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  • The Institute at the Golden Gate seeks to support park leaders in effectively stewarding the natural and cultural resources under their care, creating long-term methods for ensuring the sustainability of these important systems. With our increased dependence on technology and the growing distance between youth and our natural areas, parks must examine all of the tools at their disposal—both new and existing—to ensure that they are building authentic, valuable connections with the communities that they seek to serve.

    Looking at this challenge, we have begun to ask: Which tools can parks best utilize in order to create future generations of stewards from an increasingly urban population? Might internships be one such useful tool in achieving this aim?

    Our Emerging Leaders Urban Fellow, Ruth Pimentel, saw that both the Golden Gate National Parks and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore had established internship programs that appeared to be successfully instilling a spirit of stewardship in many of their participants. Wanting to put these observations to the test, Ruth conducted research and collected data on the programs. She found that interns at these parks often go on to be engaged, informed, and active park users – showing that successful internship programs can cultivate future stewardship.

    Firmly supported by the Institute’s belief in the value of studying and promoting such programs, Ruth collected her findings into the Institute’s newest report.

    Building Stewardship through Internships uses these case studies to identify strategies for building a successful internship program and offers a roadmap for other park leaders seeking to strengthen their internships. We are excited to share these findings and encourage you to check out the report!

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  • Amplifying Our Outdoor Voice

    I joined the Institute at the Golden Gate three years ago and in that time I've watched the conversation around the connection between parks and health shift and grow. In my first year conversations around the benefits and importance of spending time in natural settings were met with skepticism and a lot of blank stares. Often it took multiple, high touch conversations to convince and empower new partners to join us at the table. 

    Today, the table is large and still growing. The conversation is fueled by passion and carried by forward thinking champions from all sectors of society. Our biggest problem is literally finding a table large enough to hold these conversations around. Not a bad problem to have.

    The first official meeting of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative was centered around creating a unified vision. One that we could all see ourselves in - from health providers to community leaders to park agencies. What does a future where parks and health work alongside of each other look like? It was clear that everyone in the room could envision a world in which parks and health worked more closely together. Our individual visions, written on brightly colored sticky notes, filled a twelve foot wall in no time. Many months and hundreds of sticky notes later we came to our guiding mission: to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents, especially those with the highest health needs, through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands. 

    Since launching in 2012, the coalition has grown to over 40 park, health, and community agencies representing all nine counties. This regional initiative has become a catalyst for broad policy change that advances the adoption of measurable recreational models that improve the physical and mental health of the highly diverse Bay Area population. The coordinated regional effort is setting its sights on creating the structural changes needed to resolve challenges such as transportation and access, which are critical to the people/parks/health connection.

    We won't be able to tackle these hurdles alone. It's critical that every voice is heard, loud and clear. Our parks and public lands are imperative to the health of our population and it will take all of us to ensure that these spaces remain protected and supported for generations to come. That's why HPHP: Bay Area is proud to partner with Outdoor Voice, a regional initiative from the Bay Area Open Space Council. 

    With Outdoor Voice, you can discover opportunities to support the scenic treasures that best fit your interests, from quick actions you can take at home to outdoor experiences you can share with your whole family. Together, we can ensure that current and future generations will experience the awe and amazement of being outdoors. 

    HPHP: Bay Area is committed to amplifying all outdoor voices. Sign up today to help preserve outdoor spaces that help our communities thrive.

    See you in the parks!

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  •  

    In our April 21st blog post, we discussed the exciting announcement by the National Park Service (NPS) that unveiled the Urban Agenda, including the launch of the Urban Fellows program. This innovative fellowship puts into action the Urban Agenda’s vision of how NPS can engage urban communities in new and enhanced ways. The Urban Fellows will be deployed in ten model cities, including one in our own backyard at Rosie the Riveter in Richmond, CA. They will have the exciting and challenging task of acting as liaisons between key park staff, park partners, and their surrounding communities. By evaluating and sharing their experiences with the broader community of urban park stakeholders, this program will yield invaluable best practices for the National Park Service and help shape future engagement strategies.

    The fellowship kicked-off last month with an immersive onboarding workshop in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Green Gulch Farm, hosted by the Institute at the Golden Gate. During the workshop, fellows met with their cohort, discussed their vision for their two-year assignment, explored the principles of the Urban Agenda, and discussed strategies for cross-sector collaboration. They also met with key leaders in the field, including the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis; outgoing Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Frank Dean; and President of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Greg Moore.

    Fellows also had the opportunity to observe a local example of a successful park partnership. Jim Wheeler, Recreation Manager for San Francisco Recreation & Parks, Lisa McHenry, Recreation Leader III and our very own Kristin Wheeler of the Institute at the Golden Gate discussed the innovative partnership that formed the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. The fellows were able to experience a typical First Saturday program, a free program for Bay Area residents that provides guided, light physical activity to improve mental and physical well-being, while also giving participants the chance to explore their local parks.

    After an intensive few days focused on developing internal relationships and strengthening their understanding of their role in the Urban Agenda, the Fellows traveled across to Bay to participate in the City Parks Alliance’s Greater and Greener Conference and to play a key role in the NPS Urban Caucus, which followed the Conference. Through those events, the Fellows were able to connect with the larger urban parks community, further defining their role as part of the larger movement. Soon after the action-packed week, the fellows were deployed to their ten model cities

    Here at the Institute we are particularly excited to follow and support the work of Kieron Slaughter, who will be stationed with the City of Richmond as the Rosie the Riveter Urban Fellow. Watch this space for more developments as we continue to support and report out on the work of the Urban Fellows!

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  • This year, May 10-16 is National Women's Health Week, as designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

    Park use is not gender-neutral. Slide from Deborah Cohen et al. (Rand Corporation) presentation at Greater and Greener. 

    In honor of National Women's Health Week, we're shedding light on a structural issue that comes at the intersection of women's health and park use. Namely, we're wondering where are all the women in parks. 

    Park use equity is disparate among many different facets, especially for ethnicity and socio-economic status. However, new research is revealing just how disparate park use is between male and female constituents. Deborah Cohen and her team at the RAND Corporation is a year into their study of measuring park use through the SOPARC method. At last month's Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, Deborah shared preliminary results from the study and the results show a large rift in park use between these two genders. 

    Of course, the health benefits of being in nature have been stated many times on this blog, but the ramifications of having park use disparities is that parks' health benefits are disproportionately widening the gap of health equity. Collectively, women are already facing more adverse social determinants of health than their male counterparts. For women of color and lower socio-economic status, their gender is further compounded with other factors that limit their utilization of parks. 

    What does park use disparity have to do with women's health? Besides the fact that women are not getting as many of the health benefits of nature, the differences in use signal an underlying question of park design and programming. Why are women not in parks as much as men? Responses that suggest time constraints with motherhood and family obligations fail to address the larger role that parks and policies have to do with encouraging women--especially those with familial obligations--to go to their parks. 

    As we celebrate National Women's Health Week, we as park advocates must look at ways that we can reach out to women and especially women of color to bring them into parks in more substantive ways. Letting parks continue along the path of the status quo can lead to a further rift in women's health. 

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  • Being a superhero and working for a nonprofit or government agency can be tiring. Why not let us help treat you by holding your next off-site meeting with an amazing venue – Cavallo Point-the Lodge at the Golden Gate

    The Institute is proud to partner with Cavallo Point Lodge to welcome nonprofits and government groups to Fort Baker for engaging meetings – and a little R&R – in a beautiful national park.

    November marks the beginning of priority period for booking environmental conferences, retreats, and gatherings at Cavallo Point Lodge. Between November and April of each year, the Institute offers special rates for overnight events to groups who qualify under a set of environmentally-focused guidelines.

    Visit our Convene page for more information, complete a qualification form to apply, or contact us at convene@instituteatgoldengate.org for more details.

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  • Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.

    These three principles are:

    • Be Relevant to All Americans: with the increasingly diverse, urban population of the US, NPS must ensure that it is serving the needs and interests of all communities, irrespective of age, culture, gender, or ethnicity, and with a particular eye to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in park visitorship
    • Activate “ONE NPS”: NPS has over 400 park units and more than 40 programs; it should work to leverage this full suite of parks and programs to function as a complete, integrated system
    • Nurture a Culture of Collaboration: NPS needs to embrace authentic collaboration and foster strong, sustainable partnerships

    Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”

    The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.

    One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.

    We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.

    We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!

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  • Insights and Aha Moments from Conference Life

    Missed this year’s George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites? Or want to relive it through the eyes of the Institute? Check out our insights and aha moments below and share yours in the comment section.

    Catherine Carlton, Program Manager

    • Without stories, what we know about cultural and natural resources is meaningless.” NPS curator, Fred MacVaugh, began his presentation during the Wednesday afternoon session, “Engagement Leads to Better Management”, with this bold statement. The session focused on opportunities for interpretation and education practitioners to connect more effectively and deeply with park visitors. Mr. MacVaugh followed up his initial call to storytelling action with an inspiring presentation on how stories can be used to effectively engage new and diverse audiences. His presentation resonated strongly with me as I have recently been exploring the opportunity that storytelling might present for our Urban program. In particular, one of our upcoming Emerging Leaders Fellows will be looking at the role of stories and storytelling in engaging and connecting parks with new audiences in the Bay Area.
    • Indiana University’s Brian Forist followed Mr. MacVaugh by presenting preliminary research looking at the impact of dialogic interpretation, where the interpreter facilitates dialogue and encourages the visitor to tell their own story. Their initial research has shown that dialogic programs have a much stronger, long-term impact on visitor memory than those where interpreters simply download their knowledge onto the visitor. Professor Forist emphasized that timing, connecting the program to actual experiences, and encouraging two-way dialogue are all key to increasing the depth and power of the conservation message.

    Chris Spence, Director

    • GWS has grown from a forum primarily for NPS scientists, biologists, researchers and land managers to a wider movement that also includes park leaders, interpreters, program managers, non-profit partners, and other park agencies.
    • The focus on new roles for parks was warmly welcomed, and there was a real buzz after the HPHP opening plenary.
    • Parks in urban areas was a major focus and there’s growing recognition that our urban protected areas have a critical role to play in making our parks relevant to new audiences in new ways
    • The links between parks' role in conservation/restoration and parks as informal or "free choice" educators and interpreters really emerged strongly in this conference in a way I hadn't seen before - and many participants were talking about this. The idea of park scientists/researchers working hand-in-globe with park interpreters resonated strongly for many and there was a stated desire for us to "get out of our silos". The benefits of this - particularly on difficult topics like climate change - were widely seen.
    • The critical importance of partnerships was highlighted right from the get-go, with the first plenary session including park rangers and leadership, as well as a non-profit park partner and a health partner.
    • Metrics and measurement also emerged as a key theme and as critical for strong decision making.

    Honore Pedigo, Operations & Outreach Manager

    • There were many things to like about attending the George Wright Society 2015 Conference – seeing nonprofit friends and having the opportunity to catch up during breaks, learning about archaeological work being done in national parks in Michigan, taking a walk outside with Connecting City Dwellers with Nature session participants, and more.
    • The thing that I found most interesting however, was learning about the academic research surrounding Healthy Parks, Healthy People. While my colleagues Kristin and Donna are deeply entrenched in HPHP life, I most regularly hear about benefits of nature as they relate to the park guest. Hearing about the studies related to light and sound pollution or nature as a tool in PTSD treatment was exciting and added a whole new lens through which to see the benefits of nature. 

    Oksana Shcherba, Project Coordinator

    • One of the highlights of the George Wright Society Conference was the dual session titled “Transformative and Inclusive: Rethinking Youth Engagement in Nature and Conservation” and “Outside Your Door: Urban Youth Media Producers Create New Connections to the Land.” The presenters, ranging from professors and NPS staff to nonprofit leaders, discussed their experiences working on programs that have been successful in resonating with urban youth of diverse backgrounds. Many of the speakers highlighted the importance of being cognizant of the social environments that youth come from, as they ultimately shape their experiences with open space. For example, for youth that only know of open space as unsafe places prone to gang violence and where they are unwelcome, the traditional rhetoric of the benefits of parks falls flat. The second portion of the session was an incredibly spirited presentation on the inspiring media projects made by and for youth from the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. Attendees got to preview a music video made by youth about taking a risk and going outside to their local park, despite the stigma of danger, instead of turning to technology to escape reality. There were a number of sessions that were inspiring but this one was especially moving and displayed a number of best practices for the Park Service to utilize in implementing its strategic goal of being relevant to all Americans. 

    Kristin Wheeler, Program Director

    • A highlight of this year’s George Wright Society Conference for me was seeing that the many conversations around the health/park connection had greatly advanced. Gone are the days where entire sessions are dedicated to justifying the value that parks play in improving our individual and community health. Academics and practitioners have crossed the aisle and working together to close the research gap and advance model programs more rapidly than ever before. Additionally, the conference helped highlight the work of our phenomenal Bay Area partners gaining them well deserved recognition in a national audience.
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  • The social determinants of health, which coincidentally are the social determinants of park use (credit)

    At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?

    Social determinants of health (SDH)  are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.

    As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:

    • Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.

    • Natural environment: Children who grow up in neighborhoods with lots of gang violence are more likely to be affected by a confluence of many social determinants of health, but they also experience much higher probabilities of fatality due to gun violence. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods with gang violence often see their parks be commandeered to be convening grounds for gang activity; parks are therefore systematically avoided by the community.

    It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.

    As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants. 

    Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.

    To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park. 

    Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think. 

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  • 2015 Fellowship for Emerging Leaders

    Last May we launched our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders pilot with two amazing additions to our team – Ruth and Hector. We were inspired by their desire to solve problems with new communities, impressed with their final reports and needs assessments, and bowled over by the amount of fun they brought into our office. It was bittersweet to see them move-on to the next stage of their respective careers, but we find comfort knowing they are both working for fantastic organizations now.

    Today, we are opening the application pool for our 2015 Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. This isn’t an opportunity just for the typical “park nerd,” but for anyone who desires to have a lasting impact. We at the Institute believe solutions to our society's biggest challenges will come from passionate individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences working together.

    We are so excited to start the search for our 2015 class of Fellows; we hope you check-out this wonderful opportunity! More information can be found on our NEW Fellowship page

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  • We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers who challenged the status quo of their day. I certainly would not be the woman I am today if not for those who paved the path before me. My entire life I've been no further than a phone call or a short walk from a strong, visionary woman. For this I am forever grateful. 

    So in honor of Women's History Month I'd like to highlight the revolutionary women doing the work today! The women who will be remembered in history as blazing the way for the next generation of bold women.

    Naomi Klein - A social activist, holding corporations accountable for climate change

    Amy Schur - Giving Wall Street a heart attack by building a fierce movement for social and economic justice

    Rue Mapp - Reconnecting African-Americans to natural spaces

    Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins - "the Robin Hood of the Silicon Valley"

    Angelica Salas - Giving voice to the immigrants whose lives are often ignored

    ...and this is only five of the millions of women around the globe working to make their lives and their communities better for the next generation. Who would you add to the list?

    ---

    A special thanks to the phenomenal women who I have the privilege of working with everyday - thank you Donna, Lori, Honore, Catherine, and Oksana for your compassion, humor, and commitment to being on the right side of history.

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  • Co-authored by Oksana Shcherba

    Recently, the Institute attended a few events centered on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One event was presented by Green 2.0, the other was hosted by 4S.

    On March 4th, Green 2.0, in partnership with New America Media, hosted an event called “Breaking the Green Ceiling.” This conference, based off their report, was designed to raise awareness and find solutions to a major issue facing environmental organizations – the lack of diversity. To give some context, the report found that “people of color do not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the organizations surveyed.” In the report, the reason for this “green ceiling” is attributed to unconscious bias and alienation when hiring and retaining qualified people of color. As an organization in the environmental field, this is something of which we are already very aware, but we are glad to see that the conversation is gaining momentum amongst the masses. 

    There were several solutions presented on how organizations are tackling the diversity challenge, but first, this question was posed – why is it important to share diversity data in the first place? The most common answer was transparency and accountability. Hank Williams, Technologist and Entrepreneur of Platform said, “We all know the data is bad, just come clean.” Once organizations offer their data, it gives them something to measure their success against in the future, and allows them to be held accountable, both internally and externally.

    A few highlights from the presentations included:

    • Make a plan and follow through with deliberate actions. For example, make accountability a part of every manager’s performance appraisal.
    • Don’t remain silent on core human issues – decide which side you stand for (hopefully it’s pro-diversity) and show your support for it.
    • Ask questions, diversify the conversation, and be open to new ideas.
    • Empower people on the ground.

    However, none of these solutions will be successful unless the change comes from above.

    Similarly to the “green ceiling” effect, which may help explain the dearth of people of color in environmental organizations, unconscious bias is also prevalent in education. This was the topic covered in 4S’s March 18th meeting on “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy / Communicating with Diverse Populations.”

    The audience was comprised of dedicated professionals involved with youth programming, with a genuine interest in learning how best to bridge the gaps created by implicit biases. From the start, the facilitators from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) fostered an environment that made us feel comfortable with feeling uneasy, as conversations about race tend to do. We jumped right into probing questions such as “when you tell your friends and families that you work with urban kids, what do they think that means? What places are urban?” For many of the educators present, the word “urban” actually denoted other things—pollution, poverty, communities of color—and was used euphemistically, perhaps to avoid any uncomfortable follow-up questions or negative connotations. This sentiment reflects the point made by the SFUSD facilitators that in wanting to be allies to underserved communities, people sometimes avoid discussing things like race and poverty altogether, which can detract from this important discourse.

    In avoiding difficult discussions, educators may also avoid delving deeper and addressing personal unconscious biases, which are attitudes or stereotypes that may affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. Additionally, we listened to an illuminating TedTalk by UCLA law professor Jerry Kang on how people assume they have “immaculate perception,” judgment without stereotypes, but that in reality, the way we perceive others is highly dependent on prior mental constructs. Characteristics of these implicit biases is that they are pervasive, do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs, tend to favor our own in-group (people like us), and—perhaps most importantly— they can be changed!

    After going over the realities of implicit biases and how they can be addressed, we discussed the systems or structures present within our organizations that may lead to inequitable outcomes and how we are disrupting these systematic inequalities. During this exercise, I thought of the Urban Program I work on here at the Institute. In the Urban Program, we act as strategic partners to the National Park Service (NPS) on a number of issues, including increasing the relevancy of the NPS in urban communities. One inequitable outcome we’re facing is that non-Hispanic white people are more likely to visit national parks and reflect the makeup of the NPS staff. The U.S. Census estimates that by 2050, the population of children of color will be 62%, making them the majority. This implies that the NPS, in addition to other organizations grappling with a lack of diversity, must create enduring relationships with new audiences in order to adequately adapt to the changes occurring throughout the country. The NPS has already made great strides in disrupting these inequalities through initiatives aimed at improving diversification among its staff and visitor population. However, there is always more work to be done. Understanding how implicit biases work and how we can address them, both individually and in our organizations, is a critical first step to making sure all communities feel empowered to be a part of and help advance the environmental movement.

    Photo credit: Green 2.0

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  • Best in Show - 2015 Park Awards

    With the Emmys, the Oscars, the SAGs and more having come and gone this year, awards season has made us at the Institute think about those in our field that deserve a little love and recognition – who has excelled this year, who has made us laugh, who has inspired us.

    With award season on our minds, and an ever present love for superlatives (those silly “Best Smile”, “Most Likely to Succeed”, etc. that you voted on in school), we decided to give out a few of our own “Park” awards.  

    Best YouTube Video: This Week at Interior has become a must-watch event in our office. Every Friday, you will find the Institute staff gathered around a computer speculating what the Department of the Interior has decided to highlight that week, what sort of outdoor equipment Secretary Sally Jewel will need, and if we will spot any park friends. This weekly digest is underappreciated and we want to fix that. (Also, if anyone know who does the voice work for these videos, have him call us!)

    Best Twitter-game: Moore Foundation (@MooreFound) covers all areas of conservation and sustainability – science, environment, patient care, and more. Their feed is filled with articles and photos that display the foundation’s wide range of interests and it is always a fascinating read.   

    Runners up – Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (@Parks4all). Okay, okay, we may be biased, but their mix of informative event info, beautiful photos, and hashtag #Parks4all gets us every time.

    Bay Area Open Space (@BA_OpenSpace) is a fantastic place to read about local park news and events. Their staff is on the go and regularly live tweet from all the best sustainability events and weekend hikes. Sadly, they haven’t continued their Friday Park Quizzes, but we are hoping they resurrect them soon so we can move into first place!

    Twitter handle we would love to see resurrected: @SkunkRiverNPS. Way back in the Fall of 2013, when the government was shut down and all of our federal park friends left us for a time, one snarky and sanctimonious Twitter account emerged – Skunk River NPS. Not affiliated with an actual park site, or sanctioned by the National Park Service, this twitter handle kept us smiling until our friends and countless federal employees could get back to work. Sadly, Skunk River has not been active since December 2013, but oh how we wish it would come back to life. Just think of all the zombie jokes it could use!

    Best Mustache: @JonsMoustache, aka the hilarious Twitter handle belonging to none other than the head of the Park Service, Director Jon Jarvis’ facial hair. It was a tough call with local competition here at home with former Golden Gate National Parks Superintendent Frank Dean’s mustache putting up a good fight. With Mr. Dean leaving our park to join the Yosemite Conservancy team, our hearts broke a little and sealed the deal for the NPS’s Mustache in Charge. @JonsMoustache’s witty account of the Park Service’s happenings and good nature make this a must follow.

    Best Instagram Handles: With so many amazing photographers – both amateur and professional – in our parklands, this was a hard decision. In the end, we went with tried and true favorites - @USInterior and @USFWS. Whether it’s an image of two bald eagles fighting mid-air or the Northern Lights over Denali National Park and Preserve, the images will remind you how awesome nature really is.

    Runners up include the ever-amazing @Yosemitenps and @nationalwildlife. Seriously - check these guys out if you haven’t already. You won’t be sorry.

    Most likely to tell you how it is: Our friends at Grist are good at keeping it real. Grist is great at collecting the internet’s best sustainability news articles and adding their own special snark for your reading pleasure. Whether they are interviewing Pulitzer prize-winning composers or telling you where to get the cool veggie-themed temporary tattoos, Grist is a good way to keep up to date on the latest environmental conversations.

    Best use of a ranger hat since Smokey the Bear: Let’s be real, Pharrell Williams rocked the ranger hat on enough red carpets to win him this prize. Still, our friends in the grey and green mange to pull it off day in and day out all the while keeping our parks safe and clean. Thank you park rangers!

    We hope our silly superlatives inspire you to hop on your bike, get in your car, or put on your walking shoes and get outside and into the parks.

    Photo credit: The Milky Way over Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Photo by Paul Weeks (@paul_weeks) via @USInterior

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  • Doctors treat. Nature heals.

    Do you ever listen to The Moth Radio Hour? If you don't then I suggest binge listening immediately. The concept is simple - in dozens of cities across the country, people, just like you and I, stand on stage and tell a story. It must be true and there are no cue cards or scripts allowed. It makes for some powerful and entertaining radio. For the last three years I've listened to about 1-2 hours a week (yes I know I have a problem) of personal stories, from people I've never and will likely never meet.

    It's not uncommon for me to walk into the office still wiping tears from my eyes after listening to a story during my commute. Some stories hit me hard and fast and others linger in my thoughts for days. One of the common threads in the hundreds of stories I've now consumed is the power of place. Many of the stories told are deeply personal and shed light on moments of stress, hardship, and loss. More often than not the most vividly described character is not a person but a place - a park bench, a lake front, or simply a backyard. Nature is often the backdrop or even the main character in our stories of healing and there's a good reason for that.

    The research and evidence of why we turn to nature in times of stress is abundant. The healing powers of being in wild, green spaces are endless. From lowered stress levels to safe spaces for healing from trauma, time and time again nature has come to the rescue. 

    Around the world, people head out their doors and into nature to help mark milestones in their lives. We turn to nature to help us gain clarity on a tough decision, to find solace in the loss of a loved one, or simply to feel a part of something greater than ourselves. Nature has been there for many of us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, no paperwork required.

    The challenge for our rapidly urbanizing population is to increase these interactions and opportunities to heal in nature - to go from a society whose stories and memories of nature are marked by milestones to one in which nature is a daily part of our lives. To do this will require foresight from city planners and authentic engagement with more than just our park agencies. Spending time, safely, in nature should be easier than popping a pill. We can start by sharing these stories of healing and thriving around the bonfire and the water cooler.

    "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."

    - John Burroughs

    See you in the parks.

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  • Good News for Urban Parks

    With four out of five Americans living in urban areas, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our cities’ parks would be at the front of the line when it comes to resources and funding. After all, the evidence is pretty clear that parks bring enormous benefits to local economies, as well as to people’s health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Plus, parks in urban areas provide opportunities to serve new, diverse audiences and communities.

    But in spite of all the evidence, our cities’ parks haven’t always been given the attention and resources they deserve.

    In a time of leaner budgets and belt-tightening, how can we make parks in urban areas serve our local communities in the best way possible?

    The Value of Collaboration

    The answer is partnerships and collaboration. By leveraging the strengths of many different stakeholders – from park agencies to non-profit or corporate partners to local community groups – we have the potential to make the sum of our efforts greater than the individual parts.

    The Urban Agenda

    Our friends at the National Park Service have embraced this idea. For the past three years, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been collaborating with the Park Service's Stewardship Institute and a number of other organizations to support an “Urban Agenda”. This initiative supports collaboration across the United States, especially in areas where the Park Service has a presence and can help make a positive difference in people's lives. While many people view our national parks as mostly rural or remote, in fact that national park system has parks in dozens of major cities around the country.

    The Next Stage – Hiring Urban Fellows

    The next stage of the urban agenda is to hire “Urban Fellows” in almost a dozen cities across the United States. These new program managers will support the Urban Agenda and focus on how parks can serve local communities and meet their needs in new and innovative ways. The vacancies were recently announced on the government’s job board.

    Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, we’re proud to be working with the Stewardship Institute and our friends across the Park Service to assist this important initiative. This spring, we’ll be helping onboard the Urban Fellows and will continue to act as a partner as the Fellows start working in their new roles. 

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  • HPHP walk at Coyote Hills in January 2015. Credit to Mona Koh at East Bay Regional Park District. 

    February 15th was the last day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. While we know that taking a walk in the park is enormously beneficial to our health and wellbeing, we also know that having health insurance helps ensure that accidents and illnesses are cared for.

    Although parks are not often thought of as involved to the Affordable Care Act, there is certainly a tangible connection that the law outlines that can truly shape the future of parks as health providers.The Affordable Care Act—formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was created by lawmakers with the ambitious intention to make Americans healthier. Although the ACA’s most well-known facet is its insurance marketplace, this 2,000+ page law dedicates a hefty section (Title IV) to ensuring the connection of different formal and informal health and community systems to care for public health. Health starts outside of the clinic walls and that is why ACA’s Title IV emphasizes the need for healthier communities in community settings.

    In Sec. 4201, the law states that the Department of Health and Human Services supports agencies that are “developing and promoting programs targeting a variety of age levels to increase access to nutrition, physical activity and smoking cessation, improve social and emotional wellness, enhance safety in a community, or address any other chronic disease priority area.” As part of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the National ParkRx movement, we see parks as natural health providers because they help improve the health and cohesion of the communities that they serve. We fully believe that on guided Healthy Parks, Healthy People walks, participants increase their physical and mental wellness, as well as their understanding and appreciation for the landscape and community. Health in all policies is an idea that has burgeoned with the ACA as it charges community agencies, from shelters to city planners to parks, to be stewards of their community’s health. HPHP: Bay Area and ParkRx are putting the idea of health in all policies into action. To learn more about both programs, visit our health page.

    Healthy Parks Healthy People was a great idea borne from our friends down at Parks Victoria in Australia over a decade ago. Now, however, is the time when American national policy is open and receptive to integrating the park system into its understanding of community health. There is no time quite like right now to position parks as health stewards.

    Although open enrollment has ended, you may qualify for the special enrollment period if you have recently experienced a change in life events.Click here for more details.

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  • Quantifying Awe

    “We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ―Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

    Certain activities that have positive health benefits are measurable, such as how many steps a person takes or the distance of a jog. However, while there is tacit acknowledgement that concepts such as happiness, life purpose, and self-esteem factor into a person’s mental and physical well-being, they are incredibly difficult to measure. Awe most certainly falls under this category. To clarify, “awe” is a profound sense of reverence. As Jake Abrahamson of the Sierra Club notes: “it happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental modes of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general…about three-quarters of the time, [awe is] elicited by nature.”

    This past Thursday, I attended the Great Outdoors Lab conference co-hosted by REI, the Sierra Club, and U.C. Berkeley, which unveiled plans to launch a three-year longitudinal study of the cognitive and physical benefits of immersion in nature. This research will study the effects of the feeling of awe, as a result of outdoor recreation, on the physical and mental well-being of individuals, including youth participating in Sierra Club Outdoors programming and veterans. While many philosophers such as the American Transcendentalists and outdoor enthusiasts have long held the opinion that engaging in nature is essential for physical and mental health, this lab aims to corroborate this claim with scientific evidence, using state-of-the art lab, field-based, and mobile phone-supported data. Nature needs hard data to fuel the next generation of environmental stewards to use convincing science in addition to personal sentiment—which is also valuable—to highlight the necessity of maintaining our natural resources. In short, to change the perception of nature as a "nice to have" to a "must have."

    Preliminary results from the 2014 pilot program from a cohort of teens participating in Sierra Club rafting trips showed that their experience in nature led to improvements in stress levels and quality sleep from baseline, increased feelings of social connection and life purpose, and led to an uptick in pro-environment behavior as a result of the positive emotions experienced during the trip. (Read a personal account of one of these youth river trips in Sierra Club Magazine’s latest issue).

    In addition to detailing this study, the conference featured panelists and speakers from a variety of industries, including the healthcare, outdoor recreation, political, and academic sectors. Leaders from these industries further illuminated how physical, mental, and social well-being is intertwined and how nature can be at the nexus of these elements. Some of the most interesting dialogue of the conference was centered around how nature has helped and continues to help communities that have felt less engaged with their natural landscapes, including inner-city youth. For example, the non-profit Soul River Inc. recounted how meeting an African-American fly fisherman for the first time changed the ways some urban youth saw their role in outdoor recreation.

    While the speakers at the conference came from different perspectives based on their given industries, the resounding multi-sectoral agreement on the importance of outdoor recreation is an incredibly hopeful sign of how collaboration will advance human and ecological well-being. In fact, it’s awe-inspiring.

     

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  • Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs

    Recent research shows that national park visitors do not accurately reflect the changing face of the American people. While the general population is growing ever more urban and diverse, the range of visitors to the national park has not kept pace. A 2008-2009 survey showed that 13% of the US population identify as Latino and 12% as African American. However those same groups made up only 9% and 7% (respectively) of park visitors.

    In looking to the next generation of park stewards and advocates, this represents a serious concern for the health and future of our national park system. The Institute’s newest report examines one potential solution to this challenge: targeting diverse, urban youth through programming designed by and for the youth themselves.

    Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs highlights two such programs that have successfully engaged new audiences in urban areas. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Crissy Field Center is an effective model for reaching more diverse audiences. A youth environmental education and leadership development center, it focuses on “engaging people who traditionally have had little—if any—access to national parks.”

    The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles also has been implementing innovative programming to reach new audiences, including a downtown LA outreach office, targeted transportation support, and a suite of youth programs aimed at diverse students.

    Based on methods and approaches used in these two locations, the Institute at the Golden Gate has identified best practices, devised a roadmap, and created a “how-to” guide for engaging with new audiences and communities. While recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model, we hope other parks will find these tools useful in their own diversity efforts.

    We would love to hear about your efforts to reach new communities through park programs. If you would like to connect with us about this report or our Urban Program generally, please leave a comment or contact us directly.

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  • What is the Future of Nature in Our Cities?

    How can we support and protect nature in our growing and ever-changing cities?

    This was the question posed at a recent event, “Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide”. The event, which was organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and the Presidio Trust, took place from January 22-24, 2015, at the Presidio’s newly-opened Officers’ Club.

    The event was both instructive and entertaining. Some speakers highlighted climate change and rapid population growth, which create even more challenges as we try to preserve or support nature in cities. One presenter, Peter Del Tredici from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, provocatively argued that we should stop trying to create neat, orderly urban landscapes or even worry too much about what flora and fauna is “native” or “non-native”. Instead, he recommended embracing “messy ecology” that adapts to our changing world.

    The event encouraged different voices and points of view. While the first half gave voice to experts from landscape design and park management, the second focused on those offering public programs in our parks and urban landscapes. This panel, which I had the pleasure to moderate, demonstrated that people need to be part of the solution to supporting nature in our cities. The Institute’s very own Kristin Wheeler spoke about the need to engage authentically with new audiences and communities, to listen to their needs and values, and to make our parks and other landscapes serve and welcome them. Sarah Schultz, a leading educator and curator from the museum world, spoke of the role art can play in engaging with the public in new ways. Jessica Chen and Guilder Ramirez from the Crissy Field Center told the audience how the Center has fostered a sense of empowerment and engagement with nature for young people from every neighborhood in San Francisco.

    For me, the message I left the conference with was clear: if we want our city parks and cultural landscapes to thrive, we must make them as welcoming and valuable as possible to as many people as possible.

     

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  • New Year’s Resolution: Make a Change

    This past New Year’s Eve, as the clock struck 12am, I found myself straying from the usual resolution of re-activating my gym membership and instead set a goal of beginning a meaningful career. Once I was brought on at the Institute at the Golden Gate as Project Coordinator for the Climate Education and Urban Programs in January of this year, I felt that my goal of affecting positive change through my career could begin.

    It’s not that I hadn’t had significant jobs before but, as some millennials can attest, I found myself going in few different directions after college. Through a series of events, I eventually came into the environmental policy space, with a keen interest in climate change. Throughout my graduate studies at the University of Southern California, I strove to strengthen that interest with research on everything ranging from AB 32-California’s Global Warming Solutions Act to looking into the history of environmental policy in the U.S., starting from one of the first cases on the rights of nature in Christopher Stone’s “Should Trees Have Standing?” Although my degree in Public Administration and Policy was general, I gravitated towards this policy tract, getting an extra kick when I could analyze the effectiveness of environmental policies, such as San Francisco’s plastic bag ban.

    While attaining my Master’s, I worked with the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks on a year-long grant during which I gained an immense appreciation for the role of parks in urban landscapes. After much research, I found that parks held significance beyond the fact that they were the main backdrop of my childhood growing up in San Francisco as well as an infinite resource to my adolescent curiosity. They also have well-documented mental and physical health benefits, act as integral community spaces, and create economic revenue in the cities they are located in. Like nearly every other natural resource, they are threatened by climate change. This is just one of the salient environmental issues that the Institute at the Golden Gate hopes to address and I feel fortunate that I can take part in some of this work.

    Conservation, expansion, and maintenance of green, open space seems like an easy strategy to help mitigate some of the effects of climate change; however, as the principle of Occam’s Razor points out, oftentimes the “simple” answer is the right one. 

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  • Events and Convening's and Conferences, Oh my!

    Now that the holiday season has come to a close the Institute is gearing up for another joyous season: conference season. The San Francisco Bay Area will play host to multiple park themed convening's over the next four months. Representatives from the Institute will be in the audience or on stage at the following events and conferences and we wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to join us!

    The Economic Benefits of SF's Parks hosted by SPUR

    • We are looking forward to hearing more from our friends at the Trust for Public Land, San Francisco Parks Alliance, and San Francisco Recreation and Park as they discuss the recent findings on just how critical parks are to the economic health of our beloved city.

    Bridging the Nature Culture Divide III: Saving Nature in a Humanized World hosted by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

    • Our close partners from the Presidio Trust and Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be joining us and others from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in a conversation on management and new engagement opportunities in the diverse park lands in our backyard.

    Transforming California's State Parks: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future a Commonwealth Club event

    • Interested in what's next for the 280-unit park system? The Parks Forward Commission will be highlighting excerpts from their recent report that lays out a sustainable path for the California State Parks.

    Science for Parks, Parks for Science hosted at UC Berkeley in partnership with the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society

    • It's fitting that scientists and naturalists will be gathering in Berkeley to discuss the next century of the National Park Service, as the city was host to historic meetings that helped shape it to truly be America's Best Idea. Director Jon Jarvis will be joined by Secretary Sally Jewell and many other noted leaders to help make sure science is core in the next century of the park system.

    The 2015 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites

    • The biennial conference will bring together experts in the fields of park management, outreach, health, climate, and many other critical areas that help shape the future of our parks and protected areas. We look forward to contributing to the sessions highlighting the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement.

    Greater & Greener, an international urban parks conference presented by City Parks Alliance

    • The conference will celebrate innovative parks, vibrant cities and will bring people together through mobile workshops, exciting field trips, and dynamic sessions over the course of four days. Not only will we help shine a light on the importance of health partnerships we will get to show participants what it looks like on the ground during a mobile session in the East Bay.

    If you've ever thought of paying the San Francisco Bay Area a visit, this may be the perfect time. If you find yourself at any of the above events be sure and say hi to us. Stay tuned for a report back and highlights from these convening's in the coming months. It's clear that "For City Parks, 2014 Was the Year That Was (Great!)" and it's certainly looking like 2015 may be even greater!

    See you in the parks (and conference center),

    Kristin

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