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  • Earth Day held special significance this year. In December of 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP21), brought together over 170 countries to decide on and agree to an internationally-binding climate deal limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, officials convened in New York at the high-level signing ceremony. This is an important demonstration of the progress we are witnessing with climate action.

    Started in 1970, Earth Day is not only one of the catalysts of the modern environmental movement but also, with over 1 billion annual participants, it is now the largest civic observance in the world. Environmental educators, environmentalists, and other allies can recognize that while the growth of the environmental movement hasn't been the result of one concrete intervention but rather many intersecting actions, its growth is undeniable. 2014 was the first time in 40 years that the global economy grew and carbon dioxide emissions fell (Source: ThinkProgress).

    This incredible feat was thought nearly impossible by many; however, proponents of taking action to protect the environment recognize that, with enough collective will, making steps to reverse unsustainable global habits is possible.

    Starting last year, the Earth Day Network also initiated Climate Education Week (which runs from April 18th to the 25th) to spotlight the unique and integral role of climate change education within the broader scope of environmental education--with climate change affecting all aspects of the environmental system. Having the Earth Day movement give voice to climate education is huge and reflective of the elevated status that climate change is rightfully receiving in environmental discourse. 

    In addition to Earth Day, National Park Week (April 16-24) has just wrapped up. These two campaigns naturally intersect, with both focusing on the stewardship, preservation, and innate significance of our natural resources. The Earth Day Network even launched two campaigns that relate to open spaces: endangered species protection and reforestation. Our open spaces, whether wild or highly cultivated, are integral parts of our ecosystem and provide a multitude of benefits. Parks and other open spaces are not only threatened by environmental issues, such as climate change, but they also serve as outdoor classrooms that provide the perfect conduit to convey environmental education. 

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  • April 24th is National Park Rx Day and it is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients to improve human health. Additionally, National Park Rx Day encourages everyone to start seeing visits to parks and public lands as very important parts of their health. Last fall, the U.S. Surgeon General released a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. National Park Rx Day builds on this call to action and provides citizens with parks and green spaces to promote public health.

    THE FOUR MAIN GOALS OF NATIONAL PARK RX DAY ARE:

    • To amplify the visibility and viability of the nation-wide Park Rx movement in parks and communities across the nation.
    • To celebrate existing Park Rx programs and practitioners across the country.
    • To serve as a catalyst to bring together local health providers, park agencies, community leaders, and nonprofits to begin dialogue and momentum to develop their own Park Rx programs for improvement of their communities.
    • To increase the relevance of parks for all people; how people can connect with parks daily for their improved physical, mental, and spiritual health and create a new generation of park stewards.

    WHY A DAY TO CELEBRATE PARK RX?

    One of the signature events will take place in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. While the park has weekly drum circles and many different users, it is also a site that has seen it share of violence. When we talk about the health of a community, the violence within a community is just as important to curb as alcohol abuse or obesity rates. Although there is a lot of buzz and interest in Park Rx programs, it is a tactic to bringing forth larger changes in a place. It is also a tactic to bring in new sectors to look at the role that the built environment plays and our relationship to it. 

    I encourage us lovers of nature and Park Rx managers to think about the role that Park Rx has in combatting community violence so that others can have the chance to love nature and feel attached to their neighbors and neighborhoods. Park Rx programs and certainly National Park Rx Day cannot solve all of this in one fell swoop, but having a concerted effort to start and sustain these dialogues is a first step. 

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  • This week we have a guest blog post from Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at The Marine Mammal Center and member of Bay-CLIC. In honor of Earth Day (April 22) and Environmental Education Week (April 17-23), we asked Adam to speak on the importance of place-based climate education.

    The idea behind the Climate Change Education Initiative at The Marine Mammal Center is to bring climate change into the conversation.   We utilize the sick and injured marine mammal patients at the hospital as a vehicle to communicate the science of climate change, the effects it is having on animals, ecosystems and people, and what people can do in their own lives and communities to help curb carbon pollution. So often with climate change, the effects communicated today are very abstract and foreign to the everyday member of the public.  By highlighting marine mammals suffering direct consequences of changes in their ocean environment (and California's “backyard”), we can bring climate change to the forefront of the conversation and connect the community to the ocean ecosystem.  With the ultimate goal of releasing our patients back to the wild, we are able to inspire our guests to take action to help give marine mammals and ourselves a healthy environment to live in.

    I have been fortunate over the last 5 years to be heavily involved in many climate change focused projects, and have gained the skills, experience, and confidence to engage people around such a complex topic.  Beginning as part of a study circle with the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), and then being chosen as a Community Climate Change Fellow by the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), has provided me with a network to learn from and collaborate with. I am thrilled to continue to utilize those networks and contribute as a regional leader for the Central California NNOCCI alumni and a member of the Steering Committee for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) as I build our climate change programs at The Marine Mammal Center.

    (Adam Ratner in Center making the “Home Alone face” along with the other North American Association of Environmental Education Community Climate Change Fellows)

    Through a system of training classes focusing on climate change, we introduce hundreds of adult and youth education volunteers and staff at the Center to the science of climate change; providing them with tools for interpreting the science to audiences of all ages, and techniques to guide guests to identify solution-based actions to reduce their carbon footprint and become better environmental stewards. The “train the trainers” program allows us to capitalize on the great experiences that some of our education staff have had the opportunity to be a part of, and share it with hundreds of passionate volunteers that not only engage our visitors, but our community leaders of their own.  We have utilized the knowledge gained from the NNOCCI system where they provided staff and volunteers at zoos and aquariums around the country with climate change science direct from the climate scientists and scientifically-tested communication strategies from social psychologists to guide visitors toward strategies to reduce their fossil fuel use. Bringing together experts from different fields of science, communication, and social psychology allows us to build messages that are powerful and relatable, leading to stewardship in our communities.

    Through the project, in addition to the conversations had at the Center, we wanted to have a digital presence and create tools that can be used by the community.  One of the most exciting elements of the initiative is the development of a climate change animated short, in collaboration with the California College of the Arts and Bret Parker of Pixar Animation Studios.  Utilizing animation, under the direction of Bret Parker, highlights the science of climate change and effects on marine mammals in a way that can be engaging for both kids and adults.  The video will be launched in May 2016, along with web content on various aspects of climate change, to help us reach new audiences online and communicate our work at the Center for our guests.  Be sure to check out our website in May 2016 to see some of the great work that has come out of the first year of our Climate Change Education Initiative at www.MarineMammalCenter.org.

     

    Dr. Whizzlepuff and her assistant from the new climate change animated short by The Marine Mammal Center and the California College of the Arts

    © California College of the Arts

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  • Reminiscing about our Fellows

    As we enter into our final week of recruiting for our next class of Emerging Leaders Fellows, I’ve been reflecting on the impact that the program has had on the Institute and the amazing influence that the individual fellows have had on our team.

    Hector Zaragoza and Ruth Pimentel were the intrepid members of our first Fellowship cohort. They joined the team knowing that they were part of our guinea pig year, willing to grow and learn with us as we went along. They helped us hone our fellowship curriculum, gave us critical feedback on designing fellowship projects, but most importantly showed us the life and energy that new team members can bring to our work. We had a great time with Hector and Ruth – helping them develop and implement their projects, taking park prescriptions around Fort Baker, making the occasional Friday after work trip to the yacht club, and even getting our hands dirty during a volunteer day that Ruth planned for us at Mountain Lake!

    Rhianna Mendez and Sophia Choi joined the Institute in our second year hosting the Fellowship. We like to think that we’d learned a bit about managing a fellowship by the second year, but as we tell the fellows, there’s always opportunity for growth and improvement. Rhianna and Sophia’s flexibility and positive attitude in the face of any challenge was truly inspirational for us. From a willingness to try new things (You’d like me to design and run a workshop on storytelling? Present my findings to a room full of partners? Sure! Why not?), to rolling with the punches as we sorted out the details of our office move, Rhianna and Sophia brought a curiosity and humor that was infectious. And of course we can’t forget the fashion sense and restaurant advice we gleaned from these two East-Coasters.

    We value our Fellowship program highly for the passion and energy that these emerging leaders bring to our team. And we make every effort to ensure that they get as much out of the experience as we do. Here are a few nuggets in their own words:

    The Institute is a hub of innovation and this instilled a sense of urgency in me to innovate through brainstorming sessions with colleagues or conversations by the “water cooler.” Whatever the challenge may be, the Institute provides the knowledge, resourcefulness, and confidence to go into uncharted territory and make your mark. 
    -Hector

    Working in a program that is centered around core values of partnership and collaboration gave me many opportunities to network with the amazing professionals of both the National Parks Service and the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Those people that I’ve met through this program have been career mentors and invaluable resources for support and advice as well.
    -Sophia

    If you’re an emerging leader, we urge you to submit your application before the deadline this Friday, April 8!

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  • Post-to-Park Transformations

    Amidst a global rise in population, cities and urban areas are absorbing much of this growth, posing many challenges and questions. How do we conserve and rebuild the open spaces in our urban areas in ways that are sustainable and conducive to healthy lifestyles for diverse communities? This has become not only a topic of discussion for architects, urban designers, and planners but also a driving force in many new projects.

    It is especially an exciting time for these disciplines as well as its many cross-sector industries because the awareness of this societal challenge is no longer siloed to our cities’ builders; the awareness is resonating with the larger community as the diverse inhabitants of urban areas are experiencing the impact and consequences of rapid urban growth first hand.

    The challenges in creating spaces for diverse communities, paired with the challenges that come with working around the density of existing built structures have given way to some of the most creative and innovative urban park spaces today. Ranging from reclaimed industrial spaces, conservation of historic parks, to innovative infrastructure reuse projects, the new urban park is constantly being redefined as a result of the efforts of communities and industry leaders.

    The recent transitions of former military bases to public parklands provide critical examples of how local needs, community interests, and partnership opportunities ever present in cities can be leveraged to create engaging and sustainable urban parklands. Looking at Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, the Institute gained valuable insight on urban park planning and implementation. After conducting research and interviewing key stakeholders who helped create these parks, we collected our findings in our report, Post-to-Park Transformations: Case Studies and Best Practices for Urban Park Development.

    While many practical sustainable building practices are present in the parks of the case studies, we wanted to put our focus on the potential that diverse urban areas harbor to bring together people from different industries, experiences, and interests in order to implement great parks. We hope that this report and lessons learned could be used for innovation in the role of parks and public places in cities and encourage others to take advantage of the rich cultural fabric of urban centers to keep parks relevant, engaging, and beneficial to a changing and growing population.

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  • Meeting Betty

    This week's blog post comes from Jennifer Greene, Associate Director, Community Engagement Program with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

    On March 2, the National Park’s Community Shuttle brought the Bayview Network for Elders to Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. The group of 35 African American women had long wanted to visit the Park and meet Ranger Betty Soskin, the woman whose life story reflected their own. Just like her, they were the daughters and wives whose lives revolved around a shipyard just across the Bay. As it turned out, the visit was as meaningful for Betty as it was for them.

    The ladies filed into the visitor center, quietly, smiling, orienting themselves, and there was Betty behind the desk and in uniform. I could feel the mutual familiarity and comfort, the warmth of the connection between the group and Betty, who shared, “It’s so nice to see people who look like me in my park.”

    She also shared with us her history, her story, and communicated in prose how her story was emblematic of so many other lives. One Bayview woman shared how she too had moved from Louisiana with her husband and two-year old daughter to work in the shipyards, the same daughter who sat a few rows in front of her. She provided the truth behind the “Greatest Generation,” how it’s more layered and complex, and fraught - how the truth of integration had been whitewashed. As some women noted on the shuttle ride over, “Rosie was a white woman.” Black women had always worked - families had always needed two incomes. She shared how, between her, her mother, and her grandmother, all of whom were alive at one time together, spanned generations that lived through slavery to the challenges we still face today. It’s a story she graciously describes as belonging to us all – nobody more than the women in that room.

    It didn’t cross my mind that Betty might need a reminder of her importance, her connection to history, and women of her generation. She wrote in her blog (cbreauxspeaks) of our visit that day,

    “The 35 lovely and lively African American women took photos to share with their families, and I felt affirmed and appreciated in my work by their enthusiasm. It was clear that the history being shared belonged to us all, and that we were united -- not only as American citizens whose life experiences varied greatly -- that we were all survivors of a badly broken social system, but that we were still one people willing to share love beyond any previously limiting boundaries…….. But maybe it's work that I, as a primary source of that important Era, am best suited to do.... and how brilliant of Life to have set me down in this space and time with a whole busload of loving Sistahs!”

    We all need to feel connected, to be reminded of our place in the world. In this case, all one group of women needed was a ride to meet the woman and Ranger who communicates the power and significance of their story to the world.

    To follow Betty’s blog go to cbreauxspeaks.
    Go to YouTube to see Betty’s 4-minute video on the truth of the “Great Generation” Of Lost Conversations.
    To learn more about the Community Shuttle Program, contact Jennifer Greene, jgreene@parksconservancy.org or visit the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website.  

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  • The Institute is excited to announce that we are now recruiting for our third class of Emerging Leaders Fellows!

    Our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders is one of the Institute’s newest initiatives, which seeks to empower people who are just starting out in their careers by offering paid professional opportunities that shape their development as future environmental and community leaders. Through this program, the Institute intentionally seeks Fellows with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help explore new ways for parks to provide value to all communities. In this, we strive to support the development of the next generation of park leaders and advocates as well as to give to our Fellows the tools to apply their creativity to the complex challenges that parks and communities face.

    Through the Fellowship, participants receive individualized mentorship and career coaching, participate in learning opportunities designed to increase their project management toolkit, and take ownership of specific projects, ultimately adding tangible products to their professional portfolio and supporting their career growth. The Fellows in our first two cohorts conducted research, evaluated programs, created roadmaps and case studies, and built partnerships that have all had a lasting impact on the Institute and our work.

    While we like to think that the benefits to the Fellows are very enticing, we also know that the Institute gets a lot of value out of welcoming these news perspectives and passions to the team. Since the start of the program, our Fellows have brought energy, ideas, and inspiration to our work and we are excited to continue that tradition with our 2016 class.This year, we are recruiting two Fellows to integrate into our programmatic work. One Fellow will support the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area initiative, helping create resources to scale up lessons learned across the region and beyond. The other Fellow will be supporting our work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, researching and creating resources focused on successful public engagement campaigns and locally relevant scientific data.

    If you or someone in your network is interested in this opportunity, please visit our website to learn more or apply via our online application form (Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Health, Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Climate).

    We can't wait for our 2016 Fellows!

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  • Mindfulness for Park Professionals

    My office is just a short walk away from Fort Mason’s Great Meadow.  This park has gentle, grassy hills and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Every morning as I head into work, I’m greeted with the ocean, air, bees, and native plants.  Luckily for me, I don’t have to sneak away to see this beautiful space. Here at the Institute, we have an organizational culture that values outdoor time; I am encouraged to spend time in nature.

    View from where I meditate.

    I take full advantage of this park perk.  I enjoy walking meetings and impromptu botany lessons on the Great Meadow. But most of all, I cherish my daily mindfulness practice.  It’s nothing fancy— lasting only 7 minutes— but it is the best perk my employer can ever give.  Better than any sweet, salty or caffeinated snack, these 7 minutes help me refocus after a hectic morning, or calm my nerves before a big meeting.  I’m more creative in my problem-solving, more patient with obstacles, and more present with my co-workers.  In short, it makes me a better employee.

    I don’t want to be one of those self-righteous hippies, pushing the latest crunchy granola health practices on my co-workers, but I can’t help it when it comes to mindfulness.  I think mindfulness is a useful tool for all park professionals.  I know from experience, but science supports it too.  Mindfulness can bolster mental and physical health.  It can even change our neural pathways –changing the physical structure of the brain.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it builds up inner resilience.  Mindfulness and meditation practices are linked to increasing compassion, mental flexibility, and attention. 

    Inner resilience is a crucial asset for park professionals right now. Urban parks are entering frontiers that require us to tap into our best attributes. Climate change, health disparities, and homelessness are all daunting challenges that parks must bravely face.  These challenges deserve our creativity, patience, focus, and best interpersonal skills.  In order to be better stewards of our parks and our communities, we need to invest in our own inner stewardship.     

    So, at the risk of sounding preachy, take advantage of your park perks.  Prepare for a challenging, and exciting future.  I’ll meet you at the Great Meadow.  

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  • HPHP Website Dreams Do Come True

    Written in collaboration with Lori Bruton

    If you are a long-time fan of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, you’re in luck! The HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative has been working hard over the past year to create our own website!

    For a group of practitioners dedicated to the integration of health and nature into real-life programs, this foray into web programming, site design, and beta-testing was—undoubtedly—a feat that was only achieved through team work. Like much of what Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Institute at the Golden Gate do, this website only became reality when different groups came together to collectively solve a problem. Sometimes, the problem is making parks accessible to high health needs populations. Sometimes, the problem is a limited-functionality website that we had outgrown.

    We built this website the same way we built our collaborative, through many people bringing their expertise to the table, constant partnership, and a desire to improve the health of all Bay Area residents.

    One of the main reasons we created this website is to make it as easy as possible for new and existing park users to be able to find a HPHP: Bay Area program near them. HPHP: Bay Area aims to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents, especially those with high health needs, through the regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands, and in order to do so one must be able to first find a park and see what introductory programs are being offered there. You can learn about the HPHP: Bay Area programs being offered on the homepage of the website, and also on the programs page. You can sort by date, distance from your house, activity, program leader, and do so much more.

    First and foremost, the Institute at the Golden Gate is honored that the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative had trusted us to manage the process of website creation. Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed their ideas, content, photos, videos, and website development skills to this website. Red Wolf Technology has been a creative, technical, and patient consultant in helping us develop this website from idea to tangible product. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Web Team has been a guiding light and strong support system for helping us novice website creators at the Institute put our big ideas and dreams into an organized and realistic component list. And of course, the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative partners have been our cheerleaders, content-creators, beta-testers, and program leaders from the very beginning. Without their hard work to put on these programs to welcome diverse groups into parks, none of this would be a reality. Lastly, the website would not exist without the new and current park users that attend these HPHP: Bay Area programs and believe in the health benefits of parks and nature.  

    We hope you enjoy the new website as much as we do! Please feel free to contact us if you have any feedback about the website.

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  • February is American Heart Month


    February is American Heart Month and to celebrate, we’ve asked Mike Gonzalez, Regional Director of Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association to give us a few tips on how to celebrate.

    Mike Gonzalez is the Regional Director of Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association. His foray into public health started in school, but was solidified during his internship with a local public health department where he was working to improve and expand on healthy eating programs throughout agricultural communities in California. Through this internship, he saw first-hand the compounded effects that low access and low resources have on entire communities.

    In his current role in the American Heart Association, Mike works to achieve the AHA’s 2020 impact goals by engaging in prevention and recovery for multicultural communities. Within prevention programs, Mike extolls the importance of knowing your biometric numbers, as well as the importance of healthy eating and active living. Within recovery education, Mike and his team help to ensure high survival rates for those who are affected by heart disease.

    American Heart Month is an entire month dedicated to talking about heart health. Heart disease is one of the top chronic diseases affecting Americans and disproportionately, it affects communities with low resources and low access to healthy food or physical activity. February gives Americans the opportunity to raise awareness for this disease, as well as opportunities to advance our knowledge and understanding of how it can be prevented and treated. Multicultural communities should take special care to celebrate during this month because African American and Asian communities have higher rates of stroke and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease.

    American Heart Month starts the discussion for all partner agencies to bring heart health into the conversation, but presents specific actions for individuals to take in order to ensure their own heart health.

    Ways to celebrate American Heart Month

    • Know your numbers! It is important to know your indicator numbers: blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and BMI. If your access to these indicator tests is limited, knowing your blood pressure and BMI are great places to start, as they provide a window to your health. Call the AHA if you need help understanding what the numbers mean.
    • Engage in physical activity in open space! Parks are low-cost (often no-cost) areas to stay healthy in your community. Even walking to the park to sit for 15 minutes lowers your stress level, a major trigger for high blood pressure. If you are in the Bay Area, visit hphpbayarea.org to find a free park program near you. 

    To learn more about Mike Gonzalez's work at the American Heart Association, visit the American Heart Association of the Greater Bay Area online

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  • Ten Things Presidents Have Done for the Parks

    On February 12, 2016 President Obama designated three new desert monuments in California—Castle Mountains National Monument, Sand to Snow Monument, and the Mojave Trails Monument. There has been a long history of presidents contributing to the expansion and improvement of the national park system. In honor of President’s Day, here is a list of ten things past presidents have done for the National Parks.

    1)  Abraham Lincoln

    In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that established Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as a public trust. This bill laid the groundwork that allowed Yosemite Valley to become a national park in 1872.

    2) Ulysses S. Grant

    President from 1869-1877, Grant created America’s first national park –Yellowstone National Park—in 1872. This is in addition to being the first president in United States history to set aside land with the sole purpose of protecting wildlife.

    3) Benjamin Harrison

    President Harrison designated land in Alaska as a refuge that would eventually become Katamai National Park and Preserve. He was also responsible for creating the Casa Grande reserve in Arizona, which is the first prehistoric and cultural site to be established in the United States.

    4) Theodore Roosevelt

    Theodore Roosevelt is often regarded as the conservation president. President Roosevelt saw conservation as a tool to keep America’s natural resources and beauty safe for public enjoyment and not leveraged as manufacturing resources for entrepreneurs. During his two terms, Roosevelt set aside over 230 million acres of land, created over 50 bird sanctuaries, and signed the Antiquities Act—which gives the president the authority to protect natural and cultural resources. Roosevelt used this act to not only create 18 national monuments, but also to designate five national parks. Since the signing of this act into law, 15 other presidents have since used it as grounds for designating national monuments.

    5)  Woodrow Wilson

    Most remembered for his work with United States foreign policy, in 1916 President Wilson presided over the creation of the National Park Service. The national parks created under Wilson’s presidency include Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

    6) Franklin D. Roosevelt

    During the New Deal, Roosevelt used the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ 250,000 young men and use them to work in federal and state parks and forests. Men from the CCC helped develop the Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, and many other projects. From 1933 to 1942 these men built roads, bridges, forests, cabin camps, and park structures throughout the county. The Civilian Conservation Corps to date was the largest park improvement program to have taken place in the US.

    7) Lyndon B. Johnson

     President Lyndon B. Johnson was very active in the conservation movement because it was a passion of his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. In 1964, Mrs. Johnson formed the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, where she directed that flowers be planted –especially tulips— within the parks of Washington D.C.  Overtime her beautification movement became nationwide, as she visited national parks and historic sites with the intent of promoting conservation and historic preservation. During his administration, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Wild Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and established many new national parks.

    8) Gerald Ford

    In his youth President Ford was a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 1936. He later returned to the park as president on August 29, 1976 with the hope of generating new public interest in the national parks.

    9) George H.W. Bush

    President George H.W. Bush and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, were frequent visitors of national parks. During his presidency George H.W. Bush and his wife visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, the Everglades, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and the Martin Luther king Jr. National Historic Site. This is in addition to visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

    10) Bill Clinton

    In 1994, President Clinton established Joshua Tree National Park under the California Desert Protection Act. This act created the largest protected area of wild land in the lower 48 states, adding 234,000 acres to the park.

     John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt at Glacier Point in 1903. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Bibliography

    Scott, Gary. "The Presidents and the National Parks." WHHA. The White House Historical Association, Fall 2010. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

    Howard, Brian Clark. "The Presidents Who Gave Us Our Best Parks." National Geographic.National Geographic Society, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. 

     

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  • A Parks Love Fest

    In honor of Valentine's Day, the Institute staff took a few minutes to share why we love parks and green spaces, because really, what's not to love? Please share why you love the parks in the comments below!

    Arielle

    For me, I love visiting parks because they are a great space to be social with my friends while also reaping the many health benefits of nature. One of my favorite parks in the Bay Area is Lands End because not only do you get the breathtaking views of the sea and Golden Gate Bridge, but you also get the opportunity to hike through the Presidio to Baker Beach. Furthermore, I really love spending time in parks with my friends because we always end up meeting new people and learning new things about Bay Area wildlife.

    Catherine

    I love visiting new parks – seeing new landscapes, new rock formations, new plants and animals. Working so closely with the national parks has given me the motivation and opportunity to visit Arches, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain in this past year. I love the amazing variety of life on this planet and the little glimpses I saw of this in the parks. But I also love the parks in my own backyard, the parks that I grew up in and that remind me of my family and my home. The county parks and city parks that my family has been hiking and exploring for years, where I had many a birthday party, and that represent connection to community and to the environment.

    Chris

    What I've loved most about parks this past year is the chance to introduce them to the next generation. With three young children aged six, four, and two, I'm taking every opportunity to introduce them to the many wonderful parks in our backyard here in the Bay Area. Whether it's playing in the waves at Stinson Beach, watching the wildlife on the pier at Crissy Field, or learning about America's history at the Fort Point Civil War Days, I'm grateful for the chance to see these places anew through the eyes of my kids.

    Donna

    Roger Williams National Memorial is the 20th smallest national park in the nation. It’s so small that I couldn’t find a spot to lay a picnic blanket down in the first beautiful days of spring in 2011. It’s so small that I walked its entire length each day to get to my first job. It’s so small, but so lovingly etched into my mind that thinking about its tiny visitor center or winding pathways (not trails!) makes my heart skip a beat.

    Elyse

    My favorite park in Oakland is Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks. This small plot of land is owned by Oakland Parks and Recreation, but is stewarded by City Slicker Farms, an urban agriculture non-profit. Every week neighbors tend to the fruits, herbs, and veggies growing in the urban farm. The harvest is then re-distributed to their West Oakland community at a weekly farm stand. I like the chickens, the medicinal herbs, and I especially like the rows of nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetables, but that’s not what I love about the park. What I really love about this park is what this little farm represents: a community reinvigorating a once underutilized green space. Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks is a living reminder of the special places and special relationships that bloom when neighborhoods, city government, and community organizations work together.  

    Lori

    What’s not to love about parks, especially the national parks? I love the process of planning a vacation and trying to visit as many parks as possible in one trip, the excitement of travelling to a new place by car or plane, and that awe-moment when you see the natural wonder for the first time. It’s always special to have the opportunity to gaze up at Half Dome, peer into the Grand Canyon, or watch Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone, and those are experiences I will cherish forever. I'm already planning my next national park road trip because I can't get enough of them - Glacier National Park here I come!

    Oksana

    I love parks because they were, and still are, a place where I can exercise my imagination. Living in the city, most buildings and streets are labelled. There's isn't really any mystery to what you see. When I was young, parks were places that my grandparents often took me to and where I remember countless hours of molding the scenery around me. At Sutro Park, near Ocean Beach, I was usually d'Artagnan from the Three Musketeers and the scene was in Paris. Other times I was Aladdin and Sutro transformed into the streets of Baghdad. Coming back to that park still elicits the best memories for me and, even now, it is a place where I can let my thoughts flow unrestrained.

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  • Addressing Sea Level Rise Hands On

    This past Saturday, community members concerned with climate change, Crissy Field enthusiasts, and park staff converged together at the Presidio Officer’s Club to discuss how projected sea level rise might impact our beloved coastal parklands. Looking specifically at Crissy Field as a case study, workshop participants were able to learn about the anticipated climate change impacts on Crissy Field as a result of 3-6 feet of sea level rise, with additional scenarios illustrating how conditions would be compounded by the king tides (exceptional high tides) and 100-year floods (a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year). After learning about these potential threats, the room was divided into groups and each table was tasked with finding unique solutions to protect Crissy Field, such as building seawalls, restoring wetlands, elevating buildings, and more—including the unfortunate but sometimes necessary option of retreating (evacuating).

    Put on by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, and the California Coastal Conservancy, and facilitated by landscape architecture firm, CMG, this workshop engaged participants on the practical realities of climate change but also invigorated them with potential solutions. Despite it being a Saturday morning and climate change being the main topic up for discussion, the positive energy in the room was palpable. During the workshop participants were given maps of Crissy Field, which functioned as game boards, and they were able to add icons to represent the adaptation tools of their choosing. They were able to protect the fragile habitats of Snowy Plovers at the west end of Crissy Field Beach or elevate the Warming Hut store. After being informed that cost was not a deterrent, participants moved across the board with excited hands.

    The workshop had a number of highlights, including Superintendent Lehnertz’s stirring introduction which helped provide context for the day and illustrate the commitment by the national parks to address climate change head on. However, I think the main takeaway for me is that one of the best solutions to engaging community members on their own climate resilience is simply to ask them what their solutions might be. It’s amazing the response you get just by asking “what would you do?” As a San Francisco native, I couldn’t help leaving the Officer’s Club that morning with a lingering sense of having been a part of something incredibly significant for the special places and people of this unique region.

    Stay tuned for the results from the workshop!

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  • Parks Are for Everyone

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    The founder of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp, taught me this mantra. Outdoor Afro often has first-time hikers or nervous campers chant “this is my park” before new wilderness experiences. Claiming belonging is a powerful tool in their work of cultivating nature connection with African Americans. I’ve borrowed this phrase from Outdoor Afro, using it when I’m a lone brown face in a green space.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    This year I’ve gotten to explore our local and national park system more than ever before. My increased connection to this land has increased my understanding of its African American heritage and history. I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers who, 150 year ago, were some of the original caretakers of these shores, meadows, and forests. This history is a source of comfort and pride for me and has spurred my curiosity about the other black folk that have walked and served on this land. I recently gathered another lesser-told story I’d like to share with you: a story of the pivotal role the Sutro Baths played in California’s journey towards civil rights.

    Postcard of Sutro Baths interior, circa 1909, photo courtesy of sanfranciscodays.com

    On July 4th and July 11th of 1897, John Harris, an African American, was denied entry to the Sutro Baths, a bath house, swimming, and recreation area located by the Cliff House. Now a part of Golden Gate National Parks, the Cliff House and Sutro Baths were once privately owned by Adolph Sutro, former mayor of San Francisco. The Sutro family contested that their white customers would not “co-mingle” with other races in their pools and that discrimination was necessary to avoid financial ruin.

    John Harris and the Sutro Baths made headlines when Harris sued Adolph Sutro. His case is notable because Harris won and, most importantly, gave teeth to California’s first civil rights law, the Dibble Act of 1897. Passed only a year after Plessy v. Ferguson legalized “separate but equal,” the Dibble Civil Rights Act mandated that Californians “of every color or race whatsoever” are “entitled to the full and equal facilities of all places of public accommodation.” The Dibble Act was the precursor for the better known Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, which ultimately served as a model for the nation’s Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Harris v. Sutro, was the first test of California’s commitment to civil rights and it was set right here in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The legacy of Henry Clay Dibble, author of the Dibble Act, is also tied to park land. Dibble, a champion for civil rights and women’s suffrage, is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

    I want to thank author Elaine Elinson and my new office buddies from the National Park Service, Steve Haller and Abby Sue Fisher for sharing this piece of history with me. As we kick off Black History month our park professionals, historians, community partners, culture-keepers, and educators are working hard, as they always do, to remind us that parks are for everyone.

    Oh – and pools, the coast, and ski slopes are for everyone, too.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

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  • Cheers to 2015 – On to 2016!

    As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.

    2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.

    Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:

    Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.

    Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!

    Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.

    Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!

    Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.

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  • Meet Elyse, New Urban Program Manager

    This photo was taken the day I learned if you let one first grader drink from the hose, you have to let all the first graders drink from the hose.

    I used to be naive enough to think my work was something new. As an urban farmer, then a green jobs advocate, and now the newest Program Manager at the Institute – I thought it was cutting edge to use public and communal land to cultivate health, wealth, and connectedness. I thought it was original to use parks to grow produce at City Slicker Farms, and innovative to teach youth about green jobs at Ecology Center. Thankfully, I got some needed and righteous humbling when I learned about George Washington Carver. I mean, once I really learned about George Washington Carver.

    I got the same “peanut man” story that most folks get as a 3rd grader. My ignorance was exposed when, while at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a Reverend casually gave thanks to George Washington Carver. That simple act of gratitude was a catalyst for me to become re-acquainted with the man who laid the ground work for my personal and professional purpose. Carver had a deep love for the earth, he espoused sustainable agriculture practices (despite the mocking of his peers), and saw the land as a resource for self-sustainability, food security, handicrafts, and a means for poor sharecroppers to escape indebtedness. I now see George as a mentor and guide for turning to the land for community health, for financial and physical sustenance, and for community. I can completely nerd-out about George Washington Carver’s innovative work in sustainable agriculture and community education/outreach, but I’ll let you learn more about him on your own terms. Should you need some good starting points, I’ve got links below to my favorite books about Mr. Carver. One of the links is to a children’s book, because, (1) I’m the kind of adult who enjoys good children’s literature and (2) I will utilize any opportunity to teach or learn from kids about nature.

    I’m grateful that writing this blog, one of my first tasks in my new position, allows me to acknowledge the ancestors and communities that have paved the way for the Urban Program at the Institute. I hope to bring forth many more stories and heroes from marginalized communities through my work here. Within the Institute’s Urban Program, I’m excited to support parks that cultivate healthy, connected communities and communities that cultivate relevant, diverse green spaces. I am honored to be a part of your community and privileged to carry on the work of heroes like George Washington Carver, Dolores Huerta, and my grandmother, Gertrude.

    I hope to meet more of our community soon, but until then – tell me who your heroes are. Who inspires you in this work of creating restorative, inclusive and dynamic green spaces?

    Your hippie home-girl,
    Elyse

    Elyse’s favorite George Washington Carver books:

    For Adults: My Work is that of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver

    For Kids: George Washington Carver

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  • Happy Holidays!

    Wishing everyone happy holidays and a wonderful new year!

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  • Last week Oksana and I headed downtown to join the throngs of scientists, researchers, students, and educators flocking to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting at the Moscone Center. AGU is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, attracting over 24,000 attendees. While Al Gore and a sneak preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stole the AGU headlines, there was also a strong contingent of people exploring how to improve and strengthen climate literacy at a national scale.

    The opening afternoon of the conference, Oksana kicked off a union session titled Enabling Effective Climate Literacy through Collective Impact. In her presentation, Oksana discussed the formation of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, the strategic planning process, and lessons learned for others interested in similar collaborative initiatives. The other presenters represented a range of unique collaboratives and engaged in a lively panel discussion where they shared diverse insights into common challenges such as funding, member engagement, and scalability.

    The Institute also helped to convene a poster session looking at the impacts of place-based education on climate literacy. The posters included place-based initiatives from across the country and included a unique partnership project between our partners at the Exploratorium and NOAA. In speaking with the various presenters it was interesting to note the different ways in which organizations define “place-based,” which ranged from a strong focus on nature, to a broader geographic definition, to an individual’s connection to community. As the Institute continues to explore this space, it is interesting to note the use of place and what it means to different people.

    In between the myriad sessions, we had the opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with folks from government, academia, and the private sector trying to tackle some of the most intractable challenges to climate education. The buzz and energy coming out of Paris was tangible throughout the conference and the critical importance and timeliness of this work wove a sense of urgency into every conversation. We explored the importance of site-specific efforts and the potential impact of regional collaboration. We came out of our days there feeling simultaneously drained and energized; the scale of the problem often felt overwhelming but seeing the passion and diversity of those working with us to tackle this issue was inspiring.

    Photo credit: AGU Blog

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  • The following is a Q & A interview with National Park Service Urban Fellow, Kieron Slaughter who is working in Richmond, CA at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front.

    What was your motivation in becoming an Urban Fellow for the National Park Service?

    I was interested in a new career challenge and this position would allow me the opportunity to work with a national network and be more proactive rather than reactive. In my previous position as a city planner, one of my roles was to respond and react to development project submittals as opposed to proposing new initiatives and being proactive.

    Another big motivation for me was the opportunity to address social justice issues in the community while addressing the diversity challenge facing the National Park Service (NPS). I see my role as an Urban Fellow as an opportunity to serve as an example and potentially inspire people of color who may have never thought that working for the Park Service was an option for them. By seeing me, they will recognize someone that looks like them, comes from the same place, and has had similar experiences as them. They will also see that they could work for the NPS and have a positive impact on the community.

    The Fellowship also allows me to connect with local youth, primarily from Richmond, and explain to them that my road wasn’t always an easy one, and that I’ve experienced setbacks and stumbles along the way. This is what creates relevancy and these personal connections strengthen our relationship as an agency with the community. The NPS has an immense opportunity to facilitate 2nd and 3rd chances for underrepresented youth, especially those residing in urban environments like Richmond, CA.

    Now that you’ve been in this position for seven months, what impression have you had of the fellowship?

    So far it’s going great, although there’s been a steep learning curve because I came from outside of the NPS. Luckily, everyone I’ve worked with has been really helpful in bringing me up to speed with the Park Service culture, acronyms, and organization. Through trainings and traveling for the job, I’ve been able to accelerate my learning more quickly than I would have if I were just sending cold e-mails to new colleagues and partners and reading through publications. This really speaks to the power of in-person collaboration and the value of creating personal relationships. 

    On the whole, I think the Urban Fellows program has been well-received and I’ve witnessed a significant amount of local enthusiasm about it—among the community, public officials, as well as NPS staff. In April 2015, we had the opportunity to meet with the NPS Director Jon Jarvis and he formally announced the launch of the Urban Agenda during his keynote speech at the Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco. This demonstrates that the Urban Agenda and Urban Fellows are supported from the highest level of organizational leadership. That type of support is paramount to the success of the program and the buy-in of NPS staff.

    It’s been both humbling and encouraging to witness how community members value the parks, programs, and the NPS arrowhead—the symbol of the Park Service. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of meeting community members and community groups in their comfort zones—their neighborhoods and local events—as opposed to inviting them to meetings in city hall. Being visible and representing the arrowhead to the public also let me hit the ground running a lot quicker.

    What really makes the Urban Fellowship distinctive from other positions I’ve held is the way in which our cohort was on-boarded and our ongoing support structure.  We attended an intensive 3-day, retreat-styled orientation that not only focused on the principles of the Urban Agenda, but also emphasized our individual experiences, backgrounds, and journey to that moment.  This was instrumental in creating a trustworthy environment that each of the 10 Urban Fellows can rely on while we navigate this fellowship in 10 different cities around the country. I really feel connected to my cohort of Urban Fellows and our support team.

    What have been some of your biggest challenges in your fellowship? Conversely, have you had any moments of inspiration?

    One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is wrapping my head around some of the intricacies of the NPS, such as the organizational hierarchy, job titles, and deciphering all of the acronyms. Another challenge I’ve had is figuring out how all of the relationships with our partner and friends groups function and mapping out what their roles are.

    This isn’t exactly a moment of inspiration, but I’m generally inspired by the encouragement that the Urban Fellows receive from leadership to think outside of the box and think more deeply on how the NPS can be community partners. We’re encouraged to experiment and take more risks than most NPS employees, and we have more flexibility to work across established silos since we’re not in a specific division or branch. This fellowship provides a chance to challenge the status quo without fear of negative repercussions. In fact, I’d say my Park Service naivete has been a benefit in helping me think of how to make substantive changes within the system.

    What does OneNPS—one of the principles of the Urban Agenda—mean to you?

    OneNPS means re-thinking the hierarchical, military-inspired structure of the National Park Service and allowing for deeper lateral conversations. This includes potentially looking at startups and tech companies that have thrown out that model for inspiration. This principle also highlights that there has to be incentive to work with others outside of your department or division. It’s noble that the National Park Service is addressing this long-standing internal challenge through the Urban Agenda. 

    How do you see OneNPS playing out in the Pacific West Region and across the entire Park Service?

    The Pacific West Region is interesting in that we’re located near all of these major tech players that can provide us with unique models of collaboration. We’re uniquely positioned to be inspired by their way of doing things. In addition, the City of Richmond truly has innovative and inspiring non-profits and community groups that are doing awesome work. I’m inspired by groups such as Urban Tilth, Rich City Rides, POGO Park, Groundwork Richmond, Friends of the Richmond Greenway, and Trails for Richmond Action Committee—to name just a few. These groups and others have demonstrated how positive improvements to the built environment can occur on a grassroots level with limited resources.

    Thinking about how One NPS might function within the entire Park Service raises the question of how tenable it is to have communications all the way from an intern to the Secretary of the Interior. I think focusing on implementing One NPS on the regional level is the most feasible option and it’s fairly reasonable that units within a region could come together in person or when need be and share relevant information efficiently. We all complain about our overloaded email inboxes but we all continue to rely on email as our first mode of communication.  When you think about breaking down the silos of the entire Park Service system, it gets much more challenging; however, I think it can be done.

    What are some of the quick take-aways you want the public to know about the National Park Service?

    The Park Service does valuable work with partner organizations outside of the boundaries of the National Parks and not every NPS employee is a Park Ranger. We can play an important role in many relevant initiatives such as: health and wellness, local park planning, complete streets, urban agriculture, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, trail planning, and economic development.

    In addition, the Park Service has unique employment opportunities and workforce training for young people that can result in a job in any state or territory in the country; that’s an awesome opportunity that I wasn’t aware of when I was in high school, working part time at a fast food restaurant. Why work a summer job at the local mall when you could be working at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.? The more that the Park Service communicates that we are willing community partners that care about the well-being of the communities that we serve, the more people will see the National Park Service as a resource and reach out to us for support on community-inspired projects.  

     

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  • From Post to Park to My Own Transformation

    In this last week as an urban fellow at the Institute, I am spending most of my time finishing up my case studies report on post-to-park transformations, while relishing every spare minute to think about next steps. In thinking about the future I find myself reflecting on my own transformation in these last six months.

    Coming to the Bay Area right after graduating from school in New York, my educational background has given me a passion in sustainable urban development and I’ve always felt very strongly about the need to create more open spaces to forge better lifestyles for city dwellers. That’s what led me here to research urban park development and create a best practice guide in the hopes of helping others with the same passion who are planning and implementing their own projects.

    After six months of exploring new parks, meeting the people who created them, and researching every corner of Fort Baker, Crissy Field, and Governors Island, I’ve become emotionally invested. I feel a personal connection to these parks and their stories. And in these last days of my project, I’ve come to realize the reason why I now have a stronger relationship to parks, is the support I’ve had from the impassioned people who work hard to keep these open spaces engaging and relevant in our lives.

    The Institute’s unique team of creative thinkers and do-ers was like a family that helped to make parks my home. And as the Institute leverages parks as platforms for innovative thinking and action, it has also taught me to think outside the box in my own life, and gave me a new perspective on the meaning of an urban park. Not to mention, the overwhelming amount of support from the park professionals from both the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has given me a deeper insight on collaboration and partnerships across a variety of sectors as valuable resources for creativity. Coming in, I knew the importance of open spaces, but it wasn’t until my time here that I found so many diverse opportunities for forging other actions through these open spaces.

    Of course the fellowship has taught me valuable professional skills, do’s and don’ts, tricks and trades, but ultimately, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity that has added a new dimension to my passion for creatively building better environments.

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