In April 2011, Paul Sanford became the Wilderness Society’s first Recreation Director. He manages the Society’s work on recreation policy issues, and its programs to connect more people, particularly youth and underserved communities, to the outdoors.
Paul came to the Wilderness Society because he believes in the TWS Recreation Vision, which celebrates the deep connection between people and place that is forged by recreation on public lands, and recognizes that people can enjoy the wild parts of our natural landscape while at the same time ensuring their protection.
A native of the Cleveland area, Paul spent weekends and family vacations during his youth hiking and exploring Ohio’s state parks. He also boated on the glacial lakes of northern Indiana, and fished the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. His first experiences on land and water laid the foundation for an outdoor life.
Paul received a B.S. degree in Telecommunications from Ohio University in 1985, and worked for three years in the broadcast industry. Mergers and acquisitions in the industry inspired Paul to do more to make a difference in the world, so he entered the University of Toledo Law School in 1988 with hopes for a career in government. After graduating in 1991, he moved to Washington, D.C. and a job at the Federal Election Commission.
For ten years, Paul worked as a policy attorney at the FEC, writing regulations and legal opinions to enforce the federal campaign finance laws. While there, he worked on several high profile issues, including soft money and the use of campaign contributions for personal expenses. Paul left the FEC in 2001 to run “FEC Watch,” a watchdog project of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit campaign finance research organization.
In the late 1990s, Paul took up kayaking, a decision that put him on a path that led to the Wilderness Society. Paul's involvement in paddle sports, combined with his public policy experience, earned him an appointment to the Board of Directors of the American Canoe Association in 2003. After a year on the Board, ACA asked Paul to take a staff position. He became ACA's Director of Stewardship and Public Policy and General Counsel in June 2004.
During his tenure at ACA, Paul developed and implemented the ACA's policy priorities, represented recreationists with land management agencies, worked in the legislative process, and was an active participant on the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. Paul also helped develop the policy platform of the Outdoor Alliance (OA), a coalition of six human-powered recreation organizations of which ACA was a founding member. In its first five years, Paul and his counterparts built OA into a very effective advocacy coalition on a wide range of recreation and conservation issues, among them National Forest planning, roadless area conservation, access for human-powered recreation, and sustainable recreation on BLM lands.
Paul still paddles regularly on the waters of the Mid-Atlantic region. He commutes to the DC office from his home in Fairfax County, Virginia, using his bicycle to do so as often as possible.