Eight students from five California high schools were winners in this year’s Pat Vachini Writing and Photography Contest sponsored by OWAC. Cash awards to the winners total almost $1,000.

OWAC established the Pat Vachini Outdoor Writing Scholarship Fund in memory of the wife of Don Vachini, long-time OWAC member and one of California’s foremost outdoor writers and photographers. “Being out in nature is healing, as we’re experiencing right now with people wanting to enjoy parks and recreation areas safely during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Bob Semerau, OWAC Executive Director. “This award encourages high school students to consider careers in outdoor journalism so they can inspire readers to explore the outdoors.”

The contest rules allowed a wide range of subjects related to the outdoors. Many entries addressed the pandemic challenges of enjoying the outdoors while wearing masks and following the social distancing protocols necessitated by the threat of COVID-19.

Contestants especially appreciated the constructive feedback about their work from the judges as shown by the following letter from Susan Sutton, English teacher for a winner at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: “I received the award for Delaney yesterday, but let her open it in front of friends today. She is completely thrilled! We have never entered this contest before, so it is such an honor for the entire school. I think she was more excited about judges’ comments than anything because she noted that they took the time to read her story and comment on the writing and photography. I think you will read more from her in the future. Thank you for this opportunity.”

The winners in the writing category along with some of the judges’ comments are:

1st Place, Delaney Mulqueen, Archbishop Riordan HS : “Managing Mammoth Ski Resort during Pandemic;”  “The author provides a positive image of the enjoyment of skiing and the feelings of normalcy it brings during an otherwise difficult isolation period.”

2nd Place (tie), Josie de la Torre, Castro Valley HS; “Carmel Beach provides Pandemic Reprieve;” “The author provided clear imagery and sensory descriptions, all painting a vivid picture for the reader to follow along and experience the same with her.”

2nd Place (tie), Victoria Ceaser, Castro Valley HS; “Lake Chabot Filling with Visitors;” “Written with ample quotes from officials, the piece demonstrates the toll of being negligent while enjoying nature, a toll paid by the environment and those charged with protecting it.”

3rd Place (tie), April Liang, Lynbrook HS; “Golden Pomegranates;”: “This cycle of life—portrayed through the blossoming, ripening, and then disintegration of the fruits of a pomegranate tree—is clever and unexpected. “

3rd Place (tie), Nora Smith, Rio  Americano HS; “My Summertime Wilderness Getaway;” “The author’s openness about her own personal fears and insecurities… while attempting this 18-mile day hike, seemed very honest and sincere. When she looks back and recognizes what monumental accomplishments she had made that day, the reader rejoices right along with her.”


1st Place, Pranav Kartik, Lynwood HS; “Nature’s Moods;” “The stark imagery and cold contrast created in this photograph capture the solitude of this mountain lake. Communicating a statement is at the heart of good photography, and this image strikes deep into that heart.”

2nd Place, Olivia (Loulou) Ziegler, Berkeley HS; “Flight,” “Hey There,” “Scale;” “You have a talent for nature photography. I hope you keep applying it! The animal images captured in this series are fun to see and the subjects are sharp.”

3rd Place, Ajeeth Ijer, Rio Americano HS;’“ Softly, As in the Morning Sky;” ”A unique and interesting juxtaposition of nature, man, and technology. The pull of each photo and how it relies on the other two images make the subject matter interesting beyond the photos themselves.”

Share this story
Peter Schroeder

Peter Schroeder


Follow us on
Follow us on

2023 Excellence in Craft Awards

EIC 2023

2023 Student Awards

Students 2023

Not yet a member?

Read about membership benefits.
Learn how we work together to educate and encourage people to enjoy the outdoors.

Subscribe to OWAC Outdoors

OWAC's bi-monthly newsletter

Members Only

Submit a Post.

OWAC Facebook Feed

Scroll to Top

Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter for the latest outdoor news. 

Write to us