All Posts (162)

  • 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.

    Photo source:

    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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  • Photo courtesy of San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks

    Last Saturday was National Trails Day and thousands of sites across the United States celebrated the holiday by hiking, maintaining, and enjoying the wonder that trails bring.

    Last Saturday was also a holiday for Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area; it was the third anniversary of the First Saturdays program. All around the Bay Area, park agencies have been hosting First Saturdays programs for community members since 2013.

    Since the programs started in June 2013, the First Saturdays programs has helped thousands of residents explore and enjoy the outdoors through free, introductory, and welcoming activities led by trained parks staff or docents.

    Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area Collaborative member agencies have been hosting these First Saturday programs to help people take care of their health by incorporating active recreation and nature interpretation into their lives. These member agencies and especially the program leaders want to improve the health and wellbeing of all Bay Area residents, especially those with high health needs, through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands.

    As First Saturdays matures and grows as a regional effort, let’s celebrate the role that the program leaders have in introducing our communities to trails. Sometimes, the trails begin in a park, sometimes a recreation center, or sometimes, they start in the middle of an urban environment. In every instance, though, the trail that the First Saturdays program leaders takes us on is a pathway to better health.

    Find a First Saturday program near you by visiting

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  • For nearly two years, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) has been galvanizing some of the most well-known and well-regarded environmental education institutions in the Bay Area behind the common agenda of improving climate literacy and action in the region. During this time, the group determined its strategic plan, created a sustainable governance structure, and identified priority initiatives that will direct our next one-three years of work, all while establishing consensus across more than 30 organizations! Last Wednesday, we were pleased to be able to launch Bay-CLIC publicly and share out not only what resources and services Bay-CLIC hopes to soon offer—with opportunities for new partners to get engaged—but also put a necessary spotlight on the importance of climate change education.

    President & CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Greg Moore, opened up the meeting by getting right to the core of why everyone was in the room: to elevate climate education. Greg highlighted how the San Francisco Bay Area is particularly vulnerable to climate change and warmed up the crowd by sharing his personal experiences talking to family members about climate change.

    Following Greg, Ann Reid, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, articulated the need for more professional development opportunities for educators on climate science, detailing their recent report, “Mixed Messages.” The report found that: there is dearth of climate science knowledge among America’s public school teachers, over 30% of educators are giving mixed messages on the causes of climate change, and educators desire to know more.

    Milton Chen, Senior Fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, followed Ann’s comments by presenting on the opportunity within environmental education to address these challenges. He enlivened the room with success stories in place-based experimental learning models, touching on the unique niche that non-formal education inhabits by providing complementary learning opportunities outside of the classroom. After their presentations, Milton and Ann took part in a panel discussion that delved deeper into the most pressing issues in climate education, such as how educators might inspire behavior change through their climate education programs, which can oftentimes be new or uncomfortable, and very difficult.

    Finally, we dove into presentations from Bay-CLIC members themselves, representing the steering committee and working groups. They provided an overview of Bay-CLIC, our formation, our mission and vision, and went into more detail on the three initiatives that we will be working on in the coming months.

    With a turnout of almost 70 individuals—comprised of educators, scientists, government representatives, and other climate communicators—the collective knowledge and dedication in the room was incredibly impressive and heartening. Being fortunate enough to work with a number of inspiring partners, the Institute is keenly aware of the fact that the Bay Area has a strong community of folks dedicated to improving climate education and the sheer turnout for last week’s launch affirmed this. Bay-CLIC’s launch signaled a new and exciting chapter in our work and we’re honored and eager to continue to support it into its next phase.

    To learn more about Bay-CLIC, please visit our web page. If you're an informal educator in the Bay Area and would like to get involved in the group, please sign up for our newsletter for updates on the collaborative, including meeting dates.


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  • 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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  • Celebrating our Junior Rangers

    On May 7, hundreds of community members braved the elements to participate in the Junior Ranger Jamboree on Crissy Field. The Jamboree was coordinated by the organizations that serve youth in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along with the San Francisco Public Library system to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial.

    We sat down with Raenelle Tauro, the Project Manager for the Park Youth Collaborative and one of the organizers for the event, to learn more about the Jamboree.

    Overall, how did the Jamboree go?

    Initially we were worried about the weather and if families would still come in the rain, but fortunately close to 700 participants and over 150 volunteers and staff all showed up ready to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.

    The rain ended up adding a sense of distinctive character to the event, making it even more memorable. Visitors came armed with umbrellas and raincoats, but the weather didn’t stop them from tackling the climbing wall, analyzing plankton, and making their s’mores. It was wonderful to see how families took full advantage of the many hands-on, place-based activities, learning about the diverse cultural and natural resources of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

    We are especially thankful to the many communities who showed their support by attending the event. Visitors represented over 50 zip codes throughout the Bay Area. We hope that this experience helped to affirm that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is their park.

    What were the highlights of the day?

    While this day was primarily aimed at 4th graders in support of the National Park Service’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, one of the elements that I found most inspiring was the intergenerational spirit of the event. The activities and entertainment, which were made possible by the generosity of over 15 partner organizations, provided an opportunity for the whole family to engage with the park and with each other. There were countless smiles, laughter, and curiosities piqued in children and adults alike.

    It was also really amazing to see the range of partners supporting the event. By partnering with youth-serving organizations in the park and community and the SF Public Library System to provide activities and entertainment, the event was able to highlight and celebrate the variety of opportunities and programming within Golden Gate National Recreation Area and in the local community. This event was a success due to their donation of time and resources, and each played a very special part in engaging visitors and welcoming them to the park.

    The culminating event of the day was the group pledge where the youth received their Junior Ranger badges; can you tell us a little about that?

    For the Jamboree, Chris Lehnertz, the NPS Superintendent for Golden Gate National Recreation Area led a special ceremony where all youth attending and their families made the Junior Ranger pledge together. At the end of the ceremony, each child received a 100th birthday edition Junior Ranger badge and booklet.

    During the pledge to become a Junior Ranger, youth take an oath to explore, learn, and protect their National Parks. In celebration of the Centennial, a special pledge was created, which called young people to promise they will “help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them for the next 100 years and beyond.”

    There is something remarkable to be said about saying that pledge together and feeling ownership as a community. We were privileged to witness an incredible moment of visitors of all ages taking action to care and advocate for their environment. We deeply appreciate the kind contribution from the Lisa and Doug Goldman Fund, which made Junior Ranger Jamboree and amazing instances like this achievable.

    If people didn’t make it to the event, can they still get involved?

    Yes! The Jamboree was the official kickoff event for the Summer Stride Reading Program partnership between the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the San Francisco Public Library System. Throughout the summer, there will be library trailheads, park book nooks, community ranger talks at SF library branches, and more. For more information on this program, visit the Summer Stride webpage.

    Additionally, all 4th graders are encouraged to download their Every Kid in a Park pass and visit the National Parks for free in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial.

    Youth can also complete the Junior Ranger Centennial Booklet.

    For a list of other NPS Centennial Events visit Parks Conservancy NPS Centennial webpage.

    For a list of partner organizations and other event details, view the official event press release here.

    For a slideshow of photos from the event, click here.

    Photo credit: Barbara Bartlett and Alison Taggart-Barone

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  • Since 2015, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been involved in an exciting partnership known as Earth to Sky (ETS). ETS is dedicated to providing professional development opportunities and creating a community of practice largely for informal educators around climate change science and communication, with a lens towards the natural and cultural heritage sites across the U.S. The partnership is strengthened by the fact that it’s comprised of some of the leading scientific education institutions in the nation, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Park Service (NPS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the University of California, Berkeley.

    This past year, the Institute was able to provide planning support for a regional workshop on climate change science and communication, focused on the Pacific Northwest. With similar regional workshops rolling out across the country, it’s incredibly heartening to see that our nation’s prominent scientific organizations are dedicating resources to training educators on this important topic. What’s more heartening—the interest in these workshops is immense.

    I was fortunate to be able to attend the first day of the three-day workshop and was blown away by the diverse backgrounds of the attendees. There were representatives from Native American tribes, park rangers from American Samoa, scientists from leading environmental government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

    Following the ice breaker, Dr. Ian Fenty of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory presented on the interconnectivity of the oceanic and atmospheric systems (in short, as sea surface warms, the atmosphere becomes wetter and warmer and vice versa).  As a person who has only taken the scientific classes required in high school and college, I was highly impressed with Dr. Fenty’s ability to convey seemingly complicated topics to a predominately educator audience (along with his unique wit and humor). That evening, I eagerly told my family about what El Niño & La Niña and Pacific Decadal Oscillation are—along with other manifestations of climate variability—which they were forced to listen to thanks to filial loyalty. I also learned that 93% of global warming goes into the ocean so what might seem like a “hiatus” in land temperature warming is actually just more warming in the water. Once the sea surface temperature pattern, known as the the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, shifts again we’ll see another rise in land temperatures and more record-breaking heat.

    Later on in the day, the group heard from Becky Lacome, training specialist with the NPS Interpretive Development Program, who spoke on interpretive strategies for relevance and engagement. The biggest take-away from her talk was that oftentimes personal, narrative truth is more effective in changing hearts and minds than science, or forensic truth (fact or evidence-based). New social science research bolsters that theory and, in fact, shows that many people interpret facts through a complex web of values, personal experiences, and group or social narratives. This has obvious implications for how people consume climate science.

    We ended the workshop by being introduced to the plethora of public domain resources offered by NASA, which I’m excited to dig into. By the end of the day, I felt strengthened in my ability to grasp basic scientific concepts crucial to understanding climate change and think about the appropriate interpretive frames through which to discuss them. But more than anything, I was energized by the workshop participants who are making it a priority to educate themselves on climate change and bring it back to their organizations. If that’s not forward momentum, I don’t know what is. 

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  • The Richmond Wellness Trail community kick-off event. 

    Living on the “wrong side of the tracks” frequently means living on the wrong side of the freeway.  Minority communities are almost always on the wrong side of the freeway.  Give me a map and I’ll find black/brown communities just by looking for neighborhoods choked up, fenced in, and torn apart by highways.  This didn’t happen by coincidence; the American freeways were planned and largely built before our civil rights act.  Minority communities lacked the political capital to fight off encroaching highway development.   Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, recently noted that minority neighborhoods were historically seen as “communities of least resistance”.  For low-income communities in cities like Atlanta, Oakland, and Baltimore, highways were a system of disconnection, severing communities from resources and opportunity. 

    In Richmond, Interstate 580 cuts the community off from the bay and recreational resources such as the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park.  This is one of the many reasons why the City of Richmond and the National Park Service have joined forces to create the Richmond Wellness Trail.  When completed, the trail will be a safe and enjoyable greenway connecting the city’s best parks, trails, and historical sites.  This trail will link the BART station, downtown Richmond, Kaiser Hospital, schools, assisted-living facilities, and churches to a network of parks, Richmond’s National Park, bicycles routes, and natural beauty.  The Richmond Wellness Trail is bringing nature to the community and creating the connective tissue to bolster a healthy and active lifestyle.  By increasing assess to recreation, exercise, and jobs, this wellness trail is a true example of “Parks for all”. 

    Rosie the Riveter, like many of our national parks, inherited a road system largely outside of its control, but creating pathways into the health and economic benefits of our public lands is still our responsibility.  The Richmond Wellness trail is one method of building equitable access to our National Parks, but mobile classrooms like the Roving Ranger (pictured above) is another pathway.  Across the nation, parks are reaching beyond their borders to connect with communities across both physical and societal barriers.

    Realizing that the built environment was not immune to the prejudices of its time, parks are now building bridges across this history of inequity.  Except these bridges are built with native grasses and bike lanes and these pathways are internships traversing park boundaries.

    If you live, work, or worship in Richmond, the National Parks Service is eager for your wisdom and input.  Learn how to get involved with the Richmond Wellness Trail by visiting the City of Richmond’s website.

    The Institute’s Park-Nerd Book Club

    Lastly, the history of our freeway system and its impact on communities is fascinating.  It’s a worthwhile topic of discussion for any park professional.  The latest addition to our Book and Media Club is a recent 30-minute speech by Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary. 

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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.


    • 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.


    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


    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. 

    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.

    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, 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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