2012 Awardees

Salute to the Parks Awards Gala
Protecting America's Heritage

The Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks
Shelton Johnson

Centennial Leadership Award
Senator Rob Portman

The Robin W. Winks Award

The Robin W. Winks Award is given annually to an individual who has effectively communicated the values of the National Park System to the American public.  The award recognizes Dr. Winks’ long association with NPCA and his expertise on the National Park System.  The award acknowledges the work of individuals contributing to the public education about national parks through works in the arts, media, or academia. See previous awardees >

Shelton Johnson

Each year NPCA identifies an individual or organization that through the arts, media, or academia effectively and consistently communicates to the American public the values of the National Park System and the national park ideal.

This year, NPCA is honored to present the Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of the National Parks to National Park Service Ranger Shelton Johnson. Perhaps best known for his role in the documentary film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Johnson has served for a quarter of a century as a National Park Service ranger and interpreter. He began his career appropriately enough at the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, and has been working in national parks ever since. He has worked at Yosemite National Park in California for the last 18 years, where he has brought the story of the Buffalo Soldier to life for thousands of national park visitors. He currently serves in the Division of Interpretation and Education at Yosemite.

Shelton Johnson has told the story of the Buffalo Soldiers in national parks since 1998. He became enamored with the story after he came across a faded photo of the Buffalo soldiers who patrolled Yosemite in the park’s archive. He has told the story in print, on camera, and in front of classrooms throughout the country. He has tracked down descendents of the soldiers, written material for an award-winning website on the topic, and has been lauded by civic groups and governments for his work.

His considerable influence as a ranger is reflected in his receipt of the 28th Annual National Freeman Tilden Award, the highest award given by the National Park Service for excellence in interpretation.

Born in Detroit, Shelton Johnson says he has remained true to the reason he started his work. “I can’t forget that little black kid in Detroit,” he says. “And I can’t not think of the other kids, just like me—in Detroit, Oakland, Watts, Anacostia—today. How do I get them here? How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here? How do I make that bridge, and make it shorter and stronger? Every time I go to work and put the uniform on, I think about them.”

Centennial Leadership Award

This special award was created in anticipation of the forthcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the creation of the modern National Park System in 2016. It honors a public official or private citizen who has made an outstanding contribution toward ensuring that the national parks are ready and well-prepared for their second century of service to the American people.

Senator Rob Portman

Senator Rob Portman has supported the national parks and the ideals they embody throughout his years of public service. While representing Ohio’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, he reached across the political aisle to promote conservation of the world’s unspoiled natural landscapes, and has recently been recognized by former presidential adviser David Gergen as “trying to create a healthier political culture.” As Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration, his understanding of the serious financial issues confronting our National Parks and his desire to address them were instrumental in creating the administration’s signature National Parks Centennial Initiative, which set out an innovative strategy to increase funding for national parks by $200 million each year by leveraging private sector support and by providing $100 million per year to eliminate the parks’ operating shortfall by the 2016 Centennial Anniversary. Elected to the United States Senate in 2010, Senator Portman serves on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and is a member of that committee’s National Parks Subcommittee. He is the co-author of a published book on the 19th Century Shaker community in Warren County, Ohio, entitled “Wisdom’s Paradise: The Forgotten Shakers of Union Village”, and he still finds time to pursue his passion for the outdoors as an avid and accomplished canoeist and kayaker.

Previous Awardees:

2010 Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.
Senator J. Bennett Johnston
2009 Secretary Dirk Kempthorne

*No award given in 2011.


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