Rick Smith started his NPS career in 1959 as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park (NP) and continued in that role for the next nine summers while he finished his undergraduate work, taught junior high school English and completed a master’s degree in English literature at Michigan State University. He then enrolled as a Peace Corps volunteer and spent two years at the National University in Asuncion, Paraguay as a member of the faculty of the philosophy department. Upon returning to the U.S., he spent another season in Yellowstone before accepting an offer to go to Yosemite NP as a seasonal in 1971. In 1972, he secured a permanent appointment there.
In 1976, he was selected as an instructor in resources management at the Albright Training Center. In 1978, he moved to a position in the office of legislation in NPS headquarters. While in that position, he had three interesting special assignments: co-director of the first Alaska Task Force that had the job of establishing an NPS presence in the new national monuments established by President Jimmie Carter; acting superintendent at Fredericksburg; and testifying in front of a sub-committee, chaired by the legendary Congressman Phil Burton. At the time Alaska was filled with public meetings to explain the NPS mission to skeptical Alaskans and patrols during the hunting season to enforce the no hunting regulations. Smith answered almost daily calls from the Alaska delegation complaining about one activity or another alleged to have been committed by members of the task force.
In 1980, he transferred to Everglades NP as assistant superintendent. In 1983, he moved on to the former Mid-Atlantic Regional Office as the Associate Regional Director for Operations. He then accepted a job as Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in 1986 when the two parks operated as a cluster. During his tenure at Carlsbad, cavers discovered Lecheguilla Cave, a place that has rewritten ideas about cave genesis in the area. In 1988, he transferred to the former Southwest Regional Office in Santa Fe as once again the Associate Regional Director for Operations. He subsequently was appointed to the job of Associate Regional Director for Resources Management. He retired in 1994. Following his retirement, he temporarily returned to Yellowstone as acting superintendent and was there during the time that wolves were acclimatizing in pens in different areas of the park.
In 2006, Smith was named as a Distinguished Alumni of his undergraduate college. He is a member of Who’s Who in America and similarly honored by Who’s Who in the American West. He received the superior and meritorious service awards from the Department of the Interior. His colleagues elected him as president of the Association of National Park Rangers, the chair of the executive council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and the president of the International Ranger Federation. Because of his Spanish language skills, he has consulted on park issues in every Spanish speaking country in South America except Venezuela and in every Central American country plus the Dominican Republic.