All Posts (44)

  • Inspiring Spring Reads

    Spring has sprung! And with the change in weather the opportunity to read out of doors is once again upon us. Here at the Institute we are ramping up for summer programs (Have you been to one of our HPHP Bay Area partner events yet?) and planning for fall. Here are a few books from our picnic blankets and nightstands that have been inspiring us lately. 

    Melissa: Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley, David Kelley

    Whitney Mortimer, an Institute Council member, generously gave me a copy of Creative Confidence to learn more about the core of IDEO’s innovation process and human-centered design. Chapter 7 provides a wonderful selection of exercises to help you begin flexing your creative muscles! I’ve utilized several of these helpful tools in meetings with colleagues and in social sector design challenges with my business school classmates at Haas. Each time I practice using the frameworks and tools, I realize how a truly empathetic approach can inspire the most relevant and sustainable solutions. This book has inspired me both professionally and personally, and it serves as a reminder that each of us has the ability to bring creativity to work and to life.

    Kristin: Soundings, The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt

    The story of a strong willed woman whose maps laid the groundwork for proving the then controversial theory of continental drift. This is a story that captures the romance of scientific discovery and reminds the reader that we still know less about the bottom of the ocean than we do about outer space.

    Catherine: Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living by The Union of Concerned Scientists, Seth Shulman, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, David Friedman, Margaret Mellon, John Rogers, Suzanne Shaw

    Last month, I participated in an interesting workshop put on by NNOCCI at the Aquarium of the Bay on strategies for framing climate change in informal education settings. During the workshop, one of the facilitators mentioned “Cooler, smarter” as the best book she’d come across for individuals looking for ways to combat climate change. Having been on a search for climate solutions the past few months, I had to check it out! The book looks at steps that anyone can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, from transportation to food choices to policy and advocacy, and helps you figure out how to get the most bang for your buck. While recognizing that individual choices matter, the book also acknowledges the need for community and policy level changes, and helps the reader begin to navigate those worlds as well.

    Honoré: The State of Africa, A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith

    I found this book in a free bin and might have just walked right past – its large size was a bit daunting and while I enjoy non-fiction, I doubted I would get a good sense of a continent from one simple book. I was immediately enthralled with the stories of these great men who saw opportunities for change in Africa – a continent at once overrun by a select group for foreigners and ignored by most of the world- and took steps to do their parts in their home countries. Author Meredith does a wonderful job at providing snapshots of history and the men (and a few women) that helped shape independence, the cold war, and rise of the modern economy or lack thereof. There is a strong focus on themes instead of dates (the narrative in fact jumps in time and from country to country) helping to provide a narrative on the urgency for change. 

    Chris: Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

    I'm taking a trip down memory lane by re-reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander. This is the first in O'Brian's gripping "Aubrey-Maturin" novels set during the Napoleonic Era. Aside from being a gripping read with a remarkable attention to historical detail, some of the naval themes feel very relevant to the Institute at the Golden Gate -especially the protagonists' willingness to adapt, try out new tactics and ideas, and change tack to achieve the best results.

    We are always in the market for recommendations- what have you been reading? What do you recommend for an inspiring leisure read? 

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  • There is growing consensus that nature has many health benefits, from increased physical activity to mental, emotional, and community health benefits. At the Institute we have brought this concept to implementation on a local, regional, and national scale. Recently our local Park Prescriptions pilot in the Bayview Hunters Point community in San Francisco was highlighted in the National Parks Magazine, produced quarterly by the National Parks Conservation Association. The article, A Prescription For Nature, was written by Dr. Daphne Miller - a partner and early advocate of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement. 

    The pilot program has made significant strides since its inception in summer 2012. This opportunity, funded by a Community Benefit grant from Kaiser Permanente, allowed us to take lessons learned and existing promising practices from around the country and adapt them to fit the unique needs of the Bayview Hunters Point community. After successfully training the staff of the Southeast Health Center and implementing park prescriptions in the clinic we will be continuing to elevate the important message of spending time outside to improve your health by training community leaders this summer. The community docents will have the knowledge and resources to be ambassadors for the parks and will help bring new audiences to participate in Healthy Parks, Healthy People programs in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

    Stay tuned for stories and images from this summer's community docent program. Until then, see you in the parks!

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  • What is the Future of our National Parks?

    Our National Parks are often called America's best idea. As the U.S. National Park system approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, the past and future of our parks is a growing subject of discussion. How should parks adapt in this time of rapid economic, social, environmental, demographic and technological change? What challenges are likely? What does the future hold?

    I believe our future lies in making parks relevant and of service to all Americans. Last week, from March 27th-28th, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Wallace Stegner Center's Annual Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The topic this year was "National Parks: Past, Present and Future." The staff at the Center put on a marvelous event, with a great array of speakers. Many of the presenters spoke passionately about the parks. For me, though, the most moving presentations focused on the need for parks to reach out to all Americans in this time of rapid change, to ensure that every single person feels welcomed to this national treasure. High points included Park Service Director Jon Jarvis speaking about stewardship for a new century, author and advocate Audrey Peterman urging a focus on diversity and outreach to new audiences, and Destry Jarvis extolling the virtues of partnerships.


    Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, we believe in seeking out new and innovative ways to make our National Parks relevant and of value for all Americans, irrespective of race, age, ethnicity or background. Whether it's our health program focused on the role of parks in helping people with high health needs, or our work on parks as a hub of informal education and learning, we believe parks can play a range of different roles in people's lives. In the lead up to our National Park Centennial 2016 and beyond, we will continue to build partnerships and coalitions to support such efforts. 


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  • Finding Inspiration from Youth Leaders

    Last Wednesday, the Institute team got an inspiring look at the Project WISE program, a partnership between the Crissy Field Center, the Urban Watershed Project, and Galileo Academy of Science and Technology that gets high school students out of the classroom and, literally, into the field. Throughout the school year, students from two environmental science classes at Galileo spend one afternoon a week conducting field studies around the Presidio and beyond.

    The program culminates in a series of evening presentations, where the youth strut their stuff. They showed us what they’ve learned about the scientific process, how science can impact our communities and inform our behaviors, how people are impacting and impacted by our environment, and what we can all do to become more responsible environmental and community stewards. It was an evening full of inspiring presentations and impressive youth.

    The individual projects ranged from looking at plastics in our beaches and oceans to bacteria in our burgers to smoothies made from a bicycle powered blender. The students picked issues that were near and dear to their hearts and communities, designed compelling experiments, and presented not only the results but also what they tell us about how we can shift our behaviors to better serve the environment and ourselves.

    The Institute team wants to congratulate the youth presenters on this amazing and inspiring evening and to extend a shout out to the partners that made this happen. Because of the hard work of the students, partners, and their amazing success, next year the program will expand to 120 students – doubling the number of participants from this year. We can’t wait to see this program continue to grow and flourish!

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  • Continued Education

    Last week, I had the pleasure to attend the two-day Facilitative Leadership course at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. The workshop focused on teaching leaders the tools to focus their creativity, experience, and drive to create the conditions to facilitate their goals while working with others. IISC believes that working together can turn passion into action.

    I felt confident walking into the classroom, with former experience in facilitation and collective impact tucked under my belt. However, it became immediately clear that while I knew the how, I was ignorant of the why, which is just as important. In addition to the many great figurative tools I have added to my toolbox, I learned a new language to use with colleagues and partners.

    The workshop included familiar exercises that many have experienced before, such as building a tower in small groups to develop communication and teamwork. I enjoyed that the information was presented in a variety of methods – lecture, bookwork, activities, and freeform conversation. Not only did these shifts give us different ways to exercise our minds, they also got us physically moving – something that we, working with the parks, love.

    Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, convening is one of the things we do most- be it facilitating HPHP Bay Area leadership meetings, holding conferences a la last November’s Parks: The New Climate Classroom, or simply asking our friends and colleagues to help us brainstorm the next big program idea. With the skills I practiced last week at the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop, I am better prepared.

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  • Climate Change and Our Shifting Sense of Place

    One of my favorite things to do is to sit on my back deck in the morning and watch the vibrant world of birds, insects, trees and flowers. Paying close attention to the patterns of the birds’ flight and behavior, how the seasons are playing out (even in this warm and drought-ridden winter) and the habitual impact of human activity, I am reminded that every day we have the opportunity to observe and appreciate the vast interplay of species and ecosystems around us.

    We are literally living with the challenges of climate change, right here, right now – and it calls on us all to have heightened awareness and keen attention to how the world around us is being impacted. Whether we’re up in the east bay hills, at the Marin headlands, on the coast or in our own backyards we can see change happening.

    We’re incredibly fortunate to be surrounded with awe-inspiring nature and what better way to celebrate it than with a multi-day, free event highlighting the biodiversity and richness of all of our overlapping communities. BioBlitz will give us a chance to connect with our communities, celebrate our parks and public nature spaces, share stories and support each other to take action.

    I’m honored to be part of the event, and to be in conversation with some wonderful people whose work is all about the science of climate change, the art of community engagement and the human scale narratives we can craft to help us protect what matters to us—and to future generations. Come celebrate, connect and be empowered!

    Join us at Impact Hub Oakland on Thursday, March 13 from 6:00-8:00 PM for an evening of thought-provoking discussion examining how climate change and biodiversity loss are impacting our communities and connection to the land, and what we can do about it. This event is presented as part of the Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz 2014.

    Erica Priggen is the Executive Producer at Free Range Studios, 

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  • Out of the Office and into the Field!

    The Institute at the Golden Gate has grown and thrived on its ability to think creatively and strategically, to act quickly, and to put people and ideas together in new and meaningful ways. In order to achieve this sometimes you need to push back from the desk and get out of the office and into the field. This is exactly what we did this past Friday.

    We threw on the galoshes and headed north to visit our friends at Slide Ranch. The great team at Slide Ranch work to connect the Bay Area with farm-based environmental education that focuses on the principles of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. They engage youth, families, and educators of all backgrounds by cooking, gardening, caring for animals and exploring the country and coast. The Institute and Slide Ranch share the mission of connecting people with their environment to strengthen and improve the health of ourselves and our communities.

    Since 1970 the team at Slide Ranch has been empowering and encouraging visitors to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and be connected - while learning how to respect nature. We jumped right in on Friday and within a matter of minutes we were exploring the one acre garden, chomping on fresh from the ground chard, and taking part in the daily milking of the goats. We left with dirt under our fingernails, minds expanded, and definitely more inspired than a day in the office provides.

    To experience Slide Ranch on your own check out their website and be sure and attend the upcoming Spring Fling on April 26.

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  • BioBlitz and Beyond

    From March 28-29, participants of the upcoming BioBlitz will be racing throughout the Golden Gate National Parks for a thrilling 24-hours. The aim of a BioBlitz is to survey the biodiversity of a given area by finding and identifying as many species of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms as possible.

    Many such phenology activities are showing that species populations are shifting and changing as a result of the rapid environmental changes of the 21st century. Leatherback turtles, Delta smelt, sea otters, and salmon are just a few of the many species whose numbers may go into decline.

    But what is happening in our own backyard?  What happens to our sense of place as the natural and built environment around us changes rapidly? How do our communities react?

    The need for action on climate change and biodiversity loss is recognized across the United States and around the world. To make progress towards combating and adapting to climate change, and halting the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, it is vital to understand the impact this devastation has on our daily lives and the parks and open spaces that we cherish. Join the Institute at the Golden Gate for a BioBlitz Speaker Series event to learn how biodiversity loss and climate change is already affecting how we engage with parks and open spaces.

    Panelists from University of California-Berkeley, Free Range Studios, and Green for All will help lead conversations on how our changing climate is and will continue to affect the connections we have with open spaces. Help shape the discussion and learn how you can take action in your own backyard to protect the parks and open spaces that we all cherish. Join us for this engaging event on Thursday, March 13 at 6:00pm. For more information and to RSVP, visit the event page.


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  • A Legacy of Education

    As the 2016 National Park Service (NPS) centennial draws near, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the legacy of our national park system and to reaffirm our commitment to its continued relevance and excellence.

    On August 24, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act.” His legislation created the National Park Service with the stated purpose “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Since that time, NPS has grown from 35 to 401 national parks with 84 million acres of land and over 280 million visitors annually.

    While conservation and management are of critical importance, it is the green and gray of the interpretive ranger that is the face of NPS for many Americans. The interpretive and educational opportunities offered at our most treasured places help us connect physically, emotionally, and historically to the parks. It is these experiences that call us to action as stewards of the land. With this history as providers of trusted information, park leadership has recognized the vast potential of our nation’s parks to become key providers of informal education and learning.

    Seizing the Moment

    How can we seize this important opportunity and tackle current challenges such as budget restraints and staffing cuts, as well as rapid technological and demographic change? How can NPS continue to offer high quality, relevant, and impactful educational programming given the current challenges? What are current examples of successful, alternative, innovative funding models for educational programming that might be replicated or scaled up?

    The Institute is committed to exploring these questions and to supporting efforts to make parks the most effective venues possible for informal, high-impact education. In the coming months, we will bring you more news of a number of early-stage initiatives in which we will be helping design and develop best practice in this important area.

    Do you know of any exciting, innovative examples of education funding models? If so, please share them below or email us -

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  • Welcome Senior Fellow Dr. Nooshin Razani!

    Since 2011 Dr. Nooshin Razani has been the lead health consultant at the Institute at the Golden Gate, leading such projects as the Bayview Hunters Point Park Prescriptions pilot and sitting on the leadership team for Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. Dr. Razani is a practicing pediatrician at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. She was trained as a "Nature Champion" by the National Environmental Education Foundation in 2010. Since that time she has become a champion in the Bay Area of getting individuals and communities outside for their physical and mental health.

    We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Razani has joined the Institute team as a Senior Fellow. She will continue to work on projects that push the Bay Area, and the rest of the country, to be leaders in nature and health. Stay tuned to hear what exciting projects she will be spearheading in the year to come! For a complete biography of Dr. Razani and to learn about the rest of the Institute team visit the Who We Are page. 

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  • The Importance of Audience

    As those involved in our November conference, Parks: The New Climate Classroom, take the time to synthesize lessons learned, one important theme has come through loud and clear: know your audience. During our conference follow up, participants emphasized the value of discussions around audience needs and values.

    Many participants called out Ed Maibach’s presentation on American perceptions and beliefs around climate change as particularly informative and stimulating. Maibach presented findings from the Yale Climate Communications Project, highlighting the “Six Americas”– terminology coined in their report to describe the span of American beliefs around climate change. He highlighted that those on either end of the spectrum (Alarmed and Dismissive) are wholeheartedly committed to their perspectives. However the majority of Americans (67%) fall between those two extremes. These middle populations are most receptive to new information around climate change and the sweet spot for educational programming.

    Check out the original report for more detailed information on the different groups. Additionally, last month the project published their latest findings from November 2013 regarding climate change beliefs.

    In his presentation, Maibach also highlighted the importance of showing people how they have personally experienced climate change. Rather than relying on analytical data and figures to convince people of the importance of climate change, Maibach suggests that climate education and communication should focus on experiential learning. Showing people how weather in their community has changed and connecting it to their daily life provides an important opportunity for moving the needle on climate beliefs.

    Watch this space for upcoming video highlights from our Parks: The New Climate Classroom conference, including a webcast of Ed Maibach’s thought-provoking session!

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  • Institute Launches New Report, Change Makers

    New Report Targets Key Role for Parks and Public Lands in Addressing Wider Societal Challenges


    A nine-year old with ADHD. A teenager studying climate change. A café owner serving healthy, local food. A senior citizen with Type II diabetes.

    What do they all have in common? The answer is our nation’s parks and open spaces.

    In our new report, Change Makers, our team at the Institute at the Golden Gate outlines how we are leveraging the power of parks and public lands to help address some of society's most pressing problems. The report, published to mark the Institute's fifth anniversary, tells the story so far, and reveals our team's latest plans to strengthen the role of parks in addressing society’s health, food, urban, climate, and education challenges. 

    The Institute's mission is to help unlock the power of parks and public lands to be part of the answer to some of society’s biggest challenges. We support the role of our nation’s parks in promoting people’s health and wellbeing, providing innovative education for all generations, and becoming places that are valued and relevant for all people, irrespective of culture, age, ethnicity, or background. Since we first opened our doors to the public five years ago, the Institute has helped improve policy and practice locally, regionally, and even nationally. 

    Click here to download our new Change Makers report

    Please join us in advancing this important mission. As a first step, we invite you to become a member on our website. Or if you prefer, you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Whatever your preference for staying connected, we’ll make sure you receive periodic updates on our work and can join the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!


    Chris Spence

    Director, Institute at the Golden Gate

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  • In-quiz-ative about the Institute?

    The Institute at the Golden Gate recently met with our friends and partners at the Crissy Field Center where we learned a lot about what they do and how much their work overlaps with the Institute’s mission. While the Institute and Crissy Field Center may be different programs of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy with different approaches, we both believe in the power of parks and public lands to transform lives and help solve some of the most pressing problems facing us now. Crissy Field is known for its amazing educational programs led by National Park Service rangers and Crissy Field staff, while the Institute….

    Actually, now might be a good time to see how well you know the Institute! A randomly selected winner will receive a prize! Try this short, fun quiz by clicking here.


    Thanks for reading and look forward to the responses!

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  • A Dose of Nature for a Happier, Healthier Life

    If you were to perform a simple online search using the key words "mental health benefits of nature" you would be met with over 62 million hits, many of them news articles touting the endless benefits that green space has on our mental wellbeing. Additionally you can now find an abundance of resources from around the world focused on improving the mental health of of youth, refugees, veterans, and urbanites.

    Mental wellbeing is quickly becoming a major public health issue. In 2011 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the use of antidepressants in the United States had increased nearly 400% in the last two decades alone. As the world becomes a more urbanized and complex place, we have to start asking ourselves just how important our green spaces are to us.

    Just last week The Guardian published an article titled "Why green is good for you" and pointed to a study that tracked the mental health of a 1,000 people - half had moved to an area with higher rates of green space and half who moved to an area with less green space. As predicted the group who moved to an area with more abundant green spaces had an immediate improvement in their mental health. The most striking outcome was the improvement in mental health that was still present three years later.

    It's been ten years since the term "nature deficit disorder" has entered our vocabulary. From forest bathing in Japan, to refugee walking programs in Australia, to the rise of park prescription programs throughout the United States, it's clear that we're making strides to improve the health and wellbeing of our population.

    You don't need to plan your retirement to a cabin in the woods just yet to reap the mental benefits of nature. Taking the path that winds through the park on your way to school, ditching your couch for the shade of a tree to read the newspaper, or playing on the local playground with your kids are all good ways to become happier, and thus feel better. It doesn't take a lot but it does take a little.

    We'll see you in the parks.

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  • Lessons from 2013

    As we embark on 2014, it is a good time to stop and reflect on what we have learned in the past year and how those lessons can better shape the next. Having recently joined such a vibrant organization as the Institute at the Golden Gate, I personally have much to learn!

    2013 was a pivotal year for the climate education program. Last May, we published our Climate in the Parks report, which presented case studies of innovative programs from around the world that use parks and public lands as a classroom for climate education. The information we gathered for the report showed us the importance of collaboration and partnership in effective educational programming. It also reinforced how the power of parks and place-based learning can be harnessed to create a compelling and personal climate change narrative.

    In November, we gathered over 100 key stakeholders at Cavallo Point for Parks: The New Climate Classroom. This three-day workshop brought together individuals and organizations from parks and public lands management, interpretation, climate change communications and education, youth leadership, behavior change, science and communications research, among others. Participants and presenters alike found inspiration in this multi-disciplinary, cross-sector approach.

    Our Parks gathering was a resounding success - in a post-conference survey, over 90% of the respondents ranked the conference highly. Perhaps more informatively, they repeatedly mentioned the value of bringing a diverse array of stakeholders to the table.

    “It was eye-opening to see how other fields (outside of science and education) are engaging with climate change issues,” one respondent shared, while another wrote, “I really appreciated the mix of local, regional and national perspectives, as well as the cross-disciplinary approach (i.e. educators, advocates, journalists, etc...).”

    Learning from our climate report and conference follow up, we clearly saw the value of using a place-based, multi-sector approach to climate education in parks. Moving into 2014, we will keep this at the forefront as we continue to develop our climate education programming. Watch this space and sign up on our website to keep up to date on this exciting program.

    If you’d like to share what lessons you’re taking away from 2013, please feel free to post below!

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  • Raise a Glass to 2013!

    The past year has been a remarkable one for the Institute at the Golden Gate. We started 2013 with a list of ambitious goals focused on one key mission: making parks and public lands part of the solution to some of society’s biggest challenges. We’re thrilled to report that 2013 was probably our most successful year yet! Here are some of the highlights.

    Our food program marked a milestone achievement with the announcement by the National Park Service in June that it was adopting new food policies that will affect tens of millions of meals served in national parks each year. This exciting new development was the culmination of three years of work by the Institute to inspire and help co-design a new food policy for parks across the country. More widely, it shows how parks and public lands can be part of the wider movement toward a more sustainable food system.

    In 2013, the Institute also co-hosted the first national summit on sustainable food service with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, convening food industry leaders from parks, hospitals, schools, retail outlets, and museums to design collaborative sustainable food solutions at scale. Galvanized by these successes, we’re now planning the next stage of our food work, including projects regionally and nationally, as well as initiatives right here in the Bay Area. 

    Over the past year, the Institute's Health program has worked to strengthen the role that parks and public lands can play in preventive healthcare. Locally, health and park agencies united to provide over 100 culturally relevant, introductory, and free programs in dozens of parks in all nine counties of the Bay Area. 

    At the national level, the Institute co-hosted a workshop in Houston, Texas, to strengthen and scale-up the park prescriptions movement. Globally, we are participating in an international Healthy Parks Healthy People task force to elevate the role parks and public lands play in making our populations healthier. With support from donors like Kaiser Permanente and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the pilot programs we’re testing in our own backyard—such as the Bayview Hunters Point park prescriptions program—are helping to create best practice guidelines that are now supporting activities across the United States and beyond.

    Meanwhile, our climate education program focused on the role parks can and should play in informing, educating, and empowering the public on critical challenges such as climate change. In May 2013, we released a well-received report that identified more than a dozen examples of innovative and high-impact educational programming in parks around the world.

    Following this publication, we hosted a dynamic conference in November, with more than 140 people from as far afield as Australia gathered in Sausalito, California, to brainstorm about the role our beloved parks can play in educating and empowering people on climate change. The event attracted experts and innovators not just from our country’s parks, but from many other sectors engaged in ground-breaking educational programs, including leaders from schools and universities, museums, the media, and Silicon Valley—as well as youth activists and well-known authors like Jonah Sachs and Mark Hertsgaard. With generous support from groups like the Ayrshire Foundation, we plan on taking our work to the next level in 2014. 

    Closer to home, the Institute continued its work welcoming environmental and government groups to hold their meetings at beautiful Fort Baker. By offering discounted bookings for overnight guests and meeting space in conjunction with Cavallo Point–the Lodge at the Golden Gate, the Institute helped more than 1,200 professionals hold their meetings in 2013 at this inspiring and affordable venue overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the many environmental friends and colleagues that took advantage of this opportunity were the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Student Conservation Association, Institute for the Future, and WildAid.

    Fort Baker

    Building on the momentum of 2013, we’re already ramping up for an exhilarating and eventful 2014. Thank you for your continued support and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy New Year!

    Chris Spence
    Director, Institute at the Golden Gate

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  • Counting Our Blessings

    As the year winds down, I get a bit obsessed because, as an avid birder, the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count takes place from mid-December through early January locally, nationally, and internationally. Citizen scientists will be fanning out through all of the Golden Gate National Parks, including Crissy Field, Land’s End, Ocean Beach, Fort Mason, Rodeo Lagoon, and beyond. They will be participating in a project that started way back in 1900 to observe and count birds, instead of hunting them in what had been a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” The Institute’s Healthy Parks, Healthy People program encourages birding and

    other activities in order to reap the physical and mental benefits of being outside in nature.

    Many areas of the Golden Gate National Parks provide excellent starting points to observe birdlife. A walk along Ocean Beach may reward you with views of Snowy Plovers, Marbled Godwits, Surf Scoters, and Sanderlings. A Hooded Oriole might show up in the Fort Mason Community Garden, as has been the case in recent weeks. Perhaps even more unbelievably, a Blue-footed Booby and Brown Booby, birds much more likely to be seen in Baja California than off Land’s End, could materialize, as was the case in the past two years, generating buzz in the scientific community as to why these birds are showing up here.

    Possible reasons for these avian appearances may be climate change and dwindling food resources. The climate program at the Institute supports and convenes experts, change makers, scientists, park rangers, educators, and community leaders to leverage the power of parks as sites to observe, interpret and discuss the impact of a changing climate on natural and cultural landscapes.

    Going forward, the Institute is excited to support the Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service in the March 2014 National Geographic BioBlitz, which will be taking place in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This 24-hour survey will attempt to document as many species of flora and fauna as possible to record the rich biodiversity
    of our parks and to investigate human and biotic connections for, as John Muir famously observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

    The Institute wishes you a happy and healthy 2014 and encourages you to get out in parks and public lands to get healthy, to learn, and to inspire and be inspired!

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  • Connecting at Cavallo Point

    The Institute was delighted to welcome the Oceans Conservancy, Envision Education, Conservation Studies Institute, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and more this fall as part of our Institute-rate bookings in partnership with Cavallo Point Lodge. Through this partnership, environmental groups can apply for discounted, over-night meeting rates for bookings between the months of November and April of each year.

    The Institute was pleased to welcome Envision Education back to Fort Baker in early December. IGG Director, Chris Spence, gave a few brief remarks to the group including appreciation for their work providing young people, especially those from underserved communities, with an education that prepares them for the complex and intertwined challenges of being responsible stewards of the planet and society – a truly noble goal.

    The Gordon and Betty Moore Science team generously invited the Institute team to hang out around Cavallo Point’s fire pit and shoot the breeze. Staff shared what the Institute has been up to in the last year as well as a brief history of Fort Baker. In turn, the Science team gave updates on the amazing things they have been up to including, but not limited to, 1)work on a thirty meter telescope that will allow scientists to see the farthest reaches of the universe, study light from the earliest known stars, and test the fundamental laws of physics; 2) earthquake early-warning research and where the next big quake will hit; and 3) researching the ongoing aquatic and marine life fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It was a reinvigorating afternoon spent with admired colleagues.

    Conservation Studies Institute has met at Fort Baker twice so far this fall and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them back each time. The Institute is proud to call CSI friends and partner as we work together to keep the National Park Service a key player in the conservation world. This fall’s meetings included discussions on urban parks and the urban agenda.

    The above are just a sampling of some of the amazing groups that have taken advantage of our Institute rate. To learn how you can apply for this amazing deal and join the thousands of other professionals that have called Fort Baker home for their environmental meetings, check out our Convene page, or give us a call at (415) 914-8935.

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  • Welcoming New Institute Staff

    We're thrilled to introduce the newest additions to our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate: Carlo Arreglo and Catherine Carlton. 

    Catherine joins the Institute as the new Program Manager of our Climate Education initiative. She brings interdisciplinary experience designing and implementing environmental programs for maximum social impact. After working on a variety of agriculture and development projects in Malawi and Zambia over the past five years, Catherine returned home to the Bay Area last month to join the team at our recent climate education conference. She holds a degree in History from Stanford University and a Master’s in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. 

    Carlo joins the Institute as our Project Coordinator, a new role focused on communications and outreach. In this role, Carlo will draw from a wide-ranging background as a former National Park Service interpretive ranger and University of California-Berkeley instructor in the English and Environmental Science, Policy, and Management departments. An avid birder, Carlo volunteers for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory and leads walks for the Golden Gate Audubon Society. He holds degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Hawai`i at Manoa. 

    Please join us in welcoming Carlo and Catherine to the Institute family!

    Curious to know more about our other Institute staff? Please click here

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  • The American Public Health Association (APHA), around for over 140 years, champions the health of all people and all communities. At this years 141st Annual Meeting in Boston, MA the APHA adopted 17 new policies - one policy in particular calls out the growing acknowledgement of the health benefits of spending time outside. The 'Nature, health and wellness' policy, championed by our friends at the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), states:

    Nature, health and wellness — To aid in promoting healthy and active lifestyles, encourages land use decisions that prioritize access to natural areas and green spaces for residents of all ages, abilities and income levels. Calls on public health, medical and other health professionals to raise awareness among patients and the public at-large about the health benefits of spending time in nature and of nature-based play and recreation. Also urges such professionals to form partnerships with relevant stakeholders, such as parks departments, school districts and nature centers. Calls for promoting natural landscaping.

    The idea that parks and public spaces can be utilized as a preventive health resource has quickly moved from niche to norm, and the passing of this policy statement by the APHA only proves this further. The epidemics that result from an indoor, sedentary lifestyle require action from all sectors of society. To elevate the message about the important role that nature can play in improving the health and wellbeing of our communities requires park agencies and healthcare providers to work together. The Institute is committed to furthering these partnerships in our own backyard and across the country through our Park Prescriptions and Healthy Parks, Healthy People programs. 

    [This brief description of the policy statement is not comprehensive and does not include every point, statement or conclusion presented in the policy statement. The full policy statement will be available at in early 2014.]

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