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OSI’s Dr. Maria Whitehead Honored for Conservation Leadership by Clemson University Institute for Parks

CLEMSON, SC (Oct. 5, 2022)—Clemson University has honored Dr. Maria Whitehead, Open Space Institute (OSI) Vice President and Director of Land for the Southeast, with the Dwight A. Holder Award for exceptional conservation leaders. The recognition acknowledges Dr. Whitehead’s leadership around OSI’s Black River Initiative and other exemplary achievements for parks and protected areas across South Carolina and beyond.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks presents the annual awards program — which is named for George B. Hartzog Jr., the seventh director of the National Park Service — to showcase leading figures in the field of conservation. In her work on the Black River Initiative, Dr. Whitehead championed a team of conservation professionals, community leaders, and state agency staff to establish a 70-mile, riverine park network that includes the first new state park in 20 years. 

Screen Shot 2022 10 20 at 4 20 05 PM Image Credit: Bob Powell, Director of the Clemson Institute for Parks

“The Black River Initiative is one shining example of the transformative impact that land protection can have on a community and a region, simply by giving local residents access to the landscape that is in their own backyard,” said Dr. Whitehead said. “I am truly honored by this award and thank Clemson Institute for Parks for their continued commitment to conservation in South Carolina and beyond.”

“Maria has dedicated her career to conservation efforts in the Southeastern United States,” said Bob Powell, director of Clemson University’s Institute for Parks. “Her desire to reduce barriers to nature-based recreation in underserved communities and protect our natural resources has played an integral role in the development of innovative conservation initiatives throughout the region.”

In addition to habitat and cultural resource protection, the Black River Initiative focuses on rural economic opportunity, improving access to nature-based recreation in underserved communities, and mitigating the impacts of climate change — a critical concern for residents of this low-lying region of South Carolina.

Beyond the Black River Initiative, Dr. Whitehead also serves as OSI’s lead on varied conservation projects and initiatives and has assisted in the successful protection of more than 55,000 acres of some of the most important and imperiled Southeast landscapes.

Whitehead received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Davidson College, her master’s degree from University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and her Ph.D. from Clemson University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation. She has taught as an adjunct professor at Furman University, The Citadel, and the College of Charleston, and she currently teaches for Clemson University’s Master of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources Program.


The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands, and sustain communities. Founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has been a partner in the protection of more than 2.3 million acres in North America. Visit OSI online at

The Clemson University Institute for Parks (CUIP) provides research, education, training, and outreach that enhances the management of the world’s parks and protected areas. It accomplishes this by providing park and protected area managers with innovative research to support science-based decision-making; and by developing current and future leaders in the park movement by providing interdisciplinary and transformative education and training programs. The Institute currently consists of 35 Fellows and 10 Scholars working on park-related research. Visit the CUIP website for more information about the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Awards program and its recipients.

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