Gary Allen Cunningham Conservation Award

What you need to know about Gary

For half a century, Gary Cunningham led the way for conservation in the Puget Sound region. In 1969, Gary was a founding member of Hood Canal Environmental Council, and served on the board of this all-volunteer group for 48 years. In 1989, Gary founded Kitsap Land Trust, one of the four all-volunteer land trusts that merged to form Great Peninsula Conservancy in 2000. Gary led the merger with the goal of pooling resources to hire staff and to ensure the sustainability of the organization. In addition to serving as GPC’s first President, Gary also served terms as Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and additionally, as a pro bono attorney for GPC for 15 years. Assisting in everything from real estate transactions, to negotiating and preparing conservation easements, it is impossible to tell the story of GPC without Gary as a key player. In addition to his gifts of time and creative vision, Gary and his wife Marilyn have also made significant financial contributions to GPC over many years. Despite his battle with ALS, Gary continued to serve GPC as a member of the Conservation Committee until his passing in the summer of 2020.

A new decade demands a new name for GPC’s Conservation Award

In the spring of 2020, GPC staff recommended that the name of the GPC Conservation Award get an update. After a unanimous vote of approval from the GPC board, the award that Gary himself had won in 2017 was renamed in his honor.  The Gary Allen Cunningham Conservation Award will continue to recognize a partner or volunteer who has made a significant contribution to GPC’s mission, and be presented at GPC’s annual fundraising event. Although GPC members were unable to gather at Spring Dinner this year, the award will be presented on October 1st at GPC’s 20th Anniversary Virtual Celebration.

Former Recipients of the Conservation Award:

  • 2014 Dorothy Lind
  • 2015 Chris Dunagan
  • 2016 Paul Dorn
  • 2017 Gary Cunningham
  • 2018 Kate Kuhlman
  • 2019 Ken Shawcroft
  • 2020 Nancy and Dick D’Archangel
  • 2021 Art Schick
  • 2022 Margaret ‘Kit’ Ellis
  • 2023 Phil Best

The 2023 recipient of the Gary Allen Cunningham Conservation Award

Phil Best

Growing up in Silverdale, Phil Best attended CK schools, Olympic College, and UW Law School. Phil was admitted to practice law in Washington (1965) and worked for the state legislature before moving to Seabeck in 1967 to practice law in Kitsap County with an early focus on land use issues. In response to development pressures and inadequate zoning laws, The Hood Canal Environmental Council was initiated by Phil, Gary Cunningham, and others in 1969 and the group has been addressing environmental issues on Hood Canal ever since. When Kitsap County implemented a conservation futures tax, Phil worked on the Open Space Council to help designate property for preservation. In the 1980s, when Phil saw how land trusts and conservation easements could help preserve and restore land, he and other like minded conservationists created the Kitsap Land Trust, which eventually merged into the Great Peninsula Conservancy in 2000. Over the years, Phil has served as a board member of HCEC, Kitsap Land Trust and GPC. As a Kitsap County Commissioner (1995-1998), Phil helped the county come into compliance with the Growth Management Act and then represented Washington counties on the state Land Use Study Commission.

The list of board members, general members, and staff that can point to Phil as a mentor is long. While there is no questioning Phil’s skills as an organizer and leader of people, it’s important to note that Phil has always been most interested in getting back to the land and helping with the hands-on work of leaving places better than he found them. Thank you, Phil, for all that you’ve done to leave it better, wilder, and more environmentally hopeful here on the peninsula.