2023 Golden Shovel Winners Honored for Advocacy, Volunteerism and Community Building in Austin’s Parks

Susan Selesky
People + Parks
, Blog Page

Each year, APF presents our Golden Shovel Awards to people and organizations that have made a big impact on Austin’s parks. We recognize our winners at Party for the Parks, our biggest fundraising event of the year!

What makes a Golden Shovel Winner?

A Golden Shovel Winner can be an individual, group, or organization that put Austin’s parks at the heart of their volunteerism and giving. Whether through individual efforts, participation in our Adopt-a-Park program, or engaging with their communities to improve neighborhood green spaces, we recognize their tireless work and dedication to improving parks for the betterment of all Austinites. 

In 2023, we’re presenting three awards to those who have made an outstanding impact on Austin Parks Foundation and their local parks as individuals, in partnership with their communities and through statewide parks programs across Texas. 

Dr. Andrew Sansom Lifetime Achievement Award recipient 2023 Golden Shovel Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award – Dr. Andrew Sansom

A true champion of environmentalism in Texas, Dr. Andrew Sansom has dedicated his life to environmental conservation. As Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Executive Director of the Texas Nature Conservancy, he has spearheaded a number of significant parks programs, including: 

  • Establishing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation
  • Adding over 500,000 acres to Texas State Parks and Wildlife Areas.
  • Creating two nationally recognized aquatic facilities, including hatcheries, research laboratories, educational centers and aquariums. 
  • Initiating an aggressive program to introduce urban children to nature and the outdoors. 

Dr. Sansom has served on the Board of Trustees of the Texas Historical Foundation, Bat Conservation International, KLRU Public Television in Austin, The National Audubon Society, The Institute of Nautical Archaeology, The Hershey Foundation and The Texas Travel Industry Association. He joined the staff of the National Recreation and Park Association in Washington D.C. in 1969. He served as Environmental Coordinator for the White House Conference on Youth, Special Assistant to Secretary of Interior Rogers C.B. Morton, Director of Conservation Education at the Federal Energy Administration and Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Houston. He now serves as Research Professor of Geography and Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. 

Throughout the years, he has been an incredible resource for Austin Parks Foundation, advising our leadership on a number of issues and strategies for improving our city’s parks, trails and green spaces. We are thrilled to honor his years of hard work with the Lifetime Achievement Award. 


Volunteer of the Year – Lisa Sledge

Lisa Sledge is a longtime Park Adopter with APF and advocate with the Friends of McBeth Recreation Center, where her son, Bucky, attends the day program offered by PARD for youth and adults with varying abilities. She began leading the group in 2016 to better support the adaptive sports program, as well as general programming and staffing needs at McBeth.

In 2017, Lisa and the Friends of McBeth applied and received an ACL Community Grant from APF for an ADA loop trail at McBeth to accommodate adaptive tricycles, and through the years, she has continued to advocate for the needs of her community at the rec center.

In 2020, PARD expanded its day programming to include the Alamo and Dottie Jordan Recreation Centers. All three recreation centers at Alamo, Dottie Jordan and McBeth were included under PARD’s Therapeutic Recreations Services Unit, allowing the program to support people with varying needs across the city. 

As a result, Friends of McBeth changed their name to Friends of Therapeutic Recreation Services to reflect their expanded mission and additional support for all three rec centers and their adaptive recreation programming. Under this new focus, Lisa continuously fundraises for PARD and these recreation centers through APF’s Sponsored Fund Account program, where her group raises donations to support fees for sports, travel costs for tournaments, and scholarships for day programs and sports programs.

Lisa has participated in many It’s My Park Day events over the years and more recently served on the selection committee for the new All Abilities Playground APF is launching soon at Onion Creek Metropolitan Park. She will continue to serve in an advisory capacity for APF throughout the design process. Lisa’s passion and advocacy for inclusion in our parks is inspiring, and we are honored to recognize her hard work as Volunteer of the Year.


Adopt-a-Park Group of the Year – Barrington School Park, led by Vanessa Gamez and Ana Islas 

Vanessa and Ana joined APF’s Adopt-a-Park program in February 2023. Since adopting the Barrington School Park, they’ve had many great ideas for improving and engaging with the surrounding community in the park. They have organized and led It’s My Park Day projects, as well as community open work days, and explored grant opportunities to further improve and support Barrington School Park. In other words, they have jumped right in!

As a Joint-Use Site, Barrington School Park serves as a crucial outdoor space for Barrington students, but also, the community as a whole. Vanessa and Ana’s passion for fostering community shows, as every conversation with the pair leads to new ideas of how to address the community’s needs in the park, and their efforts are echoed by their friends and neighbors. Their work days are impressively attended, easily averaging a group of 30 or more–an incredible turnout! 

Their dedication is directly reflected in their leadership and connection to their community and a shining example of what an Adopt-a-Park group can accomplish in their local park. We applaud Vanessa, Ana and the Barrington School Park Adopters with their designation as Adopt-a-Park group of the Year. 

Our 2023 Golden Shovel Award Winners will be honored guests at our annual fundraiser, Party for the Parks on Wednesday, October 11th. Tickets are available for purchase here. All proceeds from tickets and on-site fundraising goes toward supporting our work to improve Austin’s nearly 400 parks, trails and green spaces.