The Santa Monica Mountains Fund’s Spring Celebration and fundraiser was unexpectedly wet, but the rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the participants at the outdoor event at King Gillette Ranch in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).
The event was held in memory of the late founding mothers of the SMMNRA—Sue Nelson, Jill Swift and Margot Feuer, who fought to establish the national park in the 1970s. The gala also celebrated the accomplishments of 11 exceptional contemporary women who have been committed to preserving and protecting the local mountains.
The event began with a Chumash blessing delivered by Wishtoyo Foundation founder Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Foundation Director Luhui Isha, and Chumash singer and activist Sarah Moreno. They sang a willow song, selected because the tree is associated with women, water, and birth. The blessing was accompanied by a benediction from Mother Nature—a sudden, intense rain shower, swiftly followed by blue sky and dazzling late afternoon sun.
Isha described the activists being honored as “women who identified a problem and acted.” She added that the mountains’ guardians include many other women. “We are missing many people of prayer,” she said.
Awards were presented to former State Senator Fran Pavley; Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks; Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer; Chief Deputy Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Rorie Skei; California Director of the National Wildlife Federation Beth Pratt-Bergstrom; Save Open Space founder Mary Weisbrock; California Department of Parks and Recreation, Angeles District, Natural Resource Program Manager Suzanne Goode; wildlife activist and event organizer Julie Newsome; open space campaigner and advocate Josephine Powe; and Nancy Helsley, a community environmental education coordinator.
Goode accepted the award for mountain advocate Mary Ellen Strote, who was unable to attend the event.
Peter Nelson, the son of SMMNRA founder Sue Nelson, recalled the original three park pioneers as “strong minded, passionate, bright, tireless,” qualities their successors share.
“They worked relentlessly,” Nelson said.
Pratt-Bergstom, one of the SMMNRA’s more recent crusaders, called her work for mountain lions and other wildlife in the area “an amazing experience. “She became an activist for the Santa Monica Mountains and a passionate advocate for the 101 wildlife crossing after learning about the plight of P-22, the mountain lion who crossed multiple freeways to make a home for himself in Griffith Park.
“I’m trying to think what I bring to the table,” she quipped. “I guess it’s my willingness to run around with a cardboard cutout of a mountain lion.”
State Senator Henry Stern, the guest speaker, described the activists as “an engine of good. The Santa Monica Mountains are big enough to fight for,” he said. “You are protecting something you can’t monetize, something bigger than all of us. We need you all more than ever.”
State Assembly member Richard Bloom described the women as “tireless advocates for the mountains, the mountain lions, open space and wildlife corridors.”
More information on the SAMO Fund can be found at: http://www.samofund.org.