I was enticed to move to San Francisco from Washington DC for one compelling reason–to work in the Presidio. I had a rewarding job working on global health and environmental issues in communities affected by rapid industrialization. Nonetheless the opportunity to work in the Presidio with one of the first NGOs, The Gorbachev Foundation, as it transitioned from a military base, signaled a unique opportunity. The ironic symbolism of the former Soviet leader taking up residence in the same geography that had recently served to guard Americans against his communist regime only added to the allure. It was an easy decision for me to pack up and head west.

Like many, I was stunned by the metaphysical beauty of the Presidio and the juxtaposition of the Golden Gate Bridge – hands down the best piece of public art ever. However, I quickly recognized how the natural environment was more than a backdrop to the early vision of the Presidio and its many partners to create a “global center for sustainability.” The park was, and endures as, part of the solution. With its natural, historic, cultural, and social resources it inherently provides a springboard for continuous innovation among many stakeholders and partners.

Today, as I gleefully return to work in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with the talented team at the Institute at the Golden Gate, I’m reminded of the same sense of awe and possibility that first beckoned me to San Francisco. The Institute’s mission of using parks and public lands as problem solvers could fundamentally reframe how we value our natural commons. When we sustain public lands and water, we are investing in national habitats and a depth of cultural and community assets that could be the building blocks to designing solutions to bigger societal challenges.

Imagine if more parks were positioned as a key part of our healthcare system with healthcare professionals trained to prescribe outdoor activity in local and national parks with easily accessible programs for all. A simple cost-effective approach could impact obesity, heart disease, stress, depression, and other related chronic diseases. Based on this approach, the Institute is an engine to help sustain our public lands while creating new solutions to advance public health, climate change education, and urban sustainability.

Much has changed for me and the city since my arrival but my early experience has sculpted my belief in the transformative power of this epic national park that I loved from day one. I am looking forward to looking out at the Golden Gate vista and tapping that inspiration.

Taking a park prescription on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park.  

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