Local Legend Genny Smith Honored

The Gallery at Twin Lakes honored Genny Smith, local legend, on Labor Day, Whitehall rowboat christened in her name

As part of its annual “Lakes Legends Days” over Labor Day weekend, Robert and Sue Joki, owners of the Gallery at Twin Lakes, christened its newly acquired 19th century design Whitehall rowboat as the “Genny Smith” in honor of Mrs. Smith’s dedication to preserving the history of Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra as a writer, publisher, environmentalist and activist.

The elegant two-station rowboat, which has been on display throughout the summer in front of the gallery, was donated by maritime historian Jody (Caldwell) Wilson and her husband Scott Wilson with the intent that it help tell the story of the two rowing teams that had raced similar boats on Lake Mary during Mammoth City’s heyday of the late 1870s.

The boat was built in Mendocino California, and is a handmade reproduction of the eastern Whitehall design that would have been popular with the early settlers in 19th century Mammoth City. It never had been officially christened, and the Wilsons and the Jokis agreed that the “Genny Smith” was the perfect choice.

Smith, now 93 has returned for a visit to her Mammoth Lakes home, a cabin above Twin Lakes, which she acquired in the 1950s. She was in attendance for the celebrations. When Wilson suggested that she take Smith out in the rowboat where she could enjoy the outing under a parasol, Smith responded, “It’s a deal!”

Smith (neé Hall) was born in San Francisco and raised in Portland, Oregon where she graduated from Reed College. During WWII, she worked with the Red Cross in Utah and learned to ski. That pastime brought her to Mammoth Lakes and its natural surroundings. Her passion for the area led her to develop a number of guidebooks about the Eastern Sierra, as well as become an active participant in efforts to protect and preserve its wilderness.

She is known for her part in writing, publishing and editing numerous books about Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area. Her first book, Mammoth Lakes Sierra, detailing trails, geology, and plants and animals, was published by the Sierra Club in 1959 and went through seven editions, becoming a popular guidebook for visitors. She then wrote Deepest Valley which provided similar information about Owens Valley. She also edited and published Old Mammoth, a classic book of the history of Mammoth, written by Adele Reed and two books on mining, The Lost Cement Mine by James Wright and Mammoth Gold by Gary Caldwell. Smith’s final book Sierra East: Edge of the Great Basin collected the writings of numerous experts to present additional information about the land that she loves.

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing through to the 1970s, an initiative was undertaken to develop a new trans-Sierra road that would connect Mammoth Lakes to the west side by way of Minaret Summit. Appalled by potential desecration of Reds Meadow, Smith joined forces with such notable Sierra enthusiasts as Judge Ray Sherwin, whose grandfather had developed the Sherwin toll road, and Ike Livermore, resources secretary under Governor Reagan. Smith was a tireless and skillful champion, organizing letter-writing campaigns, countering mis-information propagated by the opposition with facts and figures, and testifying in front of political committees to explain the potential damage and expense such a road would bring about.

The road opponents, using their contacts in Washington DC, were able to successfully enlist the help of President Nixon, just before the Watergate scandal broke. In June 1972, Governor Reagan led a group of reporters and dignitaries on horseback up to Summit Meadow for a press conference in which he announced that Nixon had canceled the funds for the road, and there would be no new trans-Sierra road. Smith and her teammates had won a significant victory for nature lovers past and present.

Smith also wrote about the damage inflicted on Mono Lake and Owens Valley when the City of Los Angeles began piping water away from the Eastern Sierra. She was instrumental in limiting the amount of water that could be taken in order to preserve those natural areas.

In honoring Smith, the Jokis hope to thank Smith for her decades of service to the Eastern Sierra and ensure that her legacy is recognized and preserved.


© 2016 Jennifer K. Crittenden