Blue Ridge Parkway teen volunteer wins National Park Service excellence award

At age 4, Virginia Ward could identify every tree in the woods near her home.

By age 12, Ward was rappelling off the highest cliffs in Western North Carolina, helping Blue Ridge Parkway plant ecologist Dr. Chris Ulrey in his important work to study rare plants.

Now 15, Ward, a sophomore at Nesbitt Discovery Academy who lives in Fairview, has won the prestigious 2019 Youth Award as part of the George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service, an annual recognition of volunteer excellence in the National Park Service.

Ward was the only youth to receive the award. Considering there are 419 national parks in the country with some 279,000 volunteers, this was no small feat.

The parkway – the second most visited national park site in the country – had 1,380 volunteers last year.

Ward has spent the past three summers scouring mountains, armed with a clipboard and heavy climbing gear, along with Ulrey and sometimes some other interns or volunteers.

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