Boston’s Emerald Necklace Conservancy Chooses Boston Natural Area’s Network President Valerie Burns for Prestigious Liff Spirit Award

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Kristi Perry
Trustees of Reservations PR Manager

Boston, MA – Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) and its affiliate, The Trustees of Rservations are pleased to announce that Valerie Burns has been chosen as the 2011 recipient of The Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s Liff Spirit Award.  The award honors the vision, wisdom, humanity and joy that Justine Mee Liff brought to her work as Boston Commissioner of Parks and Recreation from 1996 until 2002. It is presented annually to an individual or individuals whose leadership, commitment to cities, passion for public places and ability to inspire others, best reflects Justine’s spirit and legacy. Burns received the award at the 8th Annual Party in the Park in the Back Bay Fens on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

As president of Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN), Burns demonstrates a strong commitment to conserving and expanding urban green spaces and encouraging community members to advocate and work for all the city’s parklands. “It is an honor to receive this award,” says Valerie. “As Justine did in her work, it is important to celebrate the beauty, joy and community that Boston’s parks and green spaces bring to our city.”

“Because of Valerie, there are many Boston residents who feel connected to parks and help public agencies and BNAN protect and care for the city’s green spaces,” says Eugenie Beal, BNAN Board Chair and longtime colleague of Burns.

BNAN’s mission is to improve, preserve and expand special kinds of urban open space such as community gardens, urban wilds, and greenways, always guided by local residents. The organization involves over 20,000 individuals and families each year in the stewardship of these green spaces.

In 1995, BNAN introduced an initiative under Burns’ direction called, Greenways to Boston Harbor, which created the Neponset River Greenway and the East Boston Greenway that has leveraged to date $43 million in public funding for new parklands in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and East Boston.. These two greenways, moving towards completion, now provide 9 miles of walking and biking trails and almost 100 acres of parks as the expansion of public parks in parts of the city underserved by open space. BNAN is also the leading organization for community gardens in Boston, providing services to all 150 community gardens and owns and protects 43 gardens.   

“Recently, a Boston Gardeners Council has been formed to give community gardeners a voice and opportunity to work together,” says Beal. “We call this stewardship. Fostering stewardship is a significant aspect of Valerie’s influence on Boston’s parks and green spaces.”  BNAN is now working with the Boston Public Health Commission to double the number of community gardeners in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood.

Over Burns’ 23-year tenure, BNAN has grown six fold and has developed a number of very effective programs that engage many volunteers in the stewardship of greenways, gardens and wilds.  Programs such as the Master Urban Gardeners program adapts the national master gardener program to the challenges of urban gardening; the Students Learning Urban Gardening program engages hundreds of Boston school children in growing from “seed to plate” during the school year; and, the Youth Conservation Corps, the city’s largest summer youth environmental program for teens ages 15 to 17, teaches kids how to restore and care for natural spaces while learning about the local environment.

In 2006, BNAN affiliated with The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees), the nation’s oldest statewide land conservation organization, where Burns also serves as a Vice President. “One of the most important contributions Valerie has made through her work BNAN and more recently, The Trustees, is inspiring more urban community members to become informed, engaged and committed to the city’s green spaces” says Andrew Kendall, Trustees President.  “Through her vision, spirit and leadership, Valerie continues to bring more and more city residents, volunteers and community partners together to promote and care for parks, community gardens, greenways and urban wilds.  Her experience has been equally valuable in helping the Trustees establish other green space protection, development and management programs in Massachusetts cities beyond Boston like Leominster, Fitchburg and Holyoke.”

Prior to her work at BNAN, Burns was the planning director for The Boston Harbor Association and 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.

Boston Natural Areas Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing together local residents, partner organizations, public officials and foundations to preserve, expand and enhance urban open space, including community gardens, greenways and urban wilds.  For more information about the organization, becoming a member or the calendar of events, visit or call 617-542-7696.