DICK SMITH AND HIS BACK COUNTRY WILDERNESS

John Muir. Ansel Adams. Dick Smith. What unusual status symbol do these three men have in common?

Answer: They are the only Californians to each have a federal wilderness area named in his honor.

And Santa Barbara can claim Dick Smith as one of its own.

A longtime reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press, Smith (1921-1977) wrote a column called “Nature Notes” that conveyed his love and concern for the wilderness. His environmental activities earned him the moniker “the conscience of Santa Barbara County,” and for that he will be posthumously presented the Wildling Museum’s annual Wilderness Spirit Award on September 16.

From September 20 through January 7, 2007, the Wildling Museum will mount an exhibition entitled “Dick Smith and His Back Country Wilderness.” A biographical chronicle of Smith’s life and conservation efforts, the show will also feature examples of his artistic endeavors.

A prolific writer, Smith’s column informed readers of the need to preserve the back country wilderness, and in particular, the nearly extinct California condor. His efforts were instrumental in the establishment of the San Rafael Wilderness, a 217,000-acre parcel that was the first federal wilderness area designated after the 1964 passage of the Wilderness Act.

Smith’s extensive experience in the back country of Los Padres National Forest, as well as his first-hand knowledge of condors, made him a valuable resource for the Condor Advisory Committee and the State Fish and Game Department. His extensive field notes and research provided the basis for his published books, which included “Condor Journal: The History, Mythology, and Reality of the California Condor” and “California’s Back Country.”

In addition to his writing, Smith was an accomplished artist who particularly enjoyed photography, sketching and woodworking. His books and newspaper column were illustrated with his own work. When the 1969 blowout at Platform A caused the infamous oil spill in Santa Barbara Channel, it was Smith’s photograph of an oil-soaked California murre that focused the public’s attention on the plight faced by thousands of sea and shore birds in the area.

The Wildling Museum exhibit will showcase a variety of Smith’s handiwork, including carved wooden sculptures, tooled leather, furniture, illustrated photo albums, household objects and art pieces that he loved to make as gifts for friends and family. His photographic plant and animal portraits, as well as drawings, will also be shown.

Smith’s Wilderness Area

Upon Smith’s death in 1977 at just 56 years of age, his friends and colleagues embarked on an effort to pass legislation that would memorialize Smith’s many contributions to wilderness protection. In the early 1980s their dream was realized when 67,800 acres within Los Padres National Forest was designated the Dick Smith Wilderness.

Encompassing some of the most rugged terrain found within this National Forest, the Dick Smith Wilderness is home to black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, deer, coyotes and other wildlife. Elevations range from 3,750 feet along the Cuyama Rim, to a high point of 6,541 feet at Madulce Peak, which is where large stands of mixed conifers are located that are widely considered some of the most beautiful trees within Los Padres National Forest.

Another interesting area of the Wilderness is known as Rancho Nuevo, where massive sandstone formations and stands of Douglas Fir can be found. Aside from these trees and the conifers at Madulce Peak, most of the vegetation is chaparral.

One of the most unusual features of the Dick Smith Wilderness is a remote 17-acre landslide. The portion of the Transverse Range that straddles this area happens to be one of the world’s most tectonically active regions. It was here that in 2004, a landslide was the catalyst for spontaneous combustion within the soil, causing a three-acre wildfire. Fires caused by this thermal anomaly are, according to one geologist, “both likely and previously documented,” making the area of great interest to the Geological Society of America. In other words, this strange occurrence has happened here before, and is likely to happen again.

The Dick Smith Wilderness falls within the Santa Barbara Ranger District, the best source for information on current conditions. There are eight main trails, and several side paths, that total 49 miles. Five overnight campsites, each with a table and fire ring, are available. Mountain biking is not permitted within the Wilderness area.

Pack Trip Offered

As part of the educational activities offered in conjunction with its exhibition, the Wildling Museum is offering a three-day, two-night backpack or horse-pack trip into the San Rafael Wilderness from Wednesday, October 18 through Friday, October 20. This will be a possible opportunity for a few intrepid adventurers to view California condors in the wild.

Graham Goodfield of Los Padres Outfitters, who holds the only permit for overnight pack trips with stock in Los Padres National Forest, will guide the horse packers. Jim Balsitis, an experienced wilderness backpacking guide and owner of Coyotetrack Adventures, will lead the backpackers, supported by pack animals. Entering the wilderness by separate routes, both groups will meet up at the base camp.

Dick Smith’s son Joel, and naturalist Liz Mason, will also accompany the trip. Pre-registration is required. Backpackers will be limited to 12, at a cost of $640 per person. Horse packers will be limited to 15 participants, at a cost of $775 each. The cost includes a $50 tax deductible contribution to the museum.

Spirit of the Wilderness Gala

The Wildling Art Museum’s annual gala dinner and benefit auction will take place on Saturday, September 16 in Los Olivos. From 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm a private reception will be held at the museum to preview the exhibition “Dick Smith and His Back Country Wilderness.” Luis Moreno will provide music as guests enjoy appetizers and local wines, while artists Jim Farnum, Ellie Freudenstein and Rick Schloss create “45-minute masterpieces,” paintings that will be auctioned later in the evening, along with several other items.

Moving next door to the patio of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the dinner and auction will take place from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm. This will be followed by the presentation of the Wilderness Spirit Award posthumously to Dick Smith, whose family will be present. Guest speakers will be Dick’s son Joel and former Santa Barbara News-Press columnist Barney Brantingham. Tickets are $135 each.

Shuttle bus service is being provided for Santa Barbara guests, who will enjoy a roundtrip ride complete with wine and cheese. The bus departs Santa Barbara at 4:30 pm, and returns from the benefit at approximately 10 pm; cost is $15 per person.

For detailed information on all of the above, please call the Wildling Art Museum at 688-1082, or visit www.wildlingmuseum.org.