2011 Liff Spirit Award Honoree

Valerie Burns

President of Boston Natural Areas Network

Valerie-Burns Valerie Burns has demonstrated, in her more than 28-year career, a strong commitment to conserving and expanding urban green spaces and to encouraging community members to advocate and work for the city’s parklands. Burns joined Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) in 1988, first as Executive Director, then as President.

Over her 22-year tenure, BNAN has grown six fold and and now engages thousands of people from across Boston and beyond in the care and management of greenways, community gardens and urban wilds. Under Burns’ leadership, BNAN spearheaded the creation of the Neponset River Greenway and the East Boston Greenway, leveraging $43 million in public funding for new parklands in Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and East Boston, neighborhoods that have been underserved by open space. With Burns’ direction, BNAN has also become the leading organization for community gardens in Boston, providing services to all 3000 community gardeners in 150 community gardens in the city, while directly owning and protecting 44 gardens themselves.

Through programs such as the Master Urban Gardeners program, the Students Learning Urban Gardening school program, the Youth Conservation Corps – the city’s largest summer youth environmental program for teens – and the Boston is Growing Gardens program, BNAN continues to work to get community members involved, informed, and committed to the city’s green spaces. In 2006, BNAN affiliated with The Trustees of Reservations, a statewide land conservation organization, for which Burns now also serves as a Vice President.

Prior to her work at BNAN, Burns served as the planning director for The Boston Harbor Association and as director of planning for Boston Parks and Recreation Department. She was awarded the US EPA New England Region Environmental Leadership Award in 1997 and the City of Boston Environmental Leadership Award in 2003. She was selected as a Barr Fellow in the inaugural class of 2005.

Past Recipients

Kathy Abbott
President and CEO, Boston Harbor Now

Kathryn Ott Lovell
Commissioner, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

Kelsey Wirth
Founder, Mothers Out Front

Whitney Hatch
Chairman, DCR Stewardship Council

Ropes & Gray
Celebrating 150 Year Anniversary

Mark Volpe
Managing Director, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
Founder, Central Park Conservancy

Thomas M. and Angela Menino
Mayor and First Lady, City of Boston

Malcolm Rogers
Ann and Graham Gund Director,
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Valerie Burns
President, Boston Natural Areas Network

Charles Ansbacher
Conductor and Founder,
Boston Landmark Orchestra

Michael and Kitty Dukakis
Former Governor and First Lady,
Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Joan and Ted Cutler

Agnes “Diddy” Cullinane
Founder, Black and White Boston

Henry Lee
Founder, Friends of the Public Garden

Eugenie Beal
Founding Chair, Boston Conservation Commission
Founding Member, Emerald Necklace Conservancy

Norman Leventhal
Founder, The Beacon Companies