Mary Kay Vandiver, district ranger of the Smith River National Recreation Area/Gasquet Ranger District of Six Rivers National Forest, retired Friday after 11 years on the job and more than 31 years with the Forest Service.
Taking the position in June 2002, Vandiver was immediately thrown into one of the most dramatic events of the Gasquet Ranger District’s history: the 2002 Biscuit Fire, which burned nearly a half million acres of forest in Oregon and California, including almost 30,000 acres in Vandiver’s jurisdiction.
“It was very challenging,” Vandiver said, adding that rehabilitation planning for the burned areas continued into 2003. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this job working on fires.”
Before coming to Six Rivers, Vandiver had worked on the Kaibab National Forest on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Chugach National Forest in Alaska, and Gallatin National Forest near West Yellowstone, Mont.
Vandiver was drawn to the position in Gasquet because she wanted her children to go to college in California. But the redwoods, rivers and ocean coastline have grown on her more than expected and she plans to retire in the area.
As a manager of the Smith River NRA, Vandiver has enjoyed the varied disciplines that she has worked on: managing fires, creating new recreation sites and developing commercial thinning projects for the logging industry.
“One of the best projects would be the continuation of the Coast to Crest Trail — that’s a great highlight, also the creation of the Chimney Flat day use area and the surrounding trails there,” Vandiver said.
“Thanks to the support of the Del Norte Resource Advisory Committee and the Rose Foundation, they kept that project alive and through that we were able to get an $860,000 grant from the state of California,” Vandiver said.
Other partnership projects under Vandiver included working with the Smith River Alliance and Western Rivers Conservancy for the acquisition of private inholdings in the Goose Creek and Hurdygurdy Creek watersheds.
Although those conservation groups got the “driving force” going for those projects, Vandiver said, “It’s in the public interest to work to put these large private inholdings into the public domain. It was in our forest plan to acquire those inholdings.”
She imagines many new recreation opportunities being created in the Goose and Hurdygurdy Creek areas in the future, whereas the areas were off-limits to the public — sometimes even gated off — while in private ownership.
Visitation to the NRA has increased in the last decade, Vandiver said, although it’s difficult to draw huge numbers of people to remote, far northern California.
“People like the remoteness of this area, the beauty and diversity of the forest and the Smith is just an absolute gem,” Vandiver said, adding that the NRA exemplifies “where true forest diversity exists in the Pacific Coast area.”
While living in Alaska, Vandiver was an avid angler, but the time demands of the district ranger position has kept her from doing the amount of hiking and fishing in the area that she would like. She plans to catch up in retirement.
Vandiver’s husband, Alan Vandiver, retired from his post as district ranger for the Gold Beach Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest last year, and the pair are excited to spend their retirement camping, hiking and exploring the Pacific coastline that they both love and other parts of the Pacific Northwest.