David Pearson, president of Friends of State Parks, and eight state parks employees have been honored with awards from the state parks system for innovative ideas, heroism and outstanding service to the agency. In addition, retiring state parks director Lewis Ledford was presented with the Order of the Longleaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. The honors were bestowed last week at a conference of park superintendents and administrators at Haw River State Park’s Summit Environmental Education Center.
Pearson was presented the division’s Dr. Elisha Mitchell and Thomas W. Morse Award for outstanding volunteer contributions to the state parks system’s mission through inspiration, education and staff support. A Swansboro businessman, Pearson has long been an advocate for Hammocks Beach State Park and the state parks system, with dual roles as president of Friends of State Parks and Friends of Hammocks and Bear Island. He rapidly expanded the membership and scope of the statewide nonprofit, emphasizing its role as an umbrella organization for local friends groups and guiding development of environmental education initiatives. He is also the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.
The division also honored Superintendents Joe B. Shimel of New River State Park, Keith E. Nealson of Eno River State Park, Nora J. Coffey of Lake James State Park, ranger Jamie Anderson of New River State Park, maintenance mechanics Michael A. Carricker and Andrew C. Carswell and ranger Jamie Cameron of Lake James State Park and Denise Williams of the administrative staff.
Shimel and Anderson were each awarded a Parks Commendation for resuscitation attempts in a July drowning incident on the
New River. Nealson was presented a Special Achievement Award for leadership at Eno River, and specifically creation of a unique trail steward program. The Lake James staff of Coffey, Cameron, Carricker and Carswell earned Special Achievement Awards for development and construction of the Holly Discovery Trail, an innovative, self-guided trail for youth centered on outdoor education. Williams was presented a Special Achievement Award for administrative efforts collaborating with the N.C. Forest Service during a wildfire incident.
Ledford’s 37 years of service to the state parks system was the basis for recognition with the Order of the Longleaf Pine, presented by Brad Ives, assistant secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Ledford joined the system as a ranger in 1976 and was the first to rise through the ranks to the director’s office. During this 10-year tenure as director, he guided a state parks system that added 50,000 acres in managed lands, as well as the number of state parks and state natural areas, introduced a central reservations system, upgraded technology and experienced record attendance of more than 14 million visitors annually.