Smith Rock's New Park Manager’s Heart Belongs to Smith, at Least in Part
July 20, 2019
Smith Rock State Park can be addicting to some. We suspect for new Park Manager Matt Davey that may be the case. When career opportunities took Matt away from his first stint at Smith Rock in 2015, he eventually worked his way back to Central Oregon, his happy place. First at Cove Palisades, and now back home at his dream job at Smith Rock.
Made happier still by his recent wedding to long-time girlfriend Kacey in a ceremony at the nearby D&D Ranch, formerly “commitment-phobic” Matt not only got married, he bought a house too. But let’s back up a bit.
Matt started off in 2000 with training from Chemeketa Community College outside of Salem, Oregon to become a city firefighter and EMT. Upon graduation however, he wanted to reassess his chosen profession, not sure he was willing to take on the stress level involved in daily emergency response. While doing maintenance work at a cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado from 2001-2004, he discovered two things: he enjoyed working outside, and also with his hands. One day as he was observing a Park Ranger in an 11 mile canyon area, he thought, “That could be a good fit for me—the outdoors, people, and working with my hands.”
Looking at getting back home, he submitted his application to all of the open state park positions in Oregon, where he eventually landed a seasonal Assistant Ranger position at Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. His first full-time position took him to Fort Stevens in 2006, where he was the Lead Campground Operations Ranger for a couple years on the night shift.
In 2008 the Columbia River Gorge brought him back into the daylight hours, as the Historic Columbia Highway State Trail Ranger. When Smith Rock State Park put out the call for a Ranger (2) position in 2012, he happily answered, and while he loved working at Smith, a promotion to a Ranger 3 position in Farewell Bend State Park on the Idaho border took him to Leslie Gulch and the Owyhee Canyon.
Fast forward to 2016. An opportunity to get into a management track as Ranger Supervisor at Silver Falls State Park in charge of the day to day operations for largest park in the state system gave Davey a taste for managing people—27 of them.
So when the Park Manager position presented itself at Smith Rock State Park, Matt was ready. He had amassed not only the titles, but the type of experience that would be critical to running such a busy park for a wide variety of user groups from hikers to climbers to mountain bikers and more.
When asked what makes Smith Rock State Park his favorite of the state system, Matt doesn’t hesitate— “The engaged and active community of park users. From climbers to birders to cyclists, they are so respectful of the park.” He continues with, “And of course, the natural beauty and the wildlife. For such a condensed area the range of wildlife is just amazing.”
Matt also likes the full seasons draw of the park. While most of the parks are truly summer attractions, Smith Rock’s highly active participants prefer the shoulder seasons of spring and fall for their cooler temperatures. And winter is starting to see more visitation as well.
He says he likes to stay busy and active, and there is no shortage of projects from physical maintenance to managing user groups to help preserve the park with visitation now at 900,000 per year.
When asked about how he feels about all the recent rescue coverage he says he comes into his new position with his eyes wide open, saying he knows what to expect here. While Smith Rock has a record of high incidences involving rescues from dehydrated hikers to fallen climbers to and other injuries, he says it is not unique. His experience in dealing with high use coupled with high incidents at Silver Falls brings back stressful times of emergency medical incidents that happened during his tenure there. Matt feels his training as an EMT sets him up to deal with the eventualities of future incidents. While he knows it will not be easy, it also will not be every day. He also has a great relationship with and has high regard for both the Search and Rescue (SAR) teams and the Redmond Fire Department.
Matt also intends to expand on tactics used elsewhere to lower the number of future incidents with enhanced signage at trailheads and other access points to better communicate to visitors what to expect so they are better prepared. Positioning more trail ambassadors on busy days at the footbridge to assist visitors with questions, give trail tips, as well as check and advise visitors on proper hydration and footwear when possible are additional incident reduction tactics.
Future goals? Matt gets very excited here…”Education. There is so much opportunity to build on efforts that are already in motion at Smith Rock to engage in stewardship of the park. Expanding on interpretative exhibits on ecosystems and the history of Smith, as well as a possible future staff person to help with education will go a long way on balancing the natural and recreational resources for generations to come.”
We second that. Welcome Matt and we look forward to seeing you accomplish your goals!