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Santa Monica Mountains Fund event honors local mountain matriarchs

Honorees (left to right) Mary Sue Maurer, Fran Pavley, Nancy Helsley, Mary Weisbrock, Suzanne Goode, Josephine Powe, Julie Newsome, Linda Parks and Beth Pratt Bergstrom pose for a photo with Sara Horner, president of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, after the ceremony. Photos by Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
Chumash representatives (left to right) Mena Marend, Luhui Isha, Sarah Koyo Moreno and ceremonial elder Mati Waiya present a blessing during the May 7 event at King Gillette Ranch.
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
9:51 am PDT May 17, 2017

Author Steve Erickson once described the Santa Monica Mountain range as “the gorges and ravines that hang on Los Angeles’ shoulders like a necklace.” 

Ensuring that Californians and others know the mountain range is a gem to be preserved and cherished is the life’s work of women who were honored May 7 at the Santa Monica Mountains Fund Spring Celebration at King Gillette Ranch. 

The event honored Sue Nelson, Jill Swift and Margot Feuer, founding mothers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, who relentlessly opposed development in the area and advocated for the creation of the NRA. 

The event also honored women who have carried on those efforts.  

The celebration began with a Chumash blessing and the telling of the Chumash rainbow bridge story.  

State Sen. Henry Stern also made comments and congratulated the honorees. 

“These mountains are why I ran for office,” Stern said. “We need to protect them because they and the ocean are what makes us wealthy. 

“My grandchildren and their grandchildren will play in these mountains. It is very important that my generation stand up and embrace the mountains.” 

The following women were also honored: 

Fran Pavley

Pavley, a former state senator and the first mayor of Agoura Hills, made preserving the Santa Monica Mountains a career-long priority and was instrumental in preventing an extension of Thousand Oaks Boulevard to Woodland Hills. When serving as a state legislator, she helped acquire Ahmanson Ranch and King Gillette Ranch so those properties could be enjoyed by the community. 

Pavley currently is working with the National Park Service and other stakeholders on creating the wildlife corridor and overpass at Liberty Canyon, an effort that is spearheaded by Beth Pratt Bergstrom (see below). The crossing will assist mountain lions to survive long-term in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

Linda Parks

Parks is the Ventura County supervisor and past mayor of Thousand Oaks. She is one of the organizing directors of the countywide Save Open Spaces and Agricultural Resources campaign, a series of voter initiatives that require a vote of the people before agricultural land or open spaces can be rezoned for development. She also initiated the annual Thousand Oaks Earth Day/Arbor Day Celebration.

Mary Sue Maurer 

Maurer, the mayor of Calabasas, serves on the advisory committee for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and as the director of the California Conservation Corps in Camarillo. She advocates for protecting natural resources including open space. 

Rorie Skei

Skei, the chief deputy director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, has been involved in open space preservation for more than 40 years, and has served on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee, the Conservancy Board for the County of Ventura, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency.

Beth Pratt Bergstrom

Pratt Bergstrom, the California director of the National Wildlife Federation, is a mountain lion-wildlife campaigner. She, along with Pavley, is involved in campaigning for the Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing.

Mary Weisbrock

Weisbrock is the founder of Save Open Space, an organization leading efforts to save landscapes, including limiting highway development in Cheeseboro Canyon, limiting development of large portions of Liberty Canyon, restricting development in the Micor urban project site, saving the Ahmanson Ranch, the Jordan Ranch in Palo Comado Canyon and the Gillette Ranch properties. She has been an advocate for the Santa Monica Mountains for more than 40 years.

Suzanne Goode

Goode is a natural resource program manager for the Los Angeles District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. In her role, she oversees the natural resources for 40,000 acres, including the Santa Monica Mountains. Goode has also been involved in habitat restoration projects at the Malibu Lagoon, Malibu Canyon, Arroyo Sequit and more.

Julie Newsome

Newsome, a wildlife campaigner and event organizer, has for six years focused her efforts on the Santa Monica Mountains as the wildlife project fund chair with the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. 

Josephine Powe

Powe, an open space campaigner and advocate, has been a Mountains Restoration Trust board member for seven years. She also actively campaigned against the SOKA and Ahmanson Ranch developments.

Mary Ellen Strote

Strote, a writer and Santa Monica Mountains advocate, wrote op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times that catalyzed public support for the mountains. 

Nancy Helsley

Helsley is a community environmental education coordinator with the Mountains Restoration Trust’s Cold Creek Canyon Docents, a program providing earth science field programs for area schoolchildren. She also was a director on the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains board.

In addition to honoring the women who advocate for open spaces, Kate Kuykendall, public affairs officer and acting deputy superintendent of the SMMNRA, told attendees how the National Park Service benefits from the Santa Monica Mountains Fund.

“Because of the fund’s support, more than 12,000 fourth-graders per year come from all over Southern California to see the mountains and the beaches,” Kuykendall said. “We know much more about how the mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats use the landscape. 

“The fund secured critical donations to help complete final sections of the Backbone Trail last year and we just got a new grant from REI for more trail work. Finally, the fund finances our intern program and interns track wildlife, survey invasive species and provide interpretative services to the public.” 

Attendees were impressed by both those who were recognized and the work of the fund.

“This is a fabulous event that everyone should attend each year,” Malibu environmental advocate Patt Healy said. “Donations go to a wonderful cause.”

For more information about the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, visit