Recipient Biography

Lawrence "Larry" N. Stevens

Lawrence "Larry" N. Stevens (1915-1999) received the Pugsley Medal in 1969 "for contributing so meaningfully in his many years of executive office and national responsibility." He was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, and received a B.A. from Harvard in 1936. After graduating from Harvard, he went to work as a ranch hand on a cattle ranch in Montana. His experiences with soil erosion there convinced him that something needed to be done to protect the land and led him to earn a graduate degree in geography from the University of Chicago in 1939 that focused on land utilization and soil and water conservation. After completing his master's degree, he went to work for the federal government securing a fellowship from the National Institute of Public Affairs for in-service training in federal government administration. He was assigned to the US Indian Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his work included land planning. He became an expert on such Interior issues as Indian Affairs and Water Resources.
InWorld War II, he served in the US Navy by leading a group engaged in analyzing military geography and photographic intelligence in the European Theater. After the war, he returned to Interior. He was administrative assistant to the commissioner of Indian Affairs; assistant director of the technical review staff in Interior; served as secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Water Resources Policy; and was active in many inter-departmental and inter-agency programs. In 1960, he was appointed by chairman Laurance Rockefeller as deputy director for studies of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC). In that role, he became the key figure in formulating the far-reaching commission recommendations which led to such important outcomes as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a national system of trails and rivers, and the Wilderness Act.
Stevens was appointed associate director of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) when it was formed in 1962 as one of the ORRRC's recommendations. He contributed greatly to the Bureau in its formative years in organizing it and obtaining the statutory authority necessary for the conduct of its operations. He was instrumental in persuading the secretary of Interior and the Nixon administration that Alcatraz Island should be kept in federal hands, along with the other lands that eventually became part of the national recreation area in San Francisco. Among his other leadership roles were the acquisition of seashores in Virginia and New York, and creation of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area in Northern California.
In the late sixties, Stevens became staff director of the Citizens Committee on Recreation and Natural Beauty under President Johnson, later reorganized as the Citizens Committee on Environmental Quality under President Nixon. Its members were major public figures whose prominence and prestige gave it an audience and access, and it reported directly to the President. Early in its deliberations the committee brought to the attention of the President such issues as the impact of highways on the environment and the under-grounding of power lines. In recognition of his efforts in Interior he received the Interior Department's highest award, the Distinguished Service Award.
He retired from BOR in 1969 to become executive director of an advocacy group, Citizens Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality. In this position he supervised publication of From Rails to Trails, the first document proposing the creation of a nationwide rails-to-trails program.
In a tribute on the House fioor in 1999, a representative from Oregon commented, "His imagination and commitment to environmental quality have benefited our quest for livable communities." His Pugsley Medal citation stated he "is recognized by all who know him to be an outstanding, intelligent, unassuming, hard-working, career public servant who has contributed greatly to the park and recreation developments of our country." Ray Murray (Pugsley Medal 1992) reflected:
In working with people over the years, there are some you cannot do enough for because you believe in them and value them so much, and because they believe in you and make things possible for you. Larry is at the top of that list for me. His demeanor was unfailingly calm. He perceived connections and possibilities which eluded others and which invariably facilitated constructive outcomes.
In an "appreciation" of him at the time of his death in 1999, Laurance Rockefeller (Pugsley Medal 2004) observed:
Lawrence Stevens exemplified what is now all too rare in our national life -- a dedicated public servant who brought energy, talent, and intelligence to the government's business. He made a career of caring about what government could do for people and what he could do for government. Job titles do not reflect the full extent of Larry's impact on the public well-being. His long service, his persistence and his extraordinary insight made his influence felt at the highest councils of government.