By Champ Zumbrun
The concept of Woody Duck was the result of a few ideas developed by William A. Krebs, former Director of Program Open Space and Offutt Johnson, then Deputy Director of Program Open Space. Offutt Johnson took off with the idea and did much of the work and research that established Woody Duck between the years 1983 through about 1993 as the emblem for Program Open Space.
Much thought went into developing Woody Duck as the symbol for Program Open Space. What would Woody look like? To appeal to the young as well as to the old, it was decided to make Woody Duck more like a cartoon character than a real-life image.
Woody Duck symbolized the importance and need for land protection in Maryland through Program Open Space. At this time, Maryland was quickly losing wood duck habitat and other natural habitat sites that were important to conservation and the health of the land. Officials at Program Open Space hoped that Woody Duck would serve as useful education tool to inform Maryland citizens of funding sources available to them through Program Open Space to preserve valuable wildlife habitats. Through this education effort it was hoped that important tracts of land and wildlife habitat sites could be acquired before they were lost forever to development.
Woody literally took off like a rocket in popularity. It was not long after officials introduced Woody to the public that he then went into outer space! On November 8 -16, 1984 Woody Duck took a space ride on the Space Shuttle Discovery Mission STS 51-A with five other astronauts. Under the supervision of Dave Walker, the pilot of the mission, Woody helped the astronauts release two satellites into space. More notable, the team of astronauts recovered two multi-million dollar satellites that were floating in useless orbits and returned them safely back to earth, a historic achievement as this was the first time a satellite - let alone two satellites -were recovered from space. Celebrating the successful accomplishment of their primary mission, the astronauts took time to survey the beauty of Maryland’s open space that they could see from the space shuttle, spectacular views that Woody would never forget.
The astronauts later presented a certificate to the Department of Natural Resources thanking the agency and the staff at Program Open Space for “helping to keep open spaces of earth so beautiful a sight from space.”
The space trip did have a real impact on Woody. After touching down on earth, Woody was a changed duck with new perspective on the world. Because of the awe and wonder he experienced in space and to symbolize his new outlook on life, Woody insisted from then on to always face left instead of right when posing for pictures as he had done before he went into space. Woody also understood that he had to keep observant to protect Maryland’s endangered landscapes so he began wearing glasses to improve his vision.
When Offutt Johnson, one of Woody’s creators, left Program Open Space in 1993 to work in Maryland’s State Parks, Woody Duck thought that this would also be a good time to go into semi-retirement where he has been ever since. Woody Duck never had a song written about him to sing around campfires like his woodland friends Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl. However, wafting winds carry through the woods rumors that if a person composes a song in his honor, Woody just might come back out of retirement to serve proudly again as an emblem for Program Open Space.
Note: Since 1970, Program Open Space has protected more than 380,000 acres for state parks and natural resource areas and more than 47,000 acres for local parkland. This pioneering land acquisition program developed in Maryland has inspired other agencies and has been modeled by many other states across the nation.
Illustrations & Photographs (top to bottom):
- A stained glass version of Woody Duck
- Offutt Johnson, then Deputy Director for Program Open Space in Maryland addresses an audience with assistance from Woody, seen in the background.
- From November 8 -16, 1984 Woody Duck took a space ride on
the Space Shuttle Discovery Mission STS 51-A with five other
astronauts. Under the supervision of Dave Walker (2nd from the right), the pilot of the
- Woody Duck's new image, after his flight in space, now faced left and wore glasses. Woody Duck served as the emblem for Program Open Space. for approximately 10 years (1983 through about 1993).
Sandi Trent, Administrator for Land Acquisition and Planning, was invaluable in providing illustrations and background information for this article.