Leadership Awards

The Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) is the only professional association in the United States dedicated to leaders in the nature and environmental learning center profession, including directors, managers, and senior administrators. It gives two awards annually, the ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award and the ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award, and the recipients of these awards are considered to be the most accomplished or contributory to the discipline.

The ANCA Leadership Awards are presented each year at the ANCA Annual Summit.

A White woman stands at a podium, holding a microphone and gesturing with her hand. In the foreground and background, a seated crowd faces the speaker.Ann Wasser, Executive Director of Severson Dells Nature Center, speaks upon receiving the ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award at the 2019 ANCA Annual Summit.

ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award

The ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award recognizes an individual who in their role at the highest administrative level of an organization has made a major contribution to the success of a nature center (or centers), as well as important contributions to the profession through professional organizations (particularly ANCA), and through the support and mentoring of other nature center leaders. Criteria for nominations include:

Contribution to the Profession

The successful nominee contributes to the profession through participation in and volunteer service to professional organizations and to individuals working within the profession. Community engagement, civic responsibility, networking, and mentoring should encourage a legacy of strong future leaders both within the nominee's nature center or to people from other nature centers.

Contribution to the Nominee's Center

The individual should demonstrate an ability to create and implement a vision for their center and the profession, and helped to form or to grow their center significantly. Ideal nominees will lead by example, inspire others to work creatively and collaboratively, demonstrate initiative,and promote a work environment that is respectful, collegial, supportive, and diverse.

Seniority in the Profession

Ideal nominees will have demonstrated commitment and success as a leader in nature center management over a number of years. The award is intended for individuals who have made a career commitment to nature centers and contributed to the advancement of the profession.

ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award

The ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award recognizes an individual with the potential for future impact within the field of nature center administrators. Qualified candidates will have less than five years of full-time work experience as the director, executive director, or leader at the highest administrative level at a nature or environmental learning center. Criteria for nominations include:


A Black woman in a beige dress and glasses stands outside, illuminated by sunshine from behind. In the background is a wooden structure and a blurry leafy woodland scene.Meriça Whitehall, recipient of the 2020 ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award, leads a program at the 2022 ANCA Annual Summit.

The successful nominee will demonstrate organizational leadership guiding a team of staff, board, volunteers, and community stakeholders in the success of a center and potential in the assumption of leadership roles, creativity in programming, facility development, administration, and a commitment to the profession.


The individual earns the respect of peers, staff, and the community. They represent the field of nature center administration with professional integrity and furthers best practices in the discipline. Ideal nominees will lead by example, inspire others to work creatively and collaboratively, demonstrate initiative, and promote a work environment that is respectful, collegial, supportive, and diverse.

Professional Development

The ideal nominee demonstrates an ongoing desire for learning and self-improvement, shares their knowledge with peers, and is active in ANCA, regionally or nationally.


The nominee applies best practices and new skills to creative problem solving within their center.


The deadline to nominate individual for the 2024 Leadership Awards has passed.

Award Recipients

2023 Recipients

Peter Smerud

Smerud is an exceptional leader in the nature and environmental learning center profession, serving as Executive Director of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. Read more here.

Veronica Frehm

Frehm has served as Executive Director of the Friends of MacArthur Beach since 2020, and since then has led major changes at the organization. Read more here.

Prior Recipients


Nature Center Leadership Award: Dennis Pilaske, Executive Director of Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, MI (2017-present)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Rebecca Minnick, Executive Director of Louisville Nature Center in Louisville, KY (2018-present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Drew Dumsch, President/CEO at the The Ecology School in Saco, ME (1998-present)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Mark McKnight, President/CEO at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center in Chattanooga, TN (2017-present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Andrea Timpone, President/CEO at the Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville, GA (1988-2021)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Merica Whitehall, Executive Director at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, NE (2016-2020)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Ken Voorhis, Chief Education and Operations Officer, Yellowstone Forever / Yellowstone National Park, WY (2013-2018) & Executive Director of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in Townsend, TN (1984-2013)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Ann Wasser, Executive Director at the Severson Dells Nature Center in Rockford, IL (2016-present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Bo Glover, Executive Director of the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach, CA (1991-Present)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Chad Truxall, Executive Director of the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, FL (2013-Present) 


Nature Center Leadership Award: Ken Finch, Director of New Canaan Nature Center in New Canaan, CT (1987-1991); Director of Glen Helen Nature Reserve in Yellow Springs, OH (1991-1993); Executive Director for Fontenelle Forest in Omaha, NE (1993-2000); Founder and President of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood in Omaha, NE (2005-2015)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Haley Breniser, Executive Director of Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire, MI (2013-2018)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Dick Touvell, Executive Director of Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, MI (1990-2016)

Outstanding New Leader Award: John Myers, Executive Director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, IA (2013-Present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Dede Long, Executive Director of Briar Bush Nature Center in Abington, PA (1979-2010)

Outstanding New Leader Award: John DeFillipo, Executive Director of John Bunker Sands Wetland Center in Seagoville, TX (2010-2022); Executive Director of the Texas Conservation Alliance (2023-Present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Carolyn Chipman Evans, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cibolo Center for Conservation in Boerne, TX (1988-Present)

Outstanding New Leader Award: Jason Meyer, Executive Director of the Fenner Conservancy in Lansing, MI (2010-2014); President & CEO of Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, MI (2014-2021); Executive Director of the White Oak Initiative (2023-Present)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Saul Weisberg, Executive Director and Co-Founder of North Cascades Institute in Sedro-Woolley, WA (1986-2021)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Sandy Bivens, Superintendent of Nature Centers, Metro Parks, Nashville, TN, Warner Park Nature Center, Shelby Bottoms Nature Center, Beaman Park Nature Center, Bells Bend Outdoor Center (1978-2012)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Bob Mercer, Director of Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, PA (1975-2015)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Bill Rose, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Nature Center in Kalamazoo, MI (1990-2018)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Pat Welch, Executive Director of Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach, FL (1982-2009)


Nature Center Leadership Award: Jack Shea, Executive Director of the Teton Science Schools in Jackson, WY (1988-2013)
2007 Nature Center Leadership Award: Rich Patterson, Director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, IA (1978-2013)
2006 Nature Center Leadership Award: Gordon Maupin, Executive Director of the Wilderness Center in Wilmot, OH (1981-2014)
2005 Nature Center Leadership Award: Tracy Kay, Executive Director of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelpha, PA (1997-2005)
2004 Nature Center Leadership Award: Corky McReynolds, Director of Treehaven Field Campus in Tomahawk, WI (1975-2015)
2003 Nature Center Leadership Award: Charity Krueger, Executive Director for Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm in Dayton, OH (1982-2015)
2002 Nature Center Leadership Award: Mike Riska, Director of the Delaware Nature Society in Hockessin, DE (1984-2011)
2001 Nature Center Leadership Award: Bob Thomas, Director of the  Center for Environmental Communication at Loyola University in New Orleans, LA (1979-1996)
2000 Nature Center Leadership Award: H. Lewis Batts, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Nature Center in Kalamazoo, MI (1960-1989)


List updated August 2023.


For questions please contact the ANCA Office.