September 23, 2005

Mary Martin, Desert Heroine

by Elden Hughes
Desert Report Fall 2005

It was 1995 and I was showing Superintendent Mary Martin her park. Technically this was Mojave National Preserve and not a national park, but for us it always contained all the elements needed to become a national park.

We first toured the Mid Hills area and then drove south, stopped, and hiked to a Chemehuevi religious site. Returning to our cars we drove east, parked, and hiked to a wonderful panel of petroglyphs. These were spiritual encounters with the land and Mary Martin was perfectly attuned to them. She loved the hiking. She loved the land.

Building an infrastructure with one dollar

Mojave National Preserve was created by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. Congressional opponents of the Preserve briefly pegged the 1995 budget at $1. When one has only a single ranger (and he is on loan from another park) to patrol one and one-half million acres, management is an up hill battle. Mary Martin was equal to the task.

Martin built a proper budget. She built a proper staff. Then she went after every special fund she could find to do the jobs needing doing. She had been told by the Preserve’s former manager, the Bureau of Land Management, that there might be as many as 300 burros in the Preserve. Nearly 4,000 have now been removed. The ATT company wanted to remove an unused underground cable and proposed to come in and just rip up the cable and the land. Mary made them do it right and restore the land.

Kelso Depot restored

Kelso Depot stood in the middle of the Preserve. It was a relic from the ‘20s when trains with steam engines needed big crews to climb the Cima grade. It was a relic and a challenge. It would certainly be cheaper to build a visitor center from the ground up, rather than restore the Depot.

Martin accepted the challenge and Kelso Depot is now almost ready for its dedication. It only awaits the installation of its interior exhibits. It is beautiful. It is a visitor center to make proud any national park unit.

A sense of discovery

Martin worked well with the stakeholders of the Mojave, from cowboys to environmentalists, in-holders and the gateway communities. Martin, her staff, and her Citizens Advisory Council worked together to build a strong master plan.

One concept seemed to have universal acceptance. This park unit must allow visitors a sense of discovery. Every picture opportunity need not have a Kodak sign. In fact, none should. Let people wonder as they explore the extraordinary diversity of the Mojave. They can then return to the visitor center and find the books, exhibits, and docents to help one understand.

Martin becomes superintendent of Lassen National Park

For ten years, Mojave National Preserve of the National Park Service has been privileged to have Mary Martin as Superintendent. She will now move on for she has been assigned to be Superintendent of Lassen National Park. We will miss her. The Mojave National Preserve is special and Mary Martin is special. Any person has to be special who each Christmas Day with her family climbs Kelso Dunes.

In the accompanying article (see page 3) Mary describes her special moments while serving as Superintendent of Mojave National Preserve.