The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Jeff Smith assumes Port 2 management role

 

Diana Zimmerman

Jeff Smith is the new manager of Port District 2 and Skamokawa Vista Park.

This week Jeff Smith officially became the acting Wahkiakum County Port 2 Manager.

After spending the last two months with outgoing manager Janet Bryan, Smith acknowledged that he still has a lot to learn. He joked that he is still trying to figure out what to paperclip and what to staple but he already has a great appreciation for Vista Park and the other Port 2 properties, and he wants to take the next year to get a good grasp on the job, and experience all its seasons before he begins to put his own stamp on the port.

Smith is a recent addition to Wahkiakum County. He was born in Roseburg, Ore. His family moved to Payson, Illinois when he was young, but the humidity, the snow, and the flat landscape brought him back to the scenic and mild Pacific Northwest in 2001.

He spent 17-18 years in Portland, working his way up to management at Winco and then opening the first cider bar in North America, Bushwhacker.

"I got into the brewing scene," Smith said. "I started meeting people and being a hanger-on. I got to know people. There were a lot of breweries in Portland at that time; there were a lot of people doing other stuff, but nobody was doing anything with cider. I wanted to get into the business but I didn't want to open just another beer bar or brewery so we opened Bushwhacker.

"At that time there was nowhere to drink cider. When we first opened we only had like 35 guest bottles. We carried every single cider we could get our hands on. I think we started something because when we closed we had just shy of 400 different bottles of cider.

"We had people from all over the world come in there," Smith said. "At one point I was teaching an OSU class, I was teaching a community college class. I wrote a book. It got nuts. But like everything in Portland, you get a kernel of a good idea and people with a lot more money move in and decide your place is cute."

So cute they decide to open their own cider bar.

"Cider was so young," Smith said. "Now I think there are 12-14 cider bars in the Portland area."

One Sunday, Smith and his wife Erin were sitting at home in Portland when they noticed a Craigslist ad for fresh pressed non-alcoholic cider for $5 a gallon.

The ad took them to Deep River.

They got in the truck with a bunch of empty kegs.

The couple they bought the cider from had chickens, an orchard and a beautiful garden.

As they drove away, the wife put her arm around her husband.

"It was so cute," Smith recalled. "We were driving back home and had a conversation. What are we doing with our life? We hate Portland; the bar is driving us nuts. Those people seemed really happy."

They contacted a local realtor. The first house they considered failed every inspection. They drove around Puget Island and found a place they liked. Smith took a chance and asked the owner if it was for sale. He said yes, but other people were already looking at it.

They contacted the realtor that day and made an offer.

Meanwhile they still had the cider bar. Smith commuted four days a week. Erin telecommutes but has to be in Portland twice a week. They decided it wasn't working, so they closed the bar.

"We were packed that last day," Smith said, "people were crying."

His wife insisted that he take six months off. He did and that's when the port job opened up.

"I think the first few months is just to make sure that everyone who works here is comfortable," Smith said. "I'm lucky that I inherited a crew that has been here awhile. I want to make sure the park stays the same as I learn it through the seasons. I started during the slow time of year so it's hard to visualize what it's going to be like. We'll make some maintenance improvements. A lot of people focus on the park, but there are other properties we have now. We know the boat launch on the island needs a little work.

"I want to respect the history. We've been going through the history books and investigating what they thought they were going to do. I also want to refocus on what the port is supposed to be doing, which is economic development. I want to be more than an RV park. I think being on the west side there is a lot of good we can do. I hope we can do things that can help this community without being disrespectful to it. Vista Park has always been a shining beacon, but I think there is more we can do."

 

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