Protecting the outdoors for future generations is a lifetime commitment for a select group of volunteers from across the country named Thursday by Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) as “Stewards for the Environment.”

As part of its ongoing commitment to promote outdoor stewardship, REI announced seven recipients of the first-ever REI Stewards for the Environment awards. The awards program is intended to provide annual recognition to those unsung local environmental heroes who have made a lifestyle out of protecting some of the country's most cherished outdoor spaces.

From a Denver man who spends one week a month filling up his van and hauling away trash he's cleaned up from outdoor recreation areas; to a Dallas woman who was fed up with years of neglect to a nearby lake, and single-handedly recruited like-minded neighbors to establish an organization which has grown to hundreds of volunteers who now care for the lake and the surrounding area — the seven recipients will each receive a keepsake award and a $500 REI shopping spree. Along with the award, REI will donate a total of $140,000 in outdoor stewardship project grants — $20,000 in the name of each honoree to the organizations with which they volunteer.

Winners of the first REI Stewards for the Environment awards are Mike Gonzalez, of San Diego, a volunteer with the San Diego Sea to Sea Trail Foundation; Robert Gregory, of Minneapolis, a volunteer with Wilderness Inquiry; Jay Jones, of Denver, a volunteer with the American Hiking Society; Scott Monroe, of Weymouth, Mass., a volunteer with the Appalachian Mountain Club; Donna Osseward, of Seattle, a volunteer with The Mountaineers; Sonia Sungail, of Auburn, Calif., a volunteer with Placer Nature Center; and Marci Winter, of Dallas, the founder and a volunteer with For Love of the Lake.

“These seven individuals are helping to build a lasting legacy of trails, waterways and wild lands for generations to come,” said REI President and CEO Dennis Madsen as part of today's announcement. “Their stories of dedication and commitment are inspiring to us all, and the impact they've had both individually and with outdoor groups is helping create strong and vibrant places for us to live, work and play.”

REI retail store employees across the country nominated local non-profit organizations which have demonstrated exceptional work in the area of environmental stewardship; the organizations in turn were each asked to nominate one volunteer. Nominees were evaluated on the overall impact of the volunteer efforts, personal volunteer time investment, creative approach to individual efforts and success in engaging others in the cause.

Following today's announcement, REI will host local ceremonies to personally recognize each individual and to present their non-profit organization with a $20,000 check. In addition, all seven of the volunteers will be prominently recognized in REI retail stores nationally with program brochures and in-store posters.

For more than 25 years, REI has proudly supported programs and projects promoting outdoor recreation to connect people with the outdoors, and outdoor stewardship to protect outdoor spaces for future generations.

“The patronage of our members and other customers allows REI to support the efforts of volunteer groups dedicated to protecting outdoor places,” added Madsen. “It's our hope that recognizing the contributions of these amazing outdoor stewards, will inspire others to become involved.”