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State Parks and Recreation director named College of Arts and Sciences’ Alumnus of the Year

BOONE—Lewis Ledford, director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, was named the College of Arts and Sciences Alumnus of the Year at Appalachian State University. The award was presented during the college’s Honors Day program.

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The Outstanding Alumnus Award was created in 1998 and recognizes contributions to a profession, leadership roles, public service, creative endeavors or other accomplishments. Each year a distinguished undergraduate or graduate from a department within the college is honored.

Ledford graduated from Appalachian in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. While a student, he worked as a seasonal ranger at Mount Mitchell State Park.

“My education at ASU and my earliest work experiences at Mount Mitchell were closely intertwined. I recognized that each supported the other,” Ledford said. “I propose that we build on that to the extent possible and do all we can to nurture the connection between education, knowledge and conservation of natural resources.”

Ledford was the first person to rise from the rank of entry-level park ranger to the head of the Division of Parks and Recreation. During his tenure as director, the state park system’s acreage has grown by nearly 50,000 acres (nearly 20 percent) to include some iconic jewels of nature including Grandfather Mountain.

In a profile of Ledford in the 2011 spring/summer Appalachian Today magazine, he spoke of his pride in the division’s efforts in the advancement of stewardship in the parks system.

“Last year we opened the first non-university public LEED® certified building in North Carolina,” he said in the 2011 interview. “We now have five buildings with that certification in the system.” In fact, all North Carolina parks capital projects are now required to be LEED® certified.

The integration between education and environmental awareness is a core component of the state park experience, Ledford said, adding that the state parks are the “outdoor classroom” of the entire state where he believes life lessons can be learned.

“Whether on a school outing, a long solitary hike or on a family camping trip, these lessons can’t be learned in a traditional classroom,” he said. “Every one of our parks has interpretive programs and displays and we have two environmental education centers with more on the way. Our mission is to give our 14 million visitors the knowledge and ultimately an appreciation of the natural resources.”

Ledford also spoke of the accomplishments that Appalachian students and professors have achieved in the state’s parks. His list included providing advice and labor to develop Elk Knob State Park and helping establish a research and learning facility at Grandfather Mountain. Many students also participate in service-learning activities at the parks during Alternative Spring Break trips.

“I’m obviously proud of our state parks system and proud to be a Mountaineer,” he said. “I’m also proud to be a product of both traditions, each of which provides a wonderful foundation that fosters fortunes not simply measured by finances.”