, which emphasizes community involvement and participation in solutions.

This award exemplifies the determination and passion of Andrew P. Hill (1853–1922), who led the long, difficult campaign to create California’s first redwood park at Big Basin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A gifted photographer, Hill was astounded and outraged when a private property owner refused to let him photograph the great redwoods of the Felton Grove near Santa Cruz. Hill enlisted his influential friends to help preserve the natural wonders of the redwoods and with their help, founded the Sempervirens Club in 1900. He built widespread public support for the project and in 1902; his tireless efforts finally resulted in the passage of legislation that allowed for the purchase of California’s first coastal redwood state park.

Kenneth L. Gray, a State Parks resource ecologist with the Monterey District, received the first (Hill) Inspiration Award in 1995. 

Leadership and Vision Award

The highest award in the Director’s Awards Program, the Leadership and Vision Award goes to an individual or team who has demonstrated a keen ability to lead and motivate others to positive action, and has exhibited vision and an understanding of the physical and psychological importance of the park experience to urban dwellers. The award recipient also has shown a willingness to articulate the connection between parks and a healthy society.

The creation of the Leadership and Vision Award was inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), the father of the American park movement, who believed that bringing the countryside into the city could help cure many of society’s ills and further the social and democratic ideals of America. As co-designer and superintendent of New York’s Central Park in the 1850s, Olmsted was the first to describe the physical and psychological importance of the park experience to urban dwellers fully and persuasively.

The first Leadership and Vision Award (Olmsted Award) was presented in 1995—a dual award shared by Robert La Belle, District Superintendent of the Russian River-Mendocino District, and Beth C. Walls, Resource Management Division Secretary.

Partnership Award

The Partnership Award recognizes partners—support organizations, teams or individuals—who have demonstrated a high level of commitment over a substantial period toward accomplishing State Parks’ mission. This collaborative award recognizes commitment beyond the normal call of duty and is awarded to a group or individual who has served as an irreplaceable partner to the department.

This recognition award takes inspiration from John B. Dewitt (1937–1996), who devoted his life to the protection of public lands. During his 30 years with Save the Redwoods League, the organization raised more than $65 million and purchased more than 30,000 acres of redwood forestland for public parks and preserves. Dewitt served as an advisor to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior through four administrations and was the recipient of the first California State Park Partnership Award for a private person who has made outstanding contributions to the California State Park System.

In 1994, Dewitt and Save the Redwoods League received the first Partnership Award. 

Professional Integrity Award

Honesty. Integrity. Idealism. In the face of adverse pressure. These noteworthy attributes aptly describe those honored with the Professional Integrity Award. An individual or team receiving this award has maintained high professional standards, despite pressure to compromise those standards.

The award was initially named after Newton Bishop Drury (1889–1978), the first executive secretary of the Save the Redwoods League, who served as the acquisition officer for the California Division of Parks, director of the National Park Service, director of the California Division of Beaches and Parks, and president of Save the Redwoods League. Remembered for his career-long dedication to resource preservation and his tenacious yet always diplomatic defense against both internal and external threats to state and national parks, Drury realized that when short-term political pressure threatens to destroy long-term park values, it is the responsibility of the park professional to speak for both present and future generations.

In 1994, State Park Recreation Specialist Noah Tilghman, Resource Management Division, received the first Drury Award. 

Resilience Award

The Resilience Award honors a California State Parks employee or team who tirelessly and valiantly rose to enormous challenges during an emergency response situation and/or recovery effort. Through selfless courage and commitment, they have preserved California’s natural and cultural resources, while also protecting the public.

By assisting with evacuations of people and historical collections, fire suppression, medical support, transportation of emergency responders and equipment, or major clean-up efforts, the award recipient individual or group demonstrated unfaltering dedication and perseverance.

The Northern Buttes District Staff was the first recipient of this award, for rising to enormous challenges during the 2018 Camp Fire.

Trailblazer Award

The Trailblazer Award was established in 2019 to recognize those who have introduced new ideas or methods to accomplish the mission of State Parks, or pioneered new ways to introduce the public to State Parks.

Originally called the Harriett “Petey” Weaver Award, Petey Weaver was the first female ranger for what is now the California Department of Parks and Recreation. She began as an unpaid recreation leader and guide at Big Basin Redwoods Park in Santa Cruz County in 1929. Prohibited from becoming a full-time ranger because women were not allowed to be rangers, when Weaver retired in 1950 after 20 summers of service, she carried a deputy ranger badge. Despite the barriers, Petey Weaver is credited as the first woman to break the gender barrier and pave the way – 20 years before women were allowed to enter full-time service as rangers in the 1970s.

The first recipient of this award was Denise Jaffke of the Cultural Resources Division, she was recognized for leading the way and navigating new technologies to convey the unique value of California's submerged cultural resources while building the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Program. 

Year Round Awards - Special Commendation and Special Act/Service

The Special Commendation Award is given to an individual or team that makes a significant contribution toward the accomplishment of the mission and goals of the Department. Efforts recognized by this certificate stand above the norm, are substantial in impact, and worthy of recognition at the Director’s level.

The Special Act or Special Service Award is given for an extraordinary act of heroism by a Department employee extending far above the normal call of duty or service performed at great risk to his/her own safety or life, in an effort to save human life and/or property.

The Volunteer Medallion is awarded to an individual volunteer or team of volunteers that makes a significant contribution toward the mission and goals of the Department.  Efforts recognized by this medallion should be substantial in impact and worthy of recognition at the Director's level.  Generally, volunteer efforts should first be recognized at the district/section level or with the Poppy Award prior to nominatin for the medallion.