Woody Smeck Honored for Service to Santa Monica Mountains

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation and the Calabasas City Council honored Superintendent Woody Smeck for his 21 years of outstanding stewardship of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).

Source of this article: The Topanga Messenger, March 12, 2012

After serving the Santa Monica mountains for more than two decades, Superintendent of SMMNRA, Woody Smeck, was promoted to Deputy Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, a job he starts in April.

Smeck, the gentle and soft-spoken steward of the mountains, is well known to have worked tirelessly and tactfully coordinating diverse agencies over the past 11 years to protect and expand the public lands in the national recreation area.

Woody Smeck, left, with someone else, sometime in the first half of the 2000’s

During his tenure, Smeck has overseen nearly 155,000 acres of mixed public open space and private lands surrounded by an urban population of 19 million people.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the combined parklands host more than 35 million visitors per year, making the Santa Monica mountains area among the most visited federal parklands in the nation.

Smeck said he was also proud of building a solid working relationship with the California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

With more than 20 different land-owner types and more than 70 stakeholder groups, the Santa Monica mountains are considered to be one of the most complex units of the National Park System.

Yet, many consider it is Smeck’s tactful negotiating skills that appear to have had the most impact on the complex park system.

For instance, in spite of the economy, Smeck was able to obtain a $615-million investment gained by leveraging public money with private donations, resulting in the acquisition of 85,000 acres of public parkland over the years.

“Woody has been a great adviser to me,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “We always check with Woody when somebody has a hair-brained idea about land acquisition or one thing or another. We always went to Woody and said, ‘does this make sense?’ and if he had thumbs up, then we went ahead with it; if he said not that high a priority, we didn’t go ahead with it. Because he always has had the long-term view and the long-term vision of the Santa Monica mountains in mind, he has been an incredible steward of the mountains, an incredible representative of the National Park Service.”

Prior to his recent appointment in Yosemite, Smeck served a stint as regional director for the National Capital Region, overseeing the National Mall and parks in Washington, D.C. The National Capital Region includes the Washington Monument and the Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials.

“The top manager at Yosemite is the superintendent, Don Neubacher,” Smeck said. “He hired me as deputy superintendent and is responsible for overall management; I am his number two person and oversee park operations.”

Woody Smeck grew up in Bakersfield and studied landscape architecture. He began his tenure with the NPS as the chief of maintenance in 1996, became deputy superintendent in 1998 and was promoted to superintendent in 2001.

He and his wife, Karen, have lived in Moorpark for 21 years. They have two daughters, Allison and Megan. When Smeck begins work in Yosemite, the family has plans to relocate to Mariposa, a gateway city west of Yosemite Valley.

Throughout his term at SMMNRA, Smeck has said his main goals were to provide an outstanding customer experience for all park visitors.

“We increased emphasis on creating an exceptional visitor experience for guests, including providing better signs, clean and accessible facilities, more recreation trails, and more ranger-led education programs for visitors and school children,” Smeck said. “We built a stronger relationship with communities and local government to promote a better quality of life in the region, including preserving natural scenery and places of nature and history.”

Yet, when asked what stood out most during his tenure with the Santa Monica mountains, Smeck always has a ready answer.

“My most memorable moment was taking the President of the United States (George W. Bush) on a 45-minute hike at Rancho Sierra Vista,” Smeck said. “We were mostly alone, although the Secret Service was hiding everywhere—in the trees, on the ridgelines, in the streams, etc.

“We discussed the national recreation area and the many partnerships that supported conservation and visitor education programs. He was especially interested in the relationship between the communities within the national recreation area and the National Park Service. At one point, a small airplane entered the air space above us. Within two to three seconds, a trio of fighter jets raced into the area and scrambled the small plane out of our view. It was impressive to see the level of security afforded to the President, though I must admit my heart raced during the whole experience.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors honored Woody Smeck with a lovely aerial video of the Santa Monica mountains and an official proclamation at their March 6, 2012 meeting.

“During his tenure, he exercised wise and conscientious oversight of these precious lands, adding thousands of acres of new public open space and working closely with partners in all levels of government within the community to craft and implement prudent policies ranging from innovative and effective wildfire prevention and management and educational outreach to preservation of sensitive wildlife habitats,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “He has been an unfailingly cheerful and enthusiastic advocate for this enormous recreation area, delivering countless public presentations and media appearances to unravel the complexity and emphasize the importance of this vast natural preserve at the edge of the continental United States.”

Then, Yaroslavsky made some ‘off the cuff’ remarks expressing his appreciation of Smeck:

“It is not a surprise to me that the National Park Service has recognized his talents and has promoted him now to really one of the primo positions in the National Park Service, being deputy superintendent at Yosemite,” Yaroslavsky continued. “We all want your cell phone number so, when we want to make reservations at the Ahwahnee Lodge, you can help us get a reservation. I look forward to visiting you, and getting the ‘Woody Smeck’ tour of Yosemite, which, if it’s anything like the tours and the education he gave us on the Santa Monica mountains, it ought to be something special.”

With that, Yaroslavsky conferred upon Woody the highest honor he could from the County.

“Supervisor Yaroslavsky and all the supervisors here, I can’t thank you enough for your support and your leadership in conserving the Santa Monica mountains, not only for the people of Los Angeles — this is truly a nationally significant place and it’s why the National Park Service is here and many people from across the country come to visit this very special place,” Smeck told the Supervisors.

“It represents a piece of natural heritage of Los Angeles that is reminiscent of early California and native communities and the mosaic of history right up to the present with very vibrant communities interwoven into beautiful state, local and national parks. It proves on a national scale that you can have conservation and vibrant communities interwoven and working well together.”

City of Calabasas

At their January 25 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Sue Maurer and the City of Calabasas also presented a proclamation to Woody Smeck in honor of his years as Superintendent.

“Woody has served superbly in the nation’s largest urban national park where more than 70 agencies work to preserve open space and provide recreational opportunities,” Maurer said. “Woody has really turned this into a premiere park and a gold example of an urban park next to a big city; Woody, we will miss you! Don’t go!”

With that, the Council presented Smeck with a plaque and group photo.

“Where are we going to get another superintendent named ‘Woody?’” lamented Councilmember Fred Gaines.

Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation

Smeck was named the Federation’s 2011 Citizen of the Year (See “National Park Superintendent Woody Smeck Honored as Citizen of the Year,” Messenger Vol 35, No 11 [July 2, 2011]) and was honored as being the individual who had more of an impact on the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area than anybody else.

“Woody has been a steward of the land and a friend to our communities,” said longtime environmental activist Jess Thomas of Agoura Hills. “He came, he saw and he ‘got ‘er done’ without a whole lot of noise.”

According to Federation president Kim Lamorie, Smeck improved safety standards for wildland fires by funding and staffing the Community Wildfire Protection Plans for mountain neighborhoods.

The LVHF also honored Smeck for his work in securing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that led to the construction of the visitor center at King Gillette Ranch, she said.

“For the past 11 years, you helped coordinate the patchwork of lands into a consolidated parkland,” said past president Toby Keeler. “With the opening of the King Gillette Ranch, now we can appreciate the talents you take to Yosemite.”

Others acknowledged Smeck’s entire contribution to the overall health of the park system.

“It’s more than keeping Yogi away from the picnic baskets,” said Mountains Restoration Trust’s board member, Steve Hess.

Noted environmentalist Dave Brown heaped more than idle appreciation on Woody, noting among other issues, the growth and proliferation of the mountain lions on his watch.

“It’s been a long uphill fight and under you we have reached our stride,” Brown said. “We are not just buying land; you have done so much to get the park off the launch pad; now we can track the wildlife, there are creatures we would never know were there and you have created new habitats, including providing a home for one of the largest carnivores in the world.” The LVHF also offered Woody a cake designed to look like the mountains and streams of the Santa Monica mountains (it was delicious, by the way!)

“He is a man with the most integrity,” said LVHF President Kim Lamorie. “He makes us believe in good.”

Key Accomplishments during Woody Smeck’s Tenure as Superintendent (2001-2012)

• Increased emphasis on creating an exceptional visitor experience for guests, including providing better signs, clean and accessible facilities, more recreation trails and more ranger-led education programs for visitors and school children.

• Built a stronger relationship with communities and local government to promote a better quality of life in the region, including preserving natural scenery and places of nature and history.

• Built a scientific research program in partnership with area universities that has substantially increased our knowledge about mountain and coastal ecology and history.

• Implemented an extensive Geographic Information System that provides maps and scientific information to local governments and citizens for conservation and land-use management purposes. This included creating a detailed vegetation map of the mountains and monitoring the status and distribution of area wildlife, such as mountain lions.

• Increased the national profile and visibility of the National Recreation Area as a unit of the National Park System. This included hosting numerous visits from elected leaders and blue-ribbon commissions interested in learning more about our cooperative conservation work.

• President Bush made a major environmental policy speech in August 2003 using the national recreation area as a backdrop and example of local-federal cooperation.

• Increased the operating budget of the national recreation area by three-fold to include more rangers for visitor safety, educational programs and scientific research.

• Secured federal and state funding to construct a new inter-agency visitor center in the heart of the mountains at King Gillette Ranch. The center opens to the public on June 9.