Collins Van Nort, founder of Earth Kids at Barton Hills Elementary


Every Friday, for 18 years, Collins has conducted his sixth grade class on the Greenbelt. Collins’ students engage in a variety of activities: journaling using "Sand County Almanac" by Aldus Leopold as a mentor text, pulling invasive species testing for stream velocity, studying creek cross-sections, geocaching, writing poetry, estimating hiking distances, and conducting water quality tests. Extensions of these activities include field trips to Wild Basin Preserve (where Collins is an avid volunteer), Barton Creek Preserve, and Bamberger Ranch. Some of these activities were created as far back as the 1980s when Collins served as the "Science Teacher Specialist" and taught Earth Science and Environmental Science at the Kealing Jr. High Magnet Program. Other activities have evolved over the years. Collins was one of the first members of Colorado River Watch and was the director of the defunct Discovery Camps run by our city’s fledgling science museum, Discovery Hall. Collins is also the founder of an after school program called “Earth Kids.” During this after school program, students engage in similar activities that are nothing short of what his 6th grade class experiences along the Greenbelt. When not hiking, Earth Kids extend their understanding of the natural world with arts and crafts, as well as simple experiments and games. In his 35 years as an educator, Collins has introduced thousands of students to the wonders of outdoor education.


John Ahrns is among a rarefied group of first-rate naturalists and served as the Preserve manager and lead educator from Westcave’s beginnings in 1976 until his retirement in 2010. John Ahrns began his work at the Preserve by hauling more than 100 full-size garbage bags of trash out of the Westcave canyon. Years later, when he had accomplished an astonishing restoration of our cave and grotto, John set out to build an environmental education program that now attracts more than 6,000 children each year. Previous winners include: City of Austin – Earth Camp, Danna Keyburn of Redeemer Lutheran School, David Matthews of Small Middle School, Johnny Wilson of St Stephen’s Episcopal School, William Earley of Laurel Mountain Elementary, and LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School.