Kirk Richardson: Alice Elshoff Award winner

For more than a decade, Kirk Richardson has been a strong voice for protecting Oregon’s high desert. He’s served on the Oregon Natural Desert Association Board of Directors, helped dream up the Live Monumental effort to protect areas like the Owyhee through his position at KEEN Footwear, and now is the recipient of the 2016 Alice Elshoff Desert Conservation Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to conservation of our public lands. Read on to learn more about Kirk.

Growing up in Salem, Kirk Richardson spent as much time as possible exploring every wild inch of Oregon.

On vacations the family crisscrossed the state, getting to know the coast, the mountains, the high desert. Once school was out, his parents let him sleep outside most of the summer. Kirk went to Boy Scout camp in the Cascades and got into rock climbing and mountaineering with buddies as soon as he hit his teenage years.

“I just fell in love with the state, and I’ve grown to love it more and more,” he says. “It makes me want to make sure we keep Oregon, Oregon, as Tom McCall used to say.”

It’s this passion that has led Kirk to become a leader for the permanent protection of our most treasured high desert public lands in Oregon, and the recipient of the Oregon Natural Desert Association’s 2016 Alice Elshoff Desert Conservation Award.

The award, now in its ninth year, recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the wild high desert. Its namesake is Alice Elshoff, who has long championed Oregon’s high desert and helped found ONDA 30 years ago.

“Kirk deserves every bit of recognition we can bestow upon him for his contributions to conservation,” says Brent Fenty, ONDA’s executive director. “He has been a leader both on ONDA’s board of directors and within the outdoor industry.  He is someone who can be counted on to ensure we all stay true to our mission to conserve our public lands even when the path ahead seems particularly challenging.”

Indeed, Kirk calls land and waterways owned by all “one of the great American ideas.”

“Protecting that precious resource, that intergenerational legacy, is vital,” he says.

Before his retirement last year, Kirk spent his career in the outdoor recreation industry, with 27 years at Nike, as well as serving in leadership positions at Columbia Sportswear and KEEN Footwear.

In the early 2000s, Kirk served on the board of The Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization that engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations that work to protect wild places. Through that involvement, he became familiar with ONDA.

“I was so impressed with what ONDA was doing,” he says. Soon, he joined the ONDA Board of Directors.

Brent says Kirk brought to the organization a focus on the core mission and a willingness to think big.

Kirk also espoused that vision within the outdoor recreation industry, Brent says, urging companies to be outspoken with their values, particularly regarding public lands.

For instance, he helped lead the charge at KEEN behind creating the Live Monumental campaign, which advocated permanent protection for five outstanding natural areas in the nation, including Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. Other key players in the effort were Kirsten Blackburn, Chris Enslow and Linda Balfour. Live Monumental was critical in bringing attention to the Owyhee as a worthy national conservation priority.

“Kirk takes his passion wherever he goes, and as a result he’s made a lasting positive contribution for protecting the best remaining natural areas we have in the U.S. and here in Oregon,” Brent says.

For the future, Kirk says he is deeply committed to ensuring generations to come experience Oregon as we do today. He hopes critical areas, especially the Owyhee, achieve permanent protection before they’re fragmented by the forces of development.

And he will continue his involvement on behalf of Oregon’s high desert.

“It’s not all about tax cuts and better trade deals,” he says. “It’s about caring about what happens after you’re gone.”