Alton Byers, director of Research and Education at The Mountain Institute (www.mountain.org), was recently named the recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal for "remarkable service in conservation of culture and nature in remote mountainous regions."
The award is named for Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who — along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa — was the first person to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest (29,035km/8,850m), in 1953.
The medal is named for Hillary in recognition of his contributions and life-long commitment to mountain people and their environments. Sir Edmund's personal efforts, and those of the foundations that he helped establish in New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Germany, have resulted in the construction of some 30 schools, two airstrips, two hospitals, and 11 village clinics in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal. The Hillary Medal was initiated in 2003 by the Nepalese NGO Mountain Legacy (www.mountainlegacy.org), both to honor Sir Edmund's work, and to encourage others to emulate his example.
Byers is a mountain geographer who has worked for more than 30 years to protect mountain environments and improve the lives of mountain people in the U.S., Nepal, Tibet, India, Africa and South America. In February of 2006 he received the David Brower Conservation Award from the American Alpine Club in recognition of his "important contributions to the protection of mountain environments and whose active personal role deserves public recognition." He was a 1970 graduate of McLean High School, and grew up in Chesterbrook and several countries with his Foreign Service family including Japan, the Philippines, and Greece.
Byers will receive the award in recognition of his pioneering work at The Mountain Institute to protect and restore the alpine ecosystems of the Mt. Everest region, and to improving the lives of the porters and lodge operators who depend on these ecosystems and tourism for their livelihoods.
Through a partnership between The Mountain Institute and the American Alpine Club, he is currently working on a project to replicate the successes of the Everest alpine project in major mountains throughout the world that would include Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya (east Africa), Kangchendzonga (India), K2 (Pakistan), Huascar'n (Peru), and Aconcagua (Chile), all of which have been heavily impacted by unregulated adventure tourism.
Byers and his wife Elizabeth, an ecologist at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in Elkins, will travel to Melbourne, Australia in March to receive the award. Following the award ceremony they plan on visiting their son Daniel, a 2004 graduate of Elkins High School and junior at Brown University, who will be studying abroad in New Zealand. Their daughter Barbara, a 2006 Elkins High School graduate, is a freshman at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.