Smeck currently oversees Santa Monica Mountains
Woody Smeck, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, will be hitting the dusty trails for Yosemite in the springtime.
Smeck was promoted to deputy superintendent of Yosemite National Park, a job he will start in April. In the meantime, he will serve 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.
Smeck is known by many as a soft-spoken man of integrity who has worked tirelessly over the past 10 years to protect and expand the public lands in the Santa Monica Mountains.
By all accounts, Smeck has been successful at his job. He oversaw nearly 154,000 acres of mixed public open space and private lands surrounded by an urban population of 19 million people.
With yearly visits to the park exceeding 35 million, the Santa Monica Mountains area is among the most visited federal parklands in the nation, according to the NPS Digest, an online media outlet hosted by the park agency.
“My goals were fairly simple,” he said. “One was to provide an exceptional visitor experience,” which to Smeck meant decent signage within the mountains, clean restrooms, “great trails” and enticing ranger-led educational programs.
“The focus was on customer service,” Smeck said.
Protecting the mountains and wildlife habitat for as many species as possible was another goal set by Smeck. The fragmented landscape with public and private land use made this goal a challenge, but the acquisition of 85,000 acres of public parkland over the years helped.
The $615-million investment was achieved by leveraging public money with private donations.
“ We’re constantly working with permitting agencies to strike a sustainable balance between private land development and protection of public parks,” Smeck said. Even so, about 1,300 acres a year are lost to development of private lands, mostly for residential projects.
“It happens all along the perimeters,” Smeck said. “(Development) infringes on recreation trails, spoils the natural beauty and encroaches on wildlife corridors.”
Lastly, Smeck is proud that the quality of park facilities was improved during his tenure. The design of parking areas and park entrances were improved to “match the scenic qualities of the park,” he said.
Smeck points to Rancho Sierra Vista in Newbury Park and Point Mugu State Park as examples of how modern design can improve park facilities.
“What existed there previously was a dirt road leading to a small dirt parking lot with no facilities. . . .” Smeck said. “During my first attempt to find it I got lost. Now we have a real nice entry road, monument sign, scenic, large parking area and exhibits that explain the features of the park.”
Kim Lamorie, president of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation said Smeck was named the federation’s 2011 Citizen of the Year and was lauded as being the individual who had more of an impact on the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area than anybody else.
“He is a remarkable, humble, quiet genius,” Lamorie said. “We will be forever grateful to Woody. . . . We are grateful for the 21 important, significant years we have had him and for what he has preserved, created, envisioned and therefore ensured for the future of our mountains.”
Lamorie said Smeck improved safety standards for wildland fires by funding and staffing the Community Wildfire Protection Plans for mountain neighborhoods. He also secured American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that led to the construction of the visitor center at King Gillette Ranch, she said.
The NatureBridge environmental education campus in the national recreation area was created under Smeck’s watch. And, amid the 2009 state budget crisis when state parks were threatened with closure, Smeck obtained federal funding and kept them open.
Smeck said he is most proud of building a solid working relationship with the California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
“What makes the national recreation area so unique is that it is a mosaic of state and national parks,” Smeck said. “Visitors can pass through a state park site, national park site and the conservancy and they wouldn’t even know it. There is no other system quite like this in the country.
Another feather in Smeck’s wide-brimmed superintendent’s hat was President George W. Bush’s recognition of the national recreation area in 2003.
“The recognition of the work we had done was thrilling,” Smeck said. “(Bush) made a policy speech using the Santa Monica Mountains as a stage.”
In 2010, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was featured in a Ken Burns documentary, “ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The film premiered at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills.
Smeck grew up in Bakersfield, and has lived in Moorpark for 21 years with his wife, Karen. They have two daughters, Allison and Megan.
“ It’s going to be a tough change,” Smeck said of his new challenge in Yosemite. “I love the community and love the area in general,” he said about Southern California. “I’ve had other opportunities, but I couldn’t find anything that matched up to the quality of life in the Conejo Valley and eastern Ventura County.”
But Yosemite appears to be a good fit for Smeck and his family. They plan on settling in the town of Mariposa, a gateway community into Yosemite Valley.