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On a Dark and Stormy Night . . .
Origins of Mount Diablo Interpretive Association
Mountain News, Spring 1999
Based on an account written by Frank Valle-Riestra


Sam Smoker at 90, April 4, 2015

Mount Diablo Peak view

| Mike Woodring

The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association was the brainchild of Sam Smoker, Executive Director of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, who formulated a vision of an interpretive association that would supplement, in a significant way, the work of the small staff of rangers at the ever-expanding Mount Diablo State Park.

Smoker recognized the need for a wider public appreciation of this great natural treasure that exists within an area of rapid urban expansion and concurrent loss of the original environment. The task was interpretive; the key was education.

An organizational meeting was convened on the proverbial dark and stormy night of January 30, 1974, in the living room of Smoker's home in Walnut Creek. Among the people present were Mary Bowerman, a scholar of the flora of Mount Diablo; Frank Valle-Riestra, a scientist with an interest in natural history; Ron Edwards, a wildlife expert from the Lindsay Museum; Phil Gordon, biology teacher, and ornithologist associated with the Audubon Society; Beverly Clemson, Director of the Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum; Howard Knight, Professor of Biological Sciences at Diablo Valley College; Betty Zilen, retired Mount Diablo School District science supervisor; and Ed Earl, Superintendent of the Mount Diablo State Park. Smoker was elected President of MDIA and Valle-Riestra Treasurer; Park Ranger Miles Standish was appointed Executive Secretary.

The objectives of the organization, as formulated at the charter meeting, were, in brief :

  • To promote the educational and interpretive activities of Mount Diablo State Park

  • To produce and make available to visitors interpretive and educational materials

  • To acquire display materials pertaining to the history and natural history of the area, adding them to the interpretive collection of the Park

  • To assist the development and improvement of interpretive facilities

  • To give aid to the state in conserving, developing, and interpreting the Park for the benefit of the public

  • To support research on the history and natural history of the Park

Benefitting from Earl's knowledge and enthusiastic support, the embryonic organization was steered through the maze of state bureaucracy and given official recognition as an interpretive and educational adjunct to the state's work in the Park.

Within the first three months of its existence, MDIA issued its first publication: a visitors' guide to the view from the summit, printed with funds given by the Dow Chemical Co. By the end of its first year, membership in MDIA had grown to the grand sum of twenty-nine persons, committees were beginning to function, and a program of volunteer docents (interpreter guides) for the Park was in the process of development. The young, enthusiastic organization was definitely on its way!

In the years that have followed, MDIA has undergone many changes, expanding into new areas of service and altering some of its activities, but always retaining its basic purpose. Its membership has grown from a few dozen to several hundred persons, its list of publications has become rich and varied, and its roster of interpretive hikes and art exhibitions has become impressive.

Who knows what challenges the next quarter century may bring? One thing, however, is certain: MDIA will need, and value, the continuing support of its friends, members, and the California State Park.

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