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Smith named National Park Service preservationist of year
Civil War Trust honors superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND—Russ Smith, the Fredericksburg-area battlefields’ man in the hot seat, has been named National Park Service preservationist of the year by the Civil War Trust.
It’s not an honor given out every year, “only when there’s someone who deserves it,” trust President James Lighthizer told 400-plus attendees at the national nonprofit group’s annual conference here in the former capital of the Confederacy.
Lighthizer, who deals with National Park Service officials from across the country, called Smith “a terrific superintendent.”
“He’s a stand-up guy. He knows how to get things done,” he added.
The 55,000-member trust, the country’s largest battlefield preservation organization, honored Smith for his “exceptional commitment to finding balance between conservation goals and community needs in rapidly developing central Virginia.”
As the chief of the 7,600-acre Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park since August 2003, Smith has worked closely with the trust to protect important sites on the Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Wilderness battlefields.
Lighthizer said Smith has one of the most difficult jobs in the Park Service.
“I’ll tell you why: First, the park includes four battlefields, not one, and they’re spread all over heck’s half-acre,” he said. “And he’s in a big, fast-growing area, and he’s got development pressure all over the place, on four parts.”
A native of New Castle, Del., Smith is in the 40th year of his Park Service career. Before coming to Fredericksburg, he was chief of interpretation and visitor services for the agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region and was recognized by the Department of the Interior for redesigning the Park Service’s interpretive planning system.
He has held other leadership posts, working with park superintendents in 70-some areas from Maine to West Virginia. His 26 years of field experience have included stints at Prince William Forest Park, Fort Sumter National Monument, Independence National Historical Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and George Washington Birthplace National Monument.
Earlier this year, Smith was named the 13-state Northeast Region’s superintendent of the year for cultural resource stewardship, in recognition of his work to resolve major development issues near the park’s Wilderness “gateway.”
“We don’t have a better superintendent in the entire Park Service, and a better friend than Russ Smith,” Lighthizer told the crowd at Richmond’s Omni Hotel.
“He’s a real preservationist. He stood side by side with us on the [Wilderness] Walmart battle. And that’s not easy to do if you’re a government employee.”
Lighthizer also referred to a recent flap between the park and cyclists who pedal Lee Drive, the Fredericksburg battlefield’s driving tour route, over measures the Park Service took to slow commuters using the road as shortcut.
“Every good superintendent gets into trouble once in a while with the locals, at least if he’s doing his job,” the trust’s leader said.
“Russ has the fiduciary duty of guarding four of the most precious parts of our American heritage. And he does a good job. If he gets crosswise with somebody, well, that’s tough luck. Because he’s a good guy who does the right thing. We wish there were more like him.”
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029