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Celebrating Champions of Green Spaces

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This week we are celebrating people who work to connect people with green spaces. Learn more about them and other grassroots environmentalists in our People Who Make a Difference virtual gallery tour.

Whether it’s a 1,000-acre nature preserve or a small park in a vacant city lot, public parks and green spaces serve a vital role in our world, as the current COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines are highlighting.  

Green spaces help protect human health and well-being. They provide us with a place to recreate, offer educational opportunities, and also provide spaces for us to go to feel rejuvenated.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help reduce stress and fight fatigue. For children, spending time in nature increases confidence, responsibility, and can help students focus on their schoolwork.

Protecting green spaces isn’t just important for humans, however. Green spaces provide precious habitat for wildlife, preserve water quality, and can help combat climate change.

Today, networks of land trusts, outdoor educators and state and federal organizations—as well as the activists featured below—are focused on making sure we all have access to green spaces no matter where we live.

Shelton Johnson: National Park Service Ranger

When he was five years old, Shelton Johnson and his family took a vacation to the Bavarian Alps in Germany. Johnson would later attribute this vacation as a great influence on his love for mountains, the sky and the outdoors. His father’s military service had brought the family to Germany, and would later move them to London and eventually back stateside to Detroit, Michigan.

At age 25, Johnson joined the Peace Corps and taught English in the village of Kakata, Liberia. He developed an appreciation for the dense green forests surrounding his village in every direction.

These days, Shelton Johnson is one of the most well-known rangers in National Park Service. He has served over 28 years as a ranger, 22 of those years at Yosemite National Park. Johnson has become an advocate for connecting people of color, particularly African Americans, to the outdoors and to our National Parks.

He is perhaps most well-known for his for his knowledge of Buffalo Soldiers and their history in Yosemite. Through literature, performance and interpretive programs, Johnson is able to teach young people of color about Buffalo Soldier history, and show them the invaluable role that people like them have played in our nation’s environmental history.

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.” —Shelton Johnson

Brother Yusuf Burgess: Community Activist

Brother Yusuf Burgess (1950-2014) was a youth leader dedicated to giving kids in urban areas, particularly in Albany, the opportunity to experience and learn about the natural world. Burgess worked tirelessly to make the Adirondacks more accessible to young people of color and give kids the outdoor opportunities that had so greatly impacted his own life.

Growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects, Burgess spent much of his free time in Prospect Park, collecting acorns and tadpoles.

“I often reflect back to my early childhood in Prospect Park, when my world was fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” wrote Burgess. “I know now that there was an innate part of me that was drawn to nature.”

Later in life, after serving in Vietnam and subsequently spending time in state prison, Burgess’ counselor assigned kayaking as a form of therapy to help Burgess reconnect with civilian life. He would later found an organization to help former inmates readjust to society.

At the time of his death, Burgess served as coordinator for the DEC’s Capital District Campership Diversity Program. He had previously worked for Green Tech Charter High School and the Albany Boys and Girls Club.

Burgess also started Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network, an Albany-based movement to reconnect all children, families and communities to the outdoors.

“Many of today’s children are growing up in busy cities without nearby parks or ‘special places’ to experience the beautiful and awe-inspiring,” wrote Burgess. “They stand to lose a very important part of what it is to be human.”

Learn more about these youth climate activists and other change makers in our People Who Make a Difference collaborative poster project that celebrates inspiring grassroots environmentalists who may not have always been recognized—including people of color, women, youth, Native Americans and members of other indigenous groups. Take a virtual gallery tour of posters honoring these extraordinary people created by graphic design students from Dutchess Community College.

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Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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