Moving Mountains not moving in the right direction

In this, its fourth year of existence, the Moving Mountains Industry Award is losing sponsors, non-profit participants, and worse, seemingly nominating companies that have no business earning the accolades.
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In this, its fourth year of existence, the Moving Mountains Industry Award is losing sponsors, non-profit participants, and worse, seemingly nominating companies that have no business earning the accolades.

A recent release from the KPS/3, the PR agency supporting the awards process, states, "Six businesses, each nominated by a not for profit organization within the outdoor industry, will be recognized for their role in educating, conserving and protecting wild lands…" The awards ceremony is being held on Aug. 15 at 4 p.m. in Advocacy Alley at Summer Market.

And the nominees are? Little Bear Snowshoes, nominated by Winter Wildlands Alliance; L.L. Bean, nominated by both the Appalachian Mountain Club and the American Canoe Association; Hi-Tec, nominated by the American Hiking Society; Black Diamond, nominated by the Access Fund; W.L. Gore, nominated by The American Alpine Club; and The Outdoor Network, nominated by the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

While any nomination can be debated, and they often are, insiders, familiar with the nomination process and the awards history and process are themselves raising eyebrows at the Outdoor Network nomination.

SNEWS obtained copies of the nomination forms, and while in all the other instances we can find specific examples justifying the nominations for efforts to educate, conserve and protect wild lands, there is simply no such justification in the Outdoor Network nomination.

To be fair, Outdoor Network is an outstanding organization, one that provides a vital news and information service for the outdoor recreation and education field, as well as a job listing service that is considered the very best available for anyone seeking a job as an educator, guide, etc. But that service is not provided free, and unless SNEWS and others who have viewed the nomination forms are missing something, the Outdoor Network is being nominated for an award for doing nothing more than what it is in business to do, providing information and a forum for discussion and education.

As a sponsor, SNEWS has become very aware of the infighting amongst a few of the various non-profits over nominations, past and present. There has also been finger-pointing and other silliness surrounding past nominations that we've chosen to overlook -- until this year.

In the past, the award has served as a platform for each non-profit to be able to recognize the sponsor who has done the most for their cause, although certainly one or two of the nominations in recent years have smelled of simply a "thank you to who gave me the most free stuff " recognition. None of those nominees won, and, by all accounts, the companies most deserving of recognition garnered the accolades.

Co-founder of the award, Chris Chesak, doesn't dispute any of the above, but would not comment on the record, understandably. Others familiar with the award process and history have told SNEWS, also off the record, that Chesak has taken a lot of unjustified grief, and that he doesn't get nearly enough credit for all he has done.

A few have wondered quietly if the award is dying. Indications are that those feelings of Moving Mountains disappearing are well-founded. In 2000, when the award was launched, there were 13 non-profits participating. In 2001, the number crept up to 14, before slipping to 12 in 2002. This year? Only eight, and two of those didn't even provide a nomination.

Very few of the non-profits participating last year even put out press releases about the award. Only one trade publication, SNEWS, even covered the award.

Chesak is also leaving the non-profit sector, heading to the for-profit world of corporations and business. Although he has told SNEWS he will continue to run the award if that makes sense, one has to wonder.

SNEWS View: For the record, SNEWS has been a sponsor of the Moving Mountains Awards for the last two years, and is also sponsoring the award this year. We continue to support the award because we believed in the goals, to honor companies that went over and above, raising the bar for corporate philanthropy so that non-profit organizations can better "preserve the outdoor places that gladden our hearts, and feed our need for adventure as well as our quest for solitude."

In our view, it is unlikely that this award will survive. And the reason for the award's difficulties lie firmly at the feet of the non-profits this award was created to support in the first place. Chesak has tried his best to manage, parent and nurture the concept, and deserves a medal for all of the crap he's had to endure. Those companies that have won the award in the past, REI, Patagonia and Cascade Designs, were all very deserving of the recognition.

This award needed to be special and treated as a special recognition by all of the participants. It wasn't. Nominations needed to be above reproach, and adhere to the rules Chesak established -- recognizing a sponsor that is deserving of winning the award and all that it stands for. They often aren't, certainly not this year. This award needed to attract media buzz and make recipients feel as if they'd just won a major award. It didn't.
As a result, the mountain is crumbling, and that's too bad.

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