Press Release Mar 28, 2023

National Parks Conservation Association Honors David Vela, Mo Rocca, and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

At the National Parks Conservation Association's annual gala, Salute to the Parks, we will present awards to these three influential leaders who have used their platforms and voices on behalf of our national parks.

WASHINGTON – On March 29, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) will hold its annual Salute to the Parks gala and present awards to three influential leaders who have used their platforms and voices on behalf of our national parks. The three honorees are Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Mo Rocca, and David Vela. This year’s gala, which will bring together over 300 people in person and more than a thousand virtually, will take place at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C.

Molly Hennessey-Fiske

Washington Post staff writer and Robin W. Winks awardee Molly Hennessey-Fiske

camera icon Carolyn Cole

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, an award-winning journalist based in Texas, will receive the Robin W. Winks Award, which recognizes an individual or organization that has effectively communicated the values of the National Park System to the American public.

While reporting for the Los Angeles Times, Hennessy-Fiske shined a light on the Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas, a local landmark that had once served as a segregated school for children of Mexican descent in this borderlands town. In a front-page feature story, she interviewed the aging alumni who wanted their school preserved so future generations could learn about this little-known, painful chapter of America’s legacy. Her stories of the Blackwell School, now one of our country’s newest national park sites, will continue to inspire countless others for generations to come.

“Molly’s journalism has been an act of tremendous public service for our country’s national parks and diverse communities,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Her writing spoke truth to power, acknowledging the deep wounds that segregation left on Blackwell School alumni and the Latino community of Marfa, Texas. Her exceptional work highlights the values of our National Parks System—to protect priceless places, transcend partisan politics, and tell the full American story.”

Mo Rocca

CBS News Correspondent and Centennial awardee Mo Rocca

camera icon CBS News

Mo Rocca, Emmy-winning correspondent and television host, will receive this year’s Centennial Leadership Award. The award was created to recognize a public official or private citizen who has made an outstanding contribution toward ensuring our national parks are ready for their second century.

Rocca has dedicated his career to bringing history alive for his audiences while sharing some of the most interesting and innovative unknown stories. His writing has made our national parks more welcoming for all through his role at CBS News, Innovation Nation, and his Mobituaries podcast. Across all his platforms, Rocca brings a curiosity and passion for our national parks to the table, from segments about wolves in Yellowstone to the military history at Dry Tortugas. He recently did a deep dive into the history and formation of our national parks for an episode of Innovation Nation.

“Anyone who tunes in regularly to CBS News, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, or any of the other shows that are lucky enough to feature Mo Rocca knows that he loves a good story.” Pierno continued. His passion for amplifying untold history at our national parks is evident, and he has brought people across the country into the fold as national park enthusiasts. It is thanks to people like Mo that our national park visitors of all backgrounds continue to find something new and inspiring on every park trip they take.”

David Vela

NPS Deputy Director Exercising Authority of the Director David Vela, Centennial awardee.

camera icon National Park Service

30-year career veteran of the National Park Service David Vela will also receive the Centennial Leadership Award. Vela is receiving this honor for his wide-ranging distinguished career in public service, which includes serving as superintendent for Grand Teton National Park, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

He was named Acting Director of the Park Service, the first Latino to hold this position, prior to his retirement in 2020. Throughout his career, Vela has remained a stalwart advocate for diversity in the National Park Service’s ranks and in our shared American outdoors. The grandson of a sharecropper, Vela worked to ensure the country’s travelers knew that national parks are for people of all backgrounds. Amid political division, he emerged as a dedicated, hardworking leader of the Park Service who garnered bipartisan support from leaders on Capitol Hill.

“Throughout his long career, David has made an incredible impact on the national park system,“ said Pierno. "His decades of dedication, passion, and hard work have encouraged people across America to explore, appreciate, and protect these treasured places. Even during turbulent times, David was a steady hand at the wheel and a beacon of leadership for the National Park Service. We are proud to present him with this award recognizing his contributions to protecting our natural and cultural resources and expanding access to them to all people. We hope that David’s work will serve as an inspiration to others, especially people from diverse backgrounds, to get involved in protecting our nation’s public lands.”

The National Parks Conservation Association’s annual Salute to the Parks gala offers one of the most influential gatherings of the conservation and environmental communities. This annual event celebrates our national parks and the people around the country who speak up on their behalf. Learn more at