September 2014

Celebration of a Legend – The Annual Stewart Udall Legacy Dinner


Mary Pat Butler

The community of the West and the broader collective human heart are better because of the life that Stewart Udall has lived.” (Robert Redford, 2002)


Few people can claim to have one dinner named in their honor, let alone having it become an annual event. But that’s just what happened when, in 2002, the Santa Fe Conservation Trust (SFCT or Trust) decided that a special dinner would be a fitting tribute to a man who had provided so much inspiration and leadership to the organization as one of the original board members.

Referring to Stewart Udall (1920-2010), author Bill deBuys so eloquently remarked, “Imagine a hero who brings Wallace Stegner to Interior and Robert Frost to the White House, a hero who bans dams from Grand Canyon and protects the seacoasts, rivers and wild places of the nation with an inventiveness we may never see again, a hero who fights for the otherwise powerless families of Navajo miners for more than 20 years—and wins! Actually, such a hero is not hard to imagine, for he is in our midst: Stewart Udall, whose friendship blesses and inspires all who know him.”

The evening was filled with warmth, respect and affection for a man who meant so much to so many people. Tom Udall assumed the role of master of ceremonies, and Robert Redford served as honorary chair of the event. A night to remember, Stewart was truly touched by the friends and colleagues who had gathered at La Fonda in his name and elected him to the newly created position of Director Emeritus of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.

Admittedly, that first gathering was a hard act to follow and, while the SFCT board was inspired to create the Stewart Udall Environmental Award, in preliminary discussions by the board there had been no definitive expectation that this would become an annual event. But in each subsequent year, the SFCT has used this special dinner to honor an individual—or individuals—who embody Stewart Udall’s breadth of spirit and strength of integrity in the conservation arena. Craig Barnes, a founding member of the SFCT and co-chair of the first event, describes the award as follows: “The Stewart Udall Environmental Award is given to honor those values, that work, or that person or persons who inspire us to love the land, care for it, preserve its sweep and heal its wounds. In honoring Stewart, we seek to encourage every man and woman, every modest friend, to rise to the peaks, to never give up, nor ever lose touch with the black earth, the trails between towns, the web of community and the land.”

Having moved in 2004 to the picturesque courtyard of the National Parks Service building, the event has continued to draw a capacity crowd of civic and corporate leaders, avid conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts. Each year has been used as a forum to celebrate the SFCT’s many achievements and milestones: having a hand in saving both Atalaya Mountain and Sun Mountain from development, creation of the Rail Trail with Santa Fe County, holding the conservation easements for the Galisteo Basin Preserve and spearheading the first countywide trails map for public use, to name a few.

Over the years, the Trust has taken the opportunity to recognize both national and local leaders in the conservation movement. Following the inaugural year, the Trust chose to acknowledge Jean Hocker, a pioneer in the land-trust movement. As president of the Land Trust Alliance from 1987 to 2002, Hocker championed the growth of land trusts nationally from 600 to more than 1,200 organizations.

Other honorees over the years have ranged from national figures to local luminaries, including Mark Michel, founder and president of The Archaeological Conservancy; Dale and Sylvia Ball; Bill Cowles; Sallie Wagner, who conserved a vital piece of Santa Fe landscape behind Santa Fe Prep, affectionately known now as “Sallie’s Hill”; Nancy Wirth, a passionate advocate for conservation and historic preservation in and around Santa Fe; author Bill deBuys, known for his long-time interest in the environment in and around the Southwest, and founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust; aural historian and long-time Stewart Udall friend, Jack Loeffler; Janie Bingham, the force behind the opening of the Rail Trail and champion of a host of other SFCT projects; and Rina Swentzell, writer and lecturer on the philosophical and cultural basis of the Pueblo world. Last year the Trust honored Pulitzer prize-winning author, lecturer and Native American artist, N. Scott Momaday.

As the SFCTcelebrates its 20th year of successful land conservation throughout northern New Mexico, this year’s Stewart Udall Legacy dinner celebrates the Trust’s roots and honors those current and past board members who have been instrumental to the continued success of SFCT and its program: Leslie Barclay, founding member of SFCT; Colin Waldon, whose work led to the preservation of Sallie’s Hill; Margaret Alexander and Bill Johnson, the backbone of SFCT’s public trails program; and Terry Smith, creator of SFCT’s Dark Skies program.

Join the Santa Fe Conservation Trust on Sept. 14, 2014, under a canopy of stars at the historic National Parks Service building, as we continue to honor Stewart Udall’s legacy. For information or tickets, call 505.989.7019 or visit


Mary Pat Butler is executive assistant at the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.


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