William Penn Mott
Parks were virtually Bill Mott’s entire career. He graduated with a master’s degree in landscape architecture from U.C. Berkeley in 1933 and immediately began working for the National Park Service (NPS), overseeing Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects during the Great Depression. These included some projects in California State Parks. After leaving NPS in 1940, Mott went into private practice as a landscape architect, including park design and planning; he also worked as a public-housing planner for five years. He next headed Oakland’s city parks and then the East Bay Regional Park District, accomplishing major goals for both organizations.
Governor Ronald Reagan appointed William Penn Mott Jr. as head of the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1967. This appointment made a big difference in the direction of the Department. Despite large State government cuts during the Reagan administration, Mott declared that California State Parks would be “entering into a new era of growth and progress with broader responsibilities." He was true to his word.
Bill Mott believed that it was important to expand the reach of parks beyond their traditionally white, adult, middle-class audience. To that end, he decided the Department must “take parks to the people” via outreach and urban state parks. Outreach efforts included radio and television programs, Spanish-language materials, outings for urban youth in cooperation with Amtrak, and a mobile exhibit trailer that toured urban areas throughout the state. The Department began the process of acquiring land for urban state parks.
The role of state park rangers changed dramatically under Mott. Law enforcement training for rangers began, and maintenance duties were moved to non-ranger personnel. Instead of seasonal naturalists presenting interpretive programs only during the summer, rangers took on interpretation and education duties and gave programs throughout the year. Another big change initiated by Mott was hiring female rangers.
In 1969 Mott was instrumental in the founding of the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF), a statewide nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for the State Park System. Other important accomplishments during his time as director included the founding of the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento State Historic Park and the acquisition of Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, the first California State Park devoted to African American history. Between 1967 and 1974, the end of Bill Mott’s term as director, the state park system grew from 800,000 acres to more than 950,000 acres.
After leaving California State Parks, Mott went on to head the CSPF. In this capacity, he collaborated closely with California State Parks to further the work he had begun as director.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan again appointed Mott, this time to the directorship of the National Park Service. He served in that position until 1989.
In 1992 Mott passed away at the age of 82—the consummate park professional had continued working on park issues until the end of his life. His name lives on in California State Parks. The employee training facility he founded during his time at the Department is named the William Penn Mott Jr. Training Center, and every year the California State Parks Director gives out a Mott Award for Innovation.