The first National Park Service employee in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area retired this month, 15 years after he helped establish a park that stretches from Griffith Park to Point Mugu.
William Webb, 60, who served as assistant superintendent of the recreation area, said the toughest part of his job was the first park's initial few months in 1979, when he and former Supt. Robert Chandler faced opposition from many residents of the Santa Monica Mountains.
"We came into a place where a lot of people didn't understand the intent of a park," Webb said. "They thought we were coming in to buy up all the homes. We had to talk to a lot of people and let them know that we looked at them as good neighbors."
Since the arrival in 1979 of Webb and Chandler, who left several years after the park was established, the park staff has grown from two to about 80 and the National Park Service has bought 21,000 acres of land for public use.
Webb said some of his most cherished moments in the park include the visits of children from East and South-Central Los Angeles. Some of the youngsters had never left their neighborhoods before.
"The excitement that comes across the faces of those schoolkids is something," Webb said. "A lot of them would not have the opportunity to go to larger parks. So this is their Yosemite or their Sequoia."
Webb retired on May 3, after 30 years in the National Park Service. His tenure included a post as general superintendent for the Virgin Islands National Park Group. He plans to move to Kentucky in September with his wife, Caroleen.
"We hate losing this man," said National Park Service spokeswoman Jean Bray. "Not only was he the continuity from the first days of the recreation area, but he was involved with all the outside organizations and added good character to the park."