All Posts (188)

  • Resistance and Resilience

    Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, National Historic Landmarks Program

    Sometimes, visiting National Parks and National Monuments can be a triggering experience. Sometimes, it’s a reminder of a painful past. Sometimes it’s a reminder that our national heroes subscribed to hurtful prejudices. But what can be most painful is not seeing your story anywhere, where your voice, your history, and your ancestors seem invisible. 

    In these spaces, I’ve learned to look deeper; I’ve learned to look for the resistance and resilience. I remind myself of the community organizing that happened at Manzanar National Historic Site, a former Japanese internment camp. I look for the handiwork of the indigenous folks that built San Francisco’s Presidio – creating a unique architectural aesthetic that Californians sometimes take for granted. Looking for the resistance and resilience reminds me that my voice matters and that my work matters. I am reassured that my contributions are of value, no matter the circumstances. 

    This is a timely reminder for this election season. With all the apocalyptic rhetoric swimming around, it’s easy to think that our challenges are insurmountable. It’s also easy to think that our voice only matters when our candidate is in office, or when our ballot measure has passed. But that’s not what our National Parks, our living history books, teach us. 

    Our National Parks teach us that it’s often the work happening in adversity, when things don’t go our way, that are the game-changers for our country. 

    So I hope you have a joyful election day; but, if that doesn’t happen, I hope your vote may be a voice for change.  

    This blog post was written by Urban Program Manager Elyse Rainey.

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  • Two Years On...

    Our first Health Fellow, Hector Zaragoza, shares with us what he has been up to over the past year since he wrote a guest blog post for us. He has gained valuable experience in the public sector since working at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are excited to learn more about his work.

    It has been two years since I was the Health and Wellness Fellow at the Institute at the Golden Gate. Since then, I have been a Volunteer Coordinator for Canal Alliance, a local non-profit that provides services to recent immigrant arrivals, and more recently, a Public Benefits Specialist enrolling individuals in public assistance programs like CalFresh, CalWORKs, and Medi-Cal for the County of Marin. I’m also in the middle of applying to graduate school for a Master’s in Public Policy. At this point, I have worked for the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and now the public sector and one thing rings true: collaboration, data analysis and evaluation, ideation and iteration are all critical skills for tackling any issue. The Institute does an amazing job in cultivating these traits.

    My primary duty at the Department of Health and Human Services is to interpret the state and county regulations as they pertain to public assistance programs and determine a client's eligibility for them. Marin is traditionally associated with opulence but the lower-income community often goes unnoticed and to some extent, marginalized. The services we offer provide a lifeline to those in need. Many have been laid off, others are recent arrivals settling in to their new country, and many are simply trying to increase their competitiveness in the job market by going back to school and gaining new skills. The services are a stop-gap measure for them to find some stability on their way to self-reliance.

    In addition to this, I am actively participating in the evaluation process of redesigning the on-boarding process for new employees by providing direct feedback. Essentially, we are developing a blueprint and its complementary toolkit to make on-boarding of new staff a more seamless transition that enables them to become more effective in their work and develop a sense of solidarity with the organization's mission and each other. My experience going through the pilot-stage of its implementation has been critical in informing leadership of areas for improvement. I have also carried over the enthusiasm around the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative to my new office. Although we are fitted with ergonomic workstations (automated desks are the best!) we still suffer the consequences of office life. Therefore, I established the Mile Challenge. Each member of my immediate team is encouraged to track their distance covered in a day whether it be biking, walking, running, or even dancing. This information is gathered and displayed on a whiteboard in the office where we see our progress as we attempt to log all 3,252 miles between our office and the statue of liberty in New York. We’re almost there! 

    My third special project is creating tools to facilitate casework processing in a thorough and timely manner. This includes: advanced excel case management sheets, flow charts, timelines, and as part of my most innovative set, a “how-to” checklist infographic. I will also be taking part in the development and implementation of our outreach strategy by conducting community focus groups.

    All of these special projects are inspired by traits espoused and practiced at the Institute - go beyond your stipulated duties of the job description and have a deeper impact. Let the spirit of challenging convention guide you into unexplored territory that ultimately contributes to a more fulfilling professional life. So, how are you stepping outside your comfort zone?

    Hector Zaragoza
    (760) 333-9662

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  • Last week I traveled to beautiful Madison, Wisconsin for the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) annual conference. The week was full of illuminating sessions on the most pressing issues facing environmental education. There was also a lot of cheese curd consumption.

    One of the most exciting things about the conference was the significant focus on climate change. During the opening ceremony, NAAEE leadership discussed climate change as one of its focal areas, which will inspire future research and professional development opportunities offered by NAAEE. The audience was also galvanized by the opening keynote speaker, famed academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Takayoshi Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki talked about the relatively new phenomenon of the polarization of the issue of climate change as well as the heart behind what environmental education strives to do—cultivate stewards of the planet and safeguard our most precious resources, many of which we could not live long without, such as clean air, water, and soil. Looking at this issue from a 30,000 foot view really helped frame the larger purpose of environmental education; you could tell by the standing ovation Mr. Suzuki received at the end of his speech.

    After this inspirational kick-off, the conference continued to showcase high-quality sessions. Some of the most memorable sessions I attended included one on a comprehensive literature review on what works in climate education. In this session, the presenters shared out some of the main challenges in climate education, such as it being a topic that is invisible, distant, uncertain, debated, and hopeless. After going over 1,000 peer reviewed journal articles and narrowing down the articles that met the standards for academic rigor, the researchers found some fascinating takeaways on combating these challenges. These included much of what the Institute has found in our own research, such as focusing on climate change impacts on local ecosystems, using inquiry-based activities, and involving individuals in community-based climate action projects.

    Another session that really stuck out was a workshop on creating a climate education toolkit. The beginning half of the workshop was focused on looking at excerpts on climate change from science textbooks, paying special mind to the language used. It revealed that even in California some of the language used in public school textbooks gave the impression that human-caused climate change isn't agreed on by the vast majority scientists and that the consequences might not be bad. In the second part of the workshop, we were split into smaller groups and were able to brainstorm a framework for our ideal climate education curriculum. This provided a valuable opportunity to think through what essential elements some educators are hoping to incorporate into their lessons. In our group, we identified that we want climate science curriculum to discuss the scientific consensus around climate change, the scientific processes/methods that scientists use to get to their conclusions, science reasoning skills, basic information on climate processes, and more.

    Overall, I was impressed with the quality and the content of the presentations. I was no less impressed with the dedication of the environmental educators who attended the conference in order to walk their talk and educate themselves. Leaving Wisconsin, I felt energized and confident that we have a brigade of intelligent, passionate, and highly motivated educators that care deeply for the work they do.

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  • Convene with Purpose

    This week's blog post is written by Jamie Yeh, Convene marketing consultant. Jamie brings more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience to the Institute at the Golden Gate. Working on Convene allows her to use this depth of knowledge to promote a personal passion—parks and public spaces—and bring awareness to a program creating more accessibility to organizations large and small. Prior to joining the Institute, Jamie worked with the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

    November begins the special Institute at the Golden Gate rate period at Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate. Extending through April of next year, this rate provides a discounted rate for nonprofit or government organizations gathering to discuss conservation and environmental issues.

    Cavallo Point is a world-class, LEED-certified lodge constructed on national park grounds. As such, they are focused on furthering the National Park Service’s mission to preserve natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. It was built in a unique partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Together, they focus on the shared vision to maintain the beautiful surrounding historic and natural features of Fort Baker while providing inspiring meeting space for the exchange and discussion of environmental topics.

    The Institute-Cavallo Point partnership—known as the Convene program—supports fostering new ideas, sharing best practices, encouraging leadership, and supporting public policy changes that will benefit people and the planet. We believe that parks and public lands can play a critical role in tackling many of our biggest social and environmental challenges and hope the national park setting facilitates discussions that lead to specific plans and actions.

    The Convene program welcomes all environmentally-focused organizations and meetings, and especially those that:
    - Are action-oriented
    - Represent diverse perspectives and sectors
    - Provide for public engagement
    - Have national and international impact
    - Serve as a model for others
    - Inspire organizational and individual commitment and action
    - Result in partnerships
    - Disseminate results
    - Build youth as future leaders
    - Contribute to the Institute’s breadth and depth

    We hope you take advantage of this special rate period at Cavallo Point, where great ideas and great spaces meet.

    Find out more about the Convene program, if your group qualifies for the special discounted rate, and how to apply by visiting our Convene page.

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  • 3rd National ParkRx Initiative Convening

    National ParkRx Initiative Convening Attendees

    Last week, the Institute hosted the 3rd National ParkRx Initiative Convening in St. Louis, along with our partners: NRPA and NPS. At this convening, we discussed the next phases of development for not only the National ParkRx Initiative, but also for the ParkRx movement, as it relates to each individual program.

    At the meeting, we discussed roles, responsibilities, fundraising goals, and communications plans for the National ParkRx Initiative. We were grateful to the dozens of people and agencies that came to the convening, as we were able to take a day to reflect on the collective goals of these many different organizations. At the National ParkRx Initiative, we know that there are many different ways that programs have started and we are interested in building up the Initiative to be able to support many different types of ParkRx programs.

    When we had met in 2014 for the 2nd National ParkRx Initiative Convening, only a handful of ParkRx programs were on the ground; now, the US Surgeon General has approved of ParkRx and dozens of programs have started their second phase of development. It is quite a different landscape that we are working within now and the Initiative is excited to bolster its strategic direction. This strategic direction will bolster the National ParkRx Initiative’s role as the support system for different programs both in existence and starting up. We will reveal more information once the plans have solidified. 

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  • Mid-Fellowship Update

    When I began my position as Health Fellow with the Institute in June, I never could have imagined time would fly by so quickly. In what feels like an instant, three months have come and gone.

    I suppose my sense of time has been skewed by the last four years of my life – the constant buzz of assignments, exams, and extracurricular activities in college stretch thin the hours in each day and make weeks feel like months. This fellowship has introduced me to the fast-paced reality of the working world.

    During my first and second months with the Institute, I dove headfirst into learning about the National ParkRx Initiative and planning for the webinar series I am organizing. I spent my time brainstorming what the webinars would cover, contacting and giving direction to potential panelists, and devising marketing and communications strategies to get the word out about the series.

    Once the webinar topics, panelists, and logistics were sorted out, I focused my energy on the first webinar in the series. My third month was spent refining the details of and marketing the first webinar.  The session went live on Wednesday, September 28, with Donna Leong, the Institute’s Health Program manager, moderating the session. 151 individuals participated and engaged in the webinar - it was a success! (If you’d like to view a recording, visit

    That brings me to now. As excited as I am to delve deeper into my projects, I also realize that my time with the Institute is slowly coming to an end. Despite this, I am excited for the next step in my professional journey, and I will be eternally grateful for all of the skills I have acquired during my time here. I know I have already grown immensely as a professional and I am thrilled to continue learning from my colleagues and assignments.

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  • On September 21, 2016 the Institute’s health program convened 200 Bay Area parks, public health, non-profit, and academic professionals at the Health Outdoors! Parks and Public Health Forum.

    As an event, Health Outdoors! sought to bring together those who work at the intersection of health and nature, and provide them with a space to learn from one another, share best practices, and build partnerships.

    Through attending this forum, participants gained a solid understanding of:

    • Clinical evidence of parks’ impact on individual and community health
    • Evidence-based parks programs that are making a difference in community health
    • Building key partnerships that can achieve systems change and promote health equity
    • Strategies and free resources to create physical activity programming

    This event took place at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, and was put together in collaboration with the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area Collaborative, Bay Area Moves! and made possible by Kaiser Permanente.

    In the morning attendees had the opportunity to listen to dynamic and engaging plenary speakers Dr. Nooshin Razani and Dr. Nina Roberts, who both made the case about why it is important to be physically active outdoors in nature, and why it is essential for communities to have both equal and equitable access green space. In addition to listening to speakers who are the leaders in the fields, one of the morning highlights was the physical activity break where attendees learned the dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The morning session ended with a panel of park and health agencies who have been successful in creating park prescription programs in the Bay Area.

    During lunch not only did everyone at the forum have the opportunity to network with one another, but attendees also had the opportunity to experience the many health benefits of nature firsthand through a ranger-led tour of Fort Mason and yoga on the Great Meadow.

    In the afternoon attendees attended two sessions of workshops that provided them with strategies and best practices around how to leverage health and park partnerships to create equitable built environments, ways to incorporate physical activity into current programs, creating park prescription programs, and creating programs that attract diverse communities.

    Overall, the Health Outdoors! Parks and Public Health Forum was a great success. To be there as both a volunteer and an attendee was truly a rewarding and amazing experience. The excitement and energy  around the opportunity to learn and collaborate from one another was palpable and felt by both those presenting and those attending various workshops. 

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  • Home Land Security: Art in the Parks

    Photo/design courtesy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

    I’ve been a little weary about listening to the upcoming political debates.  The ability to talk about complicated issues in a compassionate, nuanced way is a skill that seems to be atrophying within a political climate of catch-phrases and name-calling.  I sometimes avoid tough conversations, not because these issues aren’t important to me, but because I don’t know how to argue against a sound-bite.  And it’s not just me avoiding conflicting perspectives.  As more and more Americans rely on the internet for news, we’re becoming overly reliant on algorithms that feed us information and viewpoints similar to our own.  We’re trapped in our own social-media fueled echo chambers

    That’s why I’m excited about the new Home Land Security exhibit happening in a number of former military structures at the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. This free art exhibit explores complicated issues about home, national security, and borders.  As a black woman, I have a lot of privilege around these issues – one particular privilege being that I frequently don’t have to think about them.  I can go anywhere in the U.S., and no one questions my immigration status, or whether it’s safe to fly on a plane with me.  Up until now, I haven’t spent much time reflecting on issues like immigration, but it’s time for that to change.   I need to break free from my own echo-chamber.  This exhibit is a timely opportunity to reflect on pressing national concerns like Syrian refugees and immigration reform.  It’s a safe place for me to consider other perspectives while challenging my own beliefs. 

    Art is a powerful medium to explore place and the current issues of today.  The art in Home Land Security seems particularly poignant, in that it’s housed within former military barracks on National Park land.  What better place to talk about home, than in our National Parks – democratic spaces owned by all Americans?

    Home Land Security features 18 artists from 11 different countries, and is open until December 18th.  This exhibit is a collaboration between the FOR-SITE Foundation, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust. 

    This exhibit is also a part of the National Parks Service’s Art in the Parks programming.  If you would like to learn how to utilize the power of art in green spaces, the Institute at Golden Gate will be co-hosting an upcoming Art in the Parks webinar on September 29, 2016 from 10:00 – 11:00 AM PDT.   Click here to register. 

    Join me in learning more about national security, borders, and how these issues shape our identities and perceptions of home.  Challenge yourself to have a more complicated (and courageous) conversation.  

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  • Midway Through My Fellowship

    In exactly two days, I will have been the Climate fellow at the Institute for three months. In such a short amount of time, I feel like I’ve done so much!  During my first month, I jumped right into my project, working with members of the Bay Area Climate Impact Literacy Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) to draft the first version of the resource inventory survey. This survey will identify existing resources and needs within Bay-CLIC as they begin creating tools and resources for educators teaching climate change. Before I knew it, it was July and I was preparing to present this first draft to the entire collaborative at my first meeting. 


    After receiving great feedback on my work so far, August was dedicated to updating, meeting collaborative members, and redrafting the next version of the survey. Now that I’ve learned more about the goals of Bay-CLIC, I felt like I was able to provide more suggestions and ask better questions on how to get the best data from this survey. In between phone calls and doodle polls, I celebrated my birthday with the Institute which happened to fall on our “Fun Friday”. We spent the day hiking Angel Island, enjoying the sunshine, and eating lots of mini donuts. 


    This month, I’ve been working on the final draft of the survey and as an additional project, I’m creating an infographic for Bay-CLIC to illustrate the organizational diversity and reach of the collaborative.  In the next few weeks, I will be preparing for the next Bay-CLIC meeting and for life after the survey launch. I’m excited to see our results and what else this fellowship has in store for me!

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    Two weeks ago, the National Park Service celebrated its 100 years in action. Here at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy we commemorated the occasion with a picnic with our partners and park allies, the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust. In between burgers, cake, and friendly chatter, we had a number of presentations by park leadership representing these three organizations. One of the pervasive themes running through many of their speeches was the topic of climate change. At one point, the audience was asked to think about the founders of the Park Service and what they might have predicted their idea of the parks would look like in a hundred years. 

    We hear so much about tipping points in the climate conversation and it got me thinking that this centennial is a symbolic tipping point and an opportunity to re-envision many of the roles of parks and public lands on the issue of climate change. In a recent interview Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, stated that “fundamentally, [climate change is] the biggest challenge the National Park Service has ever faced.” Undoubtedly, it is a threat to the cultural natural resources that make American parks special; however, parks have a unique opportunity to serve as living laboratories for addressing this problem.  Parks also benefit from dedicated staff who are trained communicators, many of whom are becoming educated on this issue and are using their parks as a venue through which to talk about climate change in a way that provides this issue with a physical, personal context that visitors are interested in. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, for example, park staff no doubt emphasize that sea level rise could harm many of our coastal resources from Lands End to Crissy Field. 

    It’s no secret that acceptance and action on climate change has lagged in the United States. It’s amazing to think that prior to 2009, the National Park Service’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, did not have a formal policy on climate change. However, given this bumpy start, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. The National Park Service now has a number of strategic plans to address climate change, offers trainings on climate science and communications, and provides overall support across the service through its Climate Change Response Program. While this commitment to addressing climate change is laudable, many park interpreters face challenges in discussing this issue at their park sites. The reasons range from worry over visitor reaction (particularly negative reaction) to a lack of information on local, place-based climate impacts.   

    The good news is that many of these challenges are remediable. Communications specialists and social scientists are churning out new research regularly on tips and tricks for communicating on climate change which park staff can take back home to their sites. This includes focusing on clear, concise messages, giving visitors actions that they can take to address this issue, and infusing the conversation with personal stories as opposed to just statistics. Perhaps most importantly, a recent survey showed that most park visitors would like to receive information on climate change at the parks they visit; 91% even stated that they would change their behaviors in the park or refuge they visited to mitigate climate change.

    We’ve come such a long way since President Woodrow signed a bill in 1916 mandating that the National Park Service conserve the cultural and natural resources within the parks and ensure that they are both enjoyed by the public and preserved for future generations.  Now we are grappling with new, 21st century challenges such as how to make sure park provide welcome environments for the changing racial makeup of the United States as well as how to tackle human-caused climate disruption, which still has many unknown impacts. Luckily, our national parks are making brave efforts to discuss and address these issues head on. 

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  • Going, Going, Gone

    I checked an item off of my bucket list last week: I saw a glacier up close while visiting Glacier National Park. All of the national parks are on my bucket list, but Glacier National Park shot to the top these past few years when I started learning about the disappearing glaciers. I knew that every passing year would make the glaciers less and less accessible, so I had to act soon and I’m glad I did. I hiked 7.8 strenuous miles round trip to be right up close to Grinnell Glacier, the most accessible one in the park.

    I had a few opportunities during my trip to hear and read about the effects of global warming on the glaciers. Most of the park signage refers to how the glaciers will likely all be gone by 2030, maybe even sooner. It was hard not to feel sad while staring out at these amazing ice formations and knowing that they won’t be around for much longer. That’s why it’s so important for those who haven’t experienced national parks, especially this one, to be able to explore them now.

    Another special moment of my trip was attending the Centennial celebration hosted by the Glacier National Park Service and the Glacier National Park Conservancy. It gave a peek into the human element behind the parks. Even though I work for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and I know all of the hard work that goes into protecting the parks and open spaces for everyone to enjoy, it's been a while since I've seen it from an outsider’s perspective. To Glacier’s credit, they do a phenomenal job of running the park and putting on programs.

    As part of the birthday celebration, the park was hosting an Instameet. This was a perfect example of how the parks are trying to attract new visitors, especially younger generations, through social media. As a millennial myself, the thought of having my picture on an Instagram account that has 334 thousand followers is very enticing (though not as enticing as dinner, seeing as I didn’t stay long enough for the photo). It also helped that they had cake.

    What I learned from my trip and what I hope others will learn is that these parks aren’t just pretty places; they are places for people to interact, share their stories, and make new friends. Parks bring people together, physically and emotionally to care about the same things, like open spaces. Parks help create friendships, form new bonds and strengthen existing ones, and can change peoples’ perspectives. Glacier National Park is the most awe-inspiring natural wonder I’ve ever experienced, and I hope everyone has a chance to visit it soon before all of the glaciers are going, going, gone.

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  • National ParkRx Initiative Webinars


    Are you wondering how you can strengthen your agency’s park prescription program? Want to start a park prescription program, but don’t know how? Unsure of what park prescriptions are, but eager to learn more?

    Join us for the National ParkRx Initiative’s three-part webinar series this fall, Creating and Strengthening Park Prescription Programs. The webinars are free, open to the public, and will explore some of the most important elements for successful park prescription programs. Experts will provide case studies and best practices from their own successful park prescription programs.

    For some background on the organizer of these webinars, the National ParkRx Initiative aims to strengthen the connection between health, parks, and public lands to improve physical and mental health of individuals and communities. By collaborating with national partners and subject-matter experts, the Initiative helps improve the quality of new and existing park prescription. The Initiative is currently led by the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National Park Service.

    Why webinars, you might ask? In the process of developing a park prescription toolkit, there were several key themes that emerged as essential to the successful creation and execution of park prescription programs. These topics have been formatted into three different webinars:

    In Part I, participants will get a general overview of the park prescriptions movement while learning about the specific needs, roles, and responsibilities of both park and health professionals. Speakers will focus on how to build partnerships. In Part II, participants will learn about why needs assessments are essential to successful park prescription programs. Speakers will focus on how to conduct and use space and community assessments to establish program modules. In Part III, participants will learn about park prescription program implementation, evaluation, marketing, and outreach. Speakers will focus on program sustainability. 

    Register for the webinars by clicking the links above, or click here for more information. We hope to see you there!

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  • Women at Work - Rosie Rally 2016

    Richmond Rosies, photo courtesy of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park

    It’s no secret that I enjoy a good head wrap.   They’re colorful accessories that protect my powerful ‘fro from the massive fog clouds rolling around Fort Mason.  I first learned the utility of head wraps while working on a farm.   After finding too much debris tangled into my hair, I started wrapping my hair up in a scarf.  With my hair wrapped I could clean out the chicken coop, and no one would know because of my perfectly preserved hair-do.  I have since associated headscarves as a symbol of women at work.

    This Saturday the Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historic Park will celebrate another iconic scarf-wearing, workingwoman. The 2016 Rosie Rally, in honor of Rosie the Riveter, will be held August 13 starting at 10 AM.  This national park will be vying to reclaim the Guinness World Record for most folks dressed as Rosie the Riveter, and everyone’s invited! Since 2014, Richmond, California has been in a friendly competition with another wartime boom town, Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Ypsilanti currently has the record for most Rosies (with over 2,000 officially counted), but Richmond Rosies won’t take this sitting down.

    If you want to help Richmond, CA regain bragging rights, please join us this Saturday.  Rosies of all genders and ages are welcome and counted.  Please be mindful that in order to be claimed towards the official Rosie count you must:

    • Have a red bandanna with polka dots, worn in the traditional style
    • Dark blue collared shirt and dark blue pants OR dark blue coveralls
    • Closed toe black or brown shoes
    • Red socks

    Limited amounts of red polka dot bandannas and red socks are for sale at the National Park Visitor Education Center should you need them. Click here for more details on this awesome celebration. 

    See you there!

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  • The Best of the Best – Park Olympics

    The Summer Olympics only come once every four years so we took advantage of this special time of year to come up with the best of the best park sites in the Bay Area and beyond. You can consider us the color commentators of the Park Olympics based on our credentials that our office is situated in a national park and we are surrounded by many other parks and open spaces. Are there any “best” parks that we missed? Share your favorites in the comments!

    Best park to high jump: Rocky Mountain National Park. Okay, it might not technically be the highest national park (that’s Denali) but still, you’re already at 14,000 feet so that’s a pretty good place to start!

    Best place to sprint with the sand between your toes: Stinson Beach.

    Best park for an urban hike: Mount Sutro in the Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve. This reserve makes you forget that you are in the center of San Francisco.

    Park that's a Nicholas Sparks novel waiting to happen: The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland, CA was originally built by Alexander Dunsmuir for his fiance Josephine in 1899. Neither Josephine or Alexander got to enjoy the estate - Alexander died during their honeymoon and Josephine died two years later. The story of their great (and sometimes controversial) love lives on, as the beautiful park is a popular site for weddings and other romantic endeavors.

    Most Instagrammable parks: Fort Cronkhite/Rodeo Beach and Griffith Park. You could argue that every park is Instagram-worthy, but for the title of “Most Instagrammable Park” we have a tie. While the buildings at Fort Cronkhite are pretty typical of other military posts turned into parks, the surrounding scenery reveals unique, stunning views ranging from green hills to nearby Rodeo Beach. The drive into the Marin Headlands on its own is worth a trip! Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Griffith Park is home to thousands of acres of forest and wildlife. The attractions here are not limited to nature – natives and tourists alike are drawn to the park’s observatory, zoo, and amazing views of both the Hollywood sign and the sprawling city landscape.

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    Most family-friendly park: The Presidio. At the Presidio there is always something for everyone, ranging from easy walking trails, to afternoons at Baker Beach, and fun Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area activities happening every Saturday at the main post.

    Best secret park spot: Cayuga Playground in San Francisco. It’s family friendly and a nice spot to have a picnic!

    Best Park for history buffs: Rosie the Riveter WWII National Historic Park. If you're the kind of person that likes to read all the national park plaques and all the didactics and then google stuff to learn even more while your saint-like, park-professional girlfriend patiently waits; then Rosie the Riveter WWII National Historic Park is the spot for you. Rosie the Riveter is a park that is choc-full of history - and a must see for the World War II enthusiast in your life.

    Most Pokémon-friendly park: The Great Meadow at Fort Mason. Every day, I see at least a dozen groups of Pokémon players wandering around the Great Meadow. If you play, you’ll see that every ten feet in the Great Meadow is a pokestop where you can refuel and grab more pokeballs. If you’re a Pokémon trainer, be careful when you’re out to catch them all because it’s a high-traffic area with many cyclists and dog-emons. Train wisely and safely, everyone!

    Best park to watch a sunrise: Grand Canyon National Park. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning is worth it, even if you're not a morning person. There is something magical about sunrises, and that magic is multiplied by thousands when you’re looking out across one of the largest and most spectacular canyons in the world and seeing the sun rays ignite the clouds and canyon itself with a golden hue.

    Best park to train for the Olympic swim trails: Aquatic Park Cove. Open water swimming has yet to become an official Olympic sport but nothing beats practicing your freestyle than in the invigorating water of Aquatic Park Cove located in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. In addition to enjoying one of the state’s cleanest urban beaches, you can enjoy a stunning city view with the occasional seal sharing your swimming lane. Unlike the die-hard members of the Dolphin Club, I opt for a full body wetsuit to guard against the bone-chilling pacific water and to give a rookie swimmer a little extra buoyancy!

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  • We’d like to express our gratitude to you as a close friend and supporter of the Institute at the Golden Gate over the years. We began in 2008 with one program, focused on convening environmental stewards and leaders to inspire new ideas and amplify their work in a wider context. Now, we’ve grown to a team of eight staff, with five different program areas: Health, Climate Education, Urban, Fellowship for Emerging Leaders, and Convene. A lot has changed since our inception, but the heart of our work still lies in positioning parks and public lands as solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges.

    As the Institute continues to grow and evolve, we’d like to share with you our recently updated Change Makers report. In addition to an in-depth look at our program areas, we’re highlighting how our unique vision for parks and public lands is making a difference.

    Much of our growth and success has been a result of partnerships with pioneering organizations and leaders with a shared vision. Whether you are a close follower or new to the Institute, we hope you enjoy learning more about us and the breadth of our programming. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or interest in learning more about our programs. We’d love to hear from you and hope to continue to work with you in the future.

    To receive updates from the Institute at the Golden Gate, please subscribe to our email list.

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  • #FindYourPark at the Library!

    This summer, the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy have teamed up with San Francisco Public Libraries.  It’s been a summer of reading, learning, and lots of park fun.   Park rangers are visiting San Francisco libraries throughout the summer, and folks can become a “Reading Ranger” after reaching age-appropriate reading goals. Free community shuttles are taking nine communities from their local library to their national park, with many riders being introduced to national parks for the very first time. This summer has already been such a success with packed shuttles leaving libraries every Saturday; we’re all starting to wonder why we haven’t always done this.  Libraries and parks are natural partners. 

    This past Saturday I saw this partnership in action as I joined San Francisco’s Mission District community on an adventure to Crissy Field.  I was greeted at the Mission Library by Conservancy folks, librarians, and some of my favorite park rangers.  There was a large group of families milling outside, and everyone was a little giddy – even the regular park goers.  After a brief introduction in Spanish, English and Chinese, we all boarded the bus, and headed to Crissy Field.  While there, we had story-time, a nice visit with a trusted steed from the park police, and, of course, a nature hike.  All in all, I had a lot of fun, and I know the families enjoyed themselves too.

    Afterwards, I kept thinking how genius this program is.  The merits of libraries and parks co-crafting reading and outdoor experiences are undeniable, and I think everyone recognized that this was a good idea. What has been a surprise is how hungry our community was for this.  Librarians are signing up families’ weeks in advance, and eagerly sourcing complementary reading materials for the school-age children. There is a set of seniors who, after attending the first community shuttle from the Chinatown library, have showed up for the 5 subsequent shuttles.  We have kids reading, avoiding the dreaded summer slide, and spending time outdoors with their families.  This program is a slam dunk in terms of positive community impact.  No one could have asked for better outcomes, or better partners. And that might be the secret sauce to this genius idea: great partnership. 

    One of the important lessons that I keep re-learning in my professional life is that you don’t have to do it alone: working with friends can improve the quality of the work and the enjoyment of doing said work.  This partnership with the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and San Francisco Public Libraries showcases how collaboration makes bigger outcomes, and can create more dynamic programming. 

    So this summer, I hope to not only up my reading (I really want a “Reading Ranger” badge), but also build some new partnerships.  

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  • Reflecting on a Difficult Time

    As we looked to our usual Tuesday blog post, it didn’t feel right to ignore or breeze past the tragic events that have taken place over the past weeks. At the same time, I personally am at a loss for how to begin to process the heart breaking news for myself. How can I possibly put something meaningful out into the world for others?

    So I looked outside for inspiration or perspectives to share. In doing so, I stumbled across this San Francisco Chronicle article published just a few weeks ago in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando: National parks offer healing in times of fear and pain.

    It is a quick read and I encourage you all to spend a few minutes with it.

    For me, it is stories like this, where parks engage with the community, facilitating healing dialogue and becoming “places of peace, understanding, learning and reconciliation,” that give my heart a small break from its recent pain. So I thought I’d send this back out into the world, hoping that our park community finds their own bit of hope and inspiration, giving us the energy and love to provide for all communities in their time of need.

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  • Independence Day in the Parks

    The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is a day that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and when the thirteen colonies declared themselves independent from England. For many Americans, this holiday is celebrated with friends, picnics, parades, cookouts, fireworks, and parties where everything from desserts to cutlery follow the patriotic theme of red, white, and blue. Here are a few ways five national parks celebrated Independence Day this year.  

    1. Boston National Historical Park

    At Boston National Historical Park, visitors were not only able attend a sixty minute walking tour to learn about the events that lead to the Boston Tea Party, but were also able to tour Boston’s North End neighborhood— Paul Revere’s old neighborhood—and learn about the patriots and loyalists who lived there in 1774.

    2. Saratoga National Historical Park

    At Saratoga National Historical Park in upstate New York, visitors attended the naturalization ceremony of twenty immigrants, participated in thirteen lemonade toasts to commemorate the coming together of the thirteen colonies, and viewed traditional musket and canon demonstrations.

    3. Minute Man National Historical Park

    At Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts, visitors were able to visit Lexington and Concord and see where the first shots of the revolution were fired.

    Historical Reenactment at Minute Man National Historical Park, image courtesy of The National Park Service

    4. Virgin Islands National Park

    Located on the Island of St. John, this year Virgin Islands National Park celebrated by holding cultural demonstrations where visitors learned about the colonial sugar era on the island, and the farming techniques used during that time.

    5. Independence National Historical Park

    Unsurprisingly, at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia there were many programs to celebrate the holiday. Visitors had the option of taking tours that examined the paths colonists took from being subjects of the British Empire to becoming citizens of the U.S., taking tours that told the story behind the Declaration of Independence, the life of Thomas Jefferson, and the places where he worked on the Declaration of Independence. Independence National Historical Park also offered interactive programming where children learned about what it would have been like to serve in the continental army or navy during the American Revolution. 

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  • Pride and Grit

    Like many park professionals, I’ve been having the diversity conversation for a while now.  We’ve been striving towards more inclusive green spaces my entire professional career, and, despite making great strides, we’ve still got a long way to go.  This work is tireless, and I’m acutely aware of how frequently the finish-line keeps moving.  I love this work, but sometimes even the strong have doubts.

    I fantasize about no longer needing to have the diversity conversation.  I fantasize about diversity being solved like I fantasize about winning the lottery; one fortuitous event, eliminating all my problems with no effort on my part.  I know these fantasies are silly, but I also know I’m not the only one buying Powerball tickets. 

    So I was tired last week when I headed to Washington, DC to meet about the National Park Service Urban Agenda.  I was not excited about yet another diversity conversation with my heart rubbed raw by the recent Orlando shooting.  Doing equity work while also working through grief is an unfortunate, yet common, occurrence.  But I was comforted to see all the altars, hand-made signs, and pride flags sprinkled across DC’s national parks.  It was a powerful lesson of how parks can be places for healing.   It was a needed reminder of the importance of telling a national history that’s as diverse as our country. 

    Photo courtesy of Nancy Goerisch-Hassanein, NPS

    I got another powerful and timely lesson from our NPS Urban Fellows.  It was a lesson about grit: about persevering in the face of mighty obstacles.  As each Urban Fellow talked about their experience of building relationships with their communities and implementing the Urban Agenda, the challenges they mentioned were huge and complex.  They were drawing upon large stores of determination and resilience.  The Urban Fellows were carrying out the Urban Agenda one small success, one community partner, and one co-worker at a time.  I needed to be reminded that this diversity conversation is going to continue to be hard, but, with a little grit, great things can be accomplished.

    Now that I’m back in the Bay Area, I’m thankful for all the diversity conversations (both visual and verbal) that I had in DC.  It was the pep talk I didn’t know I needed. 

    Lastly, I’m most thankful for our newest National Monument at Stonewall Inn.  It’s what our nation needed and a shining example of what tireless work can accomplish.  I’m grateful to all the folks and the LGBTQ community that, through determination and grit, caused this breakthrough to happen. 

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  • The Institute is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2016! Lea and Maria recently joined our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are very happy to have them. We've asked both of them to share a few things about themselves so that we can all get to know them better...

    Growing up in Los Angeles, I was constantly reminded of how wonderful our environment is. Both of my parents were involved in the local park system, which led to my participation in tree-planting and beach-cleaning initiatives from a young age. Griffith Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., was a few minutes’ walk from my childhood home; the hilly terrain, winding trails, and untouched wilderness were my backyard and playground. This fostered a love of parks and the outdoors that I still have today. I was also fortunate to spend four years in Ithaca, known for its numerous gorges, waterfalls, and lush, green landscape (during the summer!).

    During my final semester at Cornell University, I was still wondering what in the world I wanted to do with my life. Meanwhile, it seemed as though everyone else had finalized their post-college plans months, even years, before graduation. Unrealistic as that notion was, the pressure to know exactly what one would be doing after leaving Cornell was palpable and undeniable. In the midst of my job search, the Health Fellow position with the Institute immediately caught my eye. In its description, I found my academic passion, public health, intertwined with my personal interest and devotion to public parks, nature, and the environment. The six-month fellowship also seemed like the perfect segue into the job market, allowing me to grow professionally before pursuing long-term job opportunities. I was sold! During my fellowship I will be focusing on two projects: creating a webinar series for the National ParkRx Initiative and assisting with Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. I am endlessly excited to be working at the intersection of public health and parks, and can’t wait to see where this fellowship will take me.

    Lea Kassa
    Health Fellow

    Hi, my name is Maria and I am the new Emerging Leaders, Climate Fellow for the Institute at the Golden Gate. I recently graduated from Simmons College in Boston where I majored in both environmental science and computer science. I was born and raised in San Francisco and I am so excited to be back at home! My past experience working at informal science institutions like the California Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Science in Boston has instilled in me a strong passion for science education. I became interested in this position because of its potential impact on the way educators teach climate change in the Bay Area.

    In addition to working with the Institute team, I will be working closely with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) which is comprised of environmental educators focused on increasing climate literacy and action. Bay-CLIC has identified three initiatives which represent the needs of educators to better address climate change. From these initiatives, my project was created. Over the next few months, I will be creating a database for educators of scientific resources and data related to climate change. As an additional tool, I will be researching existing public engagement campaigns focused on behavior change. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Institute team and am looking forward to all of the learning I will do during this fellowship.

    Maria Romero
    Climate Fellow

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