Park Profiles: John Smeltzer-A Force for Nature

Conservation // January 16, 2020

After 21 years working with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), John Smeltzer is happy to be working from “home.” To John, a lifelong resident of Blue Bell Hill, home is the Wissahickon Valley Park. In February 2019, after two decades as District 3 Grounds Maintenance Supervisor for PPR, Smeltzer was appointed Manager of Districts 3 and 4, adding the Wissahickon to his many areas of responsibility.

“It’s nice to work in your own backyard,” said Smeltzer, who grew up within walking distance of Kitchen’s Lane and played in Blue Bell and Clifford Parks. He fondly recalls peaceful times trout fishing by the Red Covered Bridge.

Currently, Smeltzer is responsible for 34 full-time employees, 39 recreational enters, 68 different parks, two ice rinks, three older-adult centers, and a library. Every day brings new discoveries—and that’s just how he likes it.

Smeltzer sees working with Friends of the Wissahickon as a major perk of his expanded role and looks forward to forging an even stronger relationship with the organization. “FOW is a big help for the park; everything they do benefits us, and I want to coordinate our efforts with them to help in any way possible,” said Smeltzer. “Whether it’s equipment, materials, or manpower, PPR has the resources that can contribute to and accelerate FOW’s work in the park.”

His everyday responsibilities of maintaining trails, fences, and other park structures put him in close contact with many FOW staff members, but especially Cindy LaRue, Trails Crew Coordinator. She noted that as a lifetime local resident, park employee, and outdoor enthusiast, Smeltzer brings a set of well-honed skills and knowledge, motivated by his love of the Wissahickon, that make him a vital partner on FOW’s diverse projects.

“In the field, many unforeseen issues can occur. John is quick thinking and a true solution-driven individual,” LaRue said. “When John is leading, I never feel like there’s an issue that cannot be overcome.” She admires his sense of humor and ability to keep situations light with a positive attitude—and a good joke.

Caring for overlooked areas of the park is important to Smeltzer. One of his pet projects is removing accumulated dead wood off Forbidden Drive. Whenever his crews have some spare time, he sends them with a crane to remove it. One day, he’d like to bring back some of the trails that have been in his family’s neighborhood for seven generations, like the grounds in Clifford Park, which have been neglected over the years.

“My favorite part of my job is when I finish a project,” said Smeltzer. “There’s a sense of accomplishment in that.” Luckily for FOW and Wissahickon Park, there are always new projects waiting to be finished.