2021 ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award

The Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) is pleased to announce Mark McKnight as recipient of the 2021 ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award. This award acknowledges McKnight’s achievements within the nature and environmental learning center field in organizational leadership, professionalism, professional development, and creativity.

Mark McKnight, president of Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. Photo by Tim Barber, courtesy of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.Mark McKnight, President/CEO of Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. Photo by Tim Barber, courtesy of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.McKnight joined Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., as President/CEO in 2017, and has led the organization to more strongly connect with its community. In the three years prior to McKnight’s arrival, Reflection Riding’s revenue had dropped by nearly half, the Board of Directors was shrinking in size, and the organization was still composed of two separate, sometimes competing, organizations.

The organization’s trajectory clearly changed upon McKnight’s arrival. In 2020, Reflection Riding brought in roughly five times its revenue in 2016, part of a precipitous rise in earned revenue, donations, memberships, and grants. McKnight intentionally recruited new, dynamic leaders to the Board and staff, which are both engaged and collaborative. The organization officially completed its merger at the end of 2018.

McKnight’s accomplishments do not end there. He has also developed many new partnerships throughout the region, completed a strategic planning process, led a comprehensive master planning process,, and worked to put in place a conservation easement that will permanently preserve the organization’s 300 acres. Though the pandemic has changed the organization’s work, McKnight has led Reflection Riding to still grow and engage the community in newfound ways.

McKnight has maintained a strong involvement in ANCA, regularly attending Annual Summits and serving on the ANCA Marketing Committee. He also serves on the boards of Lula Lake Land Trust, Cumberland Trails Conference, Thrive Regional Partnership, and Chattanooga Lion’s Club.

ANCA will recognize McKnight with this award as part of the Leader Award Ceremony on August 25th at the 2021 ANCA Summit.

“Mark McKnight embodies the creative leadership we all aspire to. The depth and breadth of his accomplishments at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center are impressive, moving the organization forward with innovative collaborations that were transformational. He is a change agent and his flourishing organization is a testament to his leadership and professionalism. I am thrilled that Mark will be honored with the ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award!” 

— Kitty Pochman, Chair of the ANCA Awards Committee and Executive Director of the Linda Loring Nature Foundation

"I first met Mark in 2018 at the Dream Big Summit in McAllen, Texas, and was immediately impressed with his professionalism and enthusiasm. It was obvious that he would do great things for his nature center and for ANCA. He served on the task force that helped ANCA develop its formal advocacy strategy, and continues to be a resource as we focus on actions that impact the ANCA community. He is deserving of this recognition and I look forward to celebrating the award!" 

— Jen Levy, ANCA Executive Director

About the Award

The ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award recognizes an individual with the potential for future impact within the field of nature center administrators. Award recipients demonstrate leadership, professionalism, professional development, and creativity within the field of nature and environmental learning center, while holding less than five years of full-time work experience as the director, executive director, or leader at the highest administrative level at an organization. This award began in 2014.

About ANCA

The Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) promotes and supports best leadership and management practices for the nature and environmental learning center profession. It is the only such organization in North America and supports over 700 dues-paying members that include nature center directors, managers, senior administrators, and board members.