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Bush Visits Santa Monica Mountains
August 28, 2003 - By Susan Chasen
President Bush came to the Santa Monica Mountains on August 15 offering an extraordinary opportunity to acquaint him with the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains, the largest urban national park in the country.
Speaking at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa in Thousand Oaks, Bush said he is committed to ending a chronic backlog of maintenance and repair work in the nations 388 National Parks.
We want them to be accessible and comfortable for the American people to use, said Bush. At the same time, we want to respect nature and honor Gods great gift.
Well maintained, modern trails, he said, mean people are less likely to trample off the trail, they can enjoy the beauty without destroying it.
He recounted the goals of his National Legacy Project, announced in 2001, to established an orderly inventory of park infrastructure needs and priorities. Without it, he said, the peoples asset was being dealt with in a haphazard way.
He said he has made a five-year $5 billion commitment for park maintenance and repair work with 900 projects already, completed and another 900 expected to be funded through 2004.
Bush said he has provided $1.8 billion for the last two years, $1.1 billion this year and is seeking $2.2 billion combined for the next two years.
"We want the toilets to flush," said Bush.
PHOTO BY SUSAN CHASEN
President Bush speaking at the Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa National Park in Thousand Oaks.
Among the projects completed are a new waste water system at Yellowstone and improvements at Pearl Harbor and Cape Cod National Seashore.
Bush spent the morning hiking with Woody Smeck, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is visited by 33 million people every year.
I can see why they come, for the beautiful trails and a good opportunity to take care of their physiques, said Bush.
He said he spent some quality time with Woody Smeck. When he praised Smecks deep concern for the SMMNRA, the audience applauded enthusiastically.
Its a good sign, said Bush, when your employees cheer for you.
About a hundred employees and volunteers working for various park agencies of the Santa Monicas were invited to attend.
Bush also praised the role volunteers play in enriching the experience of visitors to our National Parks. He singled out two volunteers he spent time with earlier that morningMel Caradine, a 10-year hike leader and special events volunteer, and Ralph Waycott, who was instrumental in establishing a native plants nursery for the SMMNRA.
Bush also spent some of the morning joining high school volunteers doing trail work.
Accompanying Bush on his tour of the Santa Monicas were his Interior Secretary Gale Norton and National Park Service director Fran Mainella.
It was Bush's 15th visit to a National Park since taking office in 2001.
Smeck was among the first to participate in the Legacy Projects Asset Management Program resulting in $2.4 million in repair and maintenance funding for the SMMNRA since 2001, triple what it had been over the three previous years.
We are getting the resources we need to operate and maintain the park, said Smeck.
Smeck said he enjoyed his quality time with the president.
It was a thrill, an experience Ill never forget.
He said Bush is a principaled and centered person.
He has tremendous confidence in his vision, in what he wants to achieve, said Smeck.
He said visitors are benefiting directly from improvements in facilities, trails, restrooms, bridges and parking lots.
People really appreciate this park, he said. An annual survey, he said, shows visitor satisfaction at 97 percent, up from 88 percent in 2000.
Smeck said the operating budget has increased as well, by 23 percent, since 2000.
Ron Schafer, State Parks superintendent of the Angeles District, was also pleased at the visit.
I think its fabulous that hes talking about wanting to maintain the infrastructure.
Asked whether the maintenance focus is more important than preserving additional lands through acquisitions, he said, Were having a difficult time keeping up with what weve got.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he is not a Republican and isn't a supporter of most of Bush's policies, but he was still glad to see him in the Santa Monicas.
"I am a believer that he is a decent man," said Yaroslavsky. "I want him to see the Santa Monica Mountains National Park. The visual and aromatic experience that he is going to have today will have an influence on him.
This is a singularly unique resource. God isn't making these mountains and valleys any more.
No state or federal Democratic elected officials of the Santa Monica Mountains attended the speech. Congressman Elton Gallegly, a Republican from Simi Valley, was there.
Bushs visit comes on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the creation of the SMMNRA in November 1978. Dennis Washburn, a Calabasas City Councilman and board member of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, hopes Bush will continue that vision with assistance in acquiring Ahmanson Ranch.
Ahmanson Ranch is the manifest destiny of the National Recreation Area, said Washburn.
His coming here today is phenomenal in my opinion.
The SMMNRA, which includes Ahmanson Ranch is a string of emeralds, said Washburn. Its a priceless resource. We cant afford to let any of it go.
Washburn managed to get a large prospectus on the Ahmanson property to Gale Norton during the visit.
Mel Caradine, the volunteer who met the president during his visit, said Bush was very laid back.
He cracked a lot of jokes, he said. It was a lot of fun.
Rorie Skei, chief deputy director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, was pleased to see the national press corp with its cameras aimed at Boney Mountain.
Thats a great backdrop, said Skei. If this visit results in more federal dollars for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, then that would be a wonderful outcome.
She was also pleased to see Smeck get well deserved recognition from the president.
Steve Hess, president of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation was pleased Bush was visiting the Santa Monicas, but opposes many of his environmental policies. He would like Bush to prohibit oil drilling in our National Parks and in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and to stop allowing logging under the guise of fire protection.
Representatives of the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, The National Parks Conservation Association, Americans for National Parks and the National Hispanic Environmental Council were on hand outside the event to hand out materials countering Bush's speech.
Specifically, they denounced the administrations plan to open Los Padres National Forest, prime California Condor habitat, for new oil and gas drilling leases. Other concerns are administration studies to consider privatizing up to a third of National Parks positions, as well as policies that facilitate logging and road building in areas previously protected.
They also suggested that Bush exaggerated his park maintenance funding record, saying that it is not all additional funding. According to the NPCA, only $370 million in added funding has been awarded in the last three years.
According to the SMMNRA, however, the current funding level is expected to restore all facilities to a fair or better condition by 2006, with $1.1 million in additional work to be done in the meantime.
The assets inventory of the SMMNRA includes 11 miles of paved and unpaved roads, 33 paved and unpaved parking areas, 104 miles of trails, 62 public buildings, 10 water systems and 8 waste water systems with a total replacement value of $26 million.
Locally, according to the Americans for National Parks, the SMMNRA is underfunded and cant meet demands for school programs, cant maintain programs to protect ecosystems and hasnt examined over 1,000 archaeological sites within th park. They say, with 33 million visitors a year, the SMMNRA needs an added $6 million annually.