Woody Smeck, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks since April 2013, has been asked by the regional director of the National Park Service, Laura Joss, to serve as acting superintendent of Yosemite National Park for at least the next four months. Smeck will fill the vacancy created when Yosemite’s former superintendent, Don Neubacher, announced his retirement last week effective immediately.
At a September 22 congressional hearing, focused on reports that the national parks have become a hostile work culture, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) questioned a high-ranking NPS official about the situation at Yosemite.
Chaffetz was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article saying that Neubacher was essentially being protected and empowered by his wife, Patty Neubacher, the deputy regional director for the Pacific West Region. Employees and former employees have reportedly complained about a systemic failure at Yosemite to address allegations of harassment.
Patty Neubacher, who worked for the NPS for 33 years, announced her retirement last Sunday effective November 1.
This Park Service couple’s departure follows a slew of reports of bullying, intimidation, and harassment. In June, David Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, retired following sexual harassment complaints from female employees of that park.
Sexual misconduct claims are also being currently investigated in Yellowstone, adding further tarnish to three of the crown jewels of the National Park System.
During Smeck’s reassignment, Christy Brigham, chief of resource management since 2015, will serve as acting superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Brigham formerly served as chief of resource management at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and was also an adjunct professor at UCLA.
“This is clearly a very difficult period for the Park Service,” Smeck said. “The Sequoia-Kings Canyon leadership team is committed to creating a workplace free of harassment and mistreatment of people — one that values differences, mutual respect, and individual dignity. As superintendent, I understand my accountability to exemplify these values and create a workplace that supports our collective success.”