Celebration of Children in Nature Awards Dinner

E. Lee Walker Award for Community Collaboration

This child, adult, group or organization will have demonstrated the value of working with partners to create opportunities for kids to get out into nature regularly. Lee Walker has established himself as the quintessential collaborator, some might say a collaborator magnet, and so our award for community collaboration is presented in his name. Lee served as the chair of the Westcave Board, and has been its primary benefactor, for more than 30 years. It was Lee’s skill at collaborative leadership that generated the funds to build our award-winning Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center and those same skills have guided Westcave in a new and expanded strategic direction.

Previous winners include:

  • 2008 Youth Launch: Urban Roots Program
  • 2009 National Wildlife Federation and Texas Wildlife Association
  • 2010 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – Texas Outdoor Family Program
  • 2011 El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission
  • 2012 Candlelight Ranch
  • 2013 Sustainable Food Center - Sprouting Healthy Kids
  • 2014 EcoRise Youth Innovations
  • 2015 Sebastian Casarez
  • 2016 Marya Fowler - National Wildlife Federation & Anne Muller - Austin ISD
  • for Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center
  • 2017 City of Austin, Parks & Recreation Department, Cities Connecting Children to Nature
  • 2018 National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
  • 2019 Variety, the Children’s Charity of Texas
  • 2020 Outdoor Teacher Cadre, AISD

John Covert Watson Award for Vision

This child, adult, group or organization has had a far reaching vision for a future that embraces the importance of children reconnecting to the natural world. John Covert Watson is a visionary architect who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and has created a number of organically designed homes. John was the private landowner of what is now Westcave Preserve.

John recognized that the public had a great desire to visit this very unique hill country canyon and he had the vision to partner with our life-long friends at the LCRA to create Westcave Preserve which was dedicated to the restoration and preservation of this extraordinary property.

Previous winners include:

  • 2008 Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas
  • 2009 Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve
  • 2010 Texas River School
  • 2011 Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, M.D., F.A.A.P. – Medical Director of Happy Living
  • Healthy Living Program at Dell Children’s Medical Center
  • 2012 Explore Austin
  • 2013 Austin Families in Nature - Heather Kuhlken
  • 2014 Texas Buffalo Soldiers Program – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • 2015 Luci & Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • 2016 The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
  • 2017 Dr. Bonnie Baskin, Science Mill
  • 2018 TreeFolks
  • 2019 Starla Simmons, University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work
  • 2020 Earth Native Wilderness School, Dave Scott

John Ahrns Award for Environmental Education

This child, adult, group or organization will have innovated curriculum and integrated the natural world, and perhaps their schoolyard, into their classroom so that their students are inspired to become explorers of the natural world on their own time. John Ahrns is among a rarefied group of first rate naturalists and was the sole preserve director and lead educator since 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 astonishing restoration and protection for the Preserve, John set out to build an environmental education program that now attracts more than 6,000 children each year.

Previous winners include:

  • 2008 Danna Keyburn, Redeemer Lutheran School
  • 2009 David Matthews, Small Middle School Teacher, AISD
  • 2010 Johnny Wilson, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School
  • 2011 William Earley, Laurel Mountain Elementary, Round Rock ISD
  • 2012 LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School
  • 2013 City of Austin, Watershed Protection Department - Earth Camp
  • 2014 Mrs. Lauren Maples – Cunningham Elementary School
  • 2015 Rachel Brice, Inside Outside School
  • 2016 Collins van Nort, Earth Kids at Barton Hills Elementary School
  • 2017 Keep Austin Beautiful
  • 2018 Trevor Hance, Laurel Mountain Elementary School
  • 2019 Kerstin Johansson, City of Austin, Park Ranger Education & Outreach
  • 2020 Doug DuBois, Texas Youth Hunting Program

Westcave Award for Enduring Dedication

This child, adult, group or organization has a significant history of getting kids out into nature. Like Westcave Preserve, which has been inspiring children and adults for nearly 50 years, this award recognizes that there are many who have been toiling in the Children and Nature field for many years.

Previous winners include:

  • 2008 Girl Scouts of Central Texas
  • 2009 Lower Colorado River Authority – McKinney Roughs Nature Park
  • 2010 Austin Parks and Recreation Department – Austin Nature and Science Center
  • 2011 Art Pasley, National Program Director – C.A.S.T. for Kids
  • 2012 Camp Fire
  • 2013 American Youthworks - Texas Conservation Corps
  • 2014 Austin Youth River Watch
  • 2015 Terri Siegenthaler, El Ranchito & the Shield Ranch
  • 2016 Phyllis Schunck, The Casis Forest at Casis Elementary School
  • 2017 Jennifer L. Bristol, Texas Children in Nature
  • 2018 Charlton Perry, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School
  • 2020 Victor Emanuel