Florence LaRiviere has frequented Palo Alto's Baylands since the 1950s, but she said developments diminished much of the bayside environment.
"People don't know what they have to lose if they're not told about it," she said. "What's left is so meager compared to what we used to have. We have so little left, so let's keep the rest."
The Environmental Law Institute will award the 60-year Palo Alto resident with the 2012 National Wetlands Award and name her Wetland Community Leader of the Year for her work preserving the Baylands.
In 1972, LaRiviere helped organize the group that eventually developed into the first urban national wildlife refuge in the U.S. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge now protects more than 30,000 acres of wetlands for the enjoyment of all Bay Area residents.
Although the refuge protected the bay's salt ponds, LaRiviere said she also recognized the need to protect its surrounding seasonal wetlands from incoming development. She helped create the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, which went on to increase the existing refuge by an additional 20,000 acres.
"When we started 35 years ago, most people didn't even know what a wetland was, or that the Bay Area had one, or their value to the environment," said Arthur Feinstein, Conservation Chair of the committee.
After four decades, 88-year-old LaRiviere still works today to preserve the Baylands, which harbors wildlife and many endangered species while cleaning the air and water.
"Despite the years I've put in, I still look forward to working on the wetlands," LaRiviere said. "The refuge is not yet complete, and there are remaining issues to be addressed. Today, some of the beautiful marshlands of Newark and Redwood City are being threatened."
Feinstein said there are many benefits to humans that the wetlands provide -- flood mitigation, climate control, moisture production, and air and water purification.
Feinstein said LaRiviere has been a boon in preserving the area's wetlands.
"She is 88 years old and blinding, but she still manages to come to meetings and she's still on her phone all the time working on refuge issues and concerns," Feinstein said. "She has a magnetic quality about her that draws you in and makes you want to contribute. She is very much an inspiration for those of us that spend time with her."
The National Wetlands Awards program is administered by the Environmental Law Institute and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Federal Highway Administration, and USDA Forest Service.
More information on the National Wetlands Awards is available at www.nationalwetlandsawards.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.