The Envirothon is a good example of an ongoing partnership with conservation district associations and cooperating state, provincial, and federal natural resource agencies. The program boasts a successful history of providing hands-on environmental and natural resource management education to high school students and empowering young people with the competencies and motivation vital to achieving and maintaining a natural balance between the quality of life and the quality of the environment.
In 1979, the Pennsylvania Soil and Water Conservation Districts created an "Environmental Olympics" as a way to encourage high school students to become interested in natural resource conservation and environmental issues and careers. The Environmental Olympics, later shortened to Enviro-Olympics, quickly gained popularity as a hands-on outdoor competition designed to challenge and test students knowledge of soils/land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife and current environmental issues.
The program grew rapidly and involved 40 conservation district teams at the 1987 Pennsylvania State Enviro-Olympics, providing greater visibility and stimulating interest from neighboring states
In 1988, the program became known as the Envirothon. Teams from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Massachusetts competed in the first "National Envirothon." The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts hosted the event. Subsequently, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Maine hosted the annual "National Envirothon," and in 1992, the first Canadian team (from Nova Scotia) participated in the competition, hosted by Maryland's Envirothon Committee.
Historically, Envirothon funding came from local conservation districts, state conservation committees, state, federal and provincial conservation organizations, and provincial forestry associations. The program was incorporated in Ohio in 1992 for the purpose of introducing an education-based environmental competition. In 1997, Canon U.S.A., Inc. began supporting the Envirothon program and, in 1999, became the title sponsor, "Canon Envirothon", until 2013.
In 2014, the Envirothon became a program of the National Conservation Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization that works to develop the next generation of conservation leaders. Today, the program operates under the name "NCF-Envirothon".
In 2016, China joined the NCF-Envirothon as a partner nation program and held its first Envirothon China national competition for students in China.
Each year the Envirothon touches and positively influences the lives of thousands young people across the U.S., Canada, and China. The Envirothon is truly becoming International in scope. Thanks to dedicated volunteers, staff of cooperating agencies, teachers and advisors, enthusiastic students, and valuable support and sponsorship from organizations like the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Smithfield Foods Inc., the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of Conservation Districts, and many others, the Envirothon has proven to be an exciting and useful tool for incorporating natural resource education into high school classrooms.