Wilderness Society program leader wins White House award for Southern Appalachian initiative

Bill Hodge (center), director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewardship (SAWS) program, at the White House.

Credit: Paul Sanford, The Wilderness Society.

The White House honored The Wilderness Society’s Bill Hodge on March 18 for an initiative that connects young people with conservation projects, the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewardship program.

Bill Hodge was awarded the Champion of Change Award for Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders, meant to “celebrate local leaders across the country who are working to get young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors,” for his leadership as director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewardship (SAWS) program. SAWS works to maintain wildlands in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, in the process recruiting young wilderness stewards from underserved communities. Hodge’s efforts were recognized in October 2013 by Outside Magazine.

“The challenges in stewarding our protected public lands also gives rise to the greatest of opportunities,” said Hodge. “The rewards are two-fold: we are keeping the trails open and protecting wilderness character while also changing the lives of young Americans by connecting them to their public lands.”

Jose Arroyo, a former SAWS crew member from Yonkers, NY, said the experience impacted him greatly. “To spend time in these areas, and to understand that these areas are also mine -- I want to protect them,” he said. Arroyo, now a freshman at the United States Naval Academy, is starting a Midshipmen Wilderness Trail Crew.  

Watch a video on Jose and read more about his story:

The SAWS program now serves as a campaign for stewardship across 45 wilderness units from the Shenandoah Valley to the north Georgia Mountains. In 2013 alone, the program employed 23 seasonal conservation leaders, trained over 90 wilderness stewards and facilitated over 8,000 volunteer hours of service across five national forests.

Read more about Champions of Change

Find out how you can get involved in SAWS

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