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  • Why I'm Staying at the Institute

    The word is out per our last blog, Chris Spence is leaving, sadly, his Director role at the Institute at the Golden Gate – but for good reason! I’m thrilled and honored to be staying at the Institute and taking on the Acting Director position.

    Filling Chris’s shoes will undoubtedly be a formidable task, fortunately I am stepping in when the Institute has much success and many accomplishments to build upon. And my job is made that much easier (and enjoyable) by the brilliant and committed Institute team.

    A colleague asked me what I’ve learned in the year I’ve been with the Institute that best prepares me for this transition and my new role. Reflecting on the question, the concept of being curious came first to mind as a potent leadership attribute.

    Curiosity is one of the most valuable tools to help us connect, motivate, and inspire. It’s the seed of every new idea and a springboard for greater progress or disruptive innovation. For me it goes even deeper, curiosity isn’t just about finding the next big idea, it is the common denominator to make connections and gain understanding of others. It’s an organic regulator for openness and practicing humility – letting us see value in diverse perspectives. It brings the added benefit of often providing unexpected delight in the act of discovery.

    Curiosity is also a natural part of the Institute’s work and culture. We’re energized, rather than intimidated, by complex issues facing parks and public lands. Our explorative approach is usually less about having the perfect solution and more about asking the right questions throughout a process. We start by asking questions – much of this done working with and for partners – pushing beyond conventional boundaries.

    I feel energized by both the challenges and opportunities ahead for the Institute. We know our parks are precious resources but we’re just getting started as seeing them as powerful assets for addressing complex human challenges. As we discover a new future for parks, whether that be as a solution to the public health crisis or as a generator of social cohesion, their value will only increase. Now more than ever, we all need to keep calm and stay curious!

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  • Why I’m Leaving the Institute

    On June 1st 2017, I am stepping down as Director of the Institute—five years to the day since I first took on the role. I’ve loved every minute of my time here.

    So why am I leaving?

    Well, it’s not because of our mission. The opportunity to help make parks and public lands a catalyst for lasting, large-scale societal change has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I love how our work has evolved and relish the focus of our current programs on parks as a tool for preventive healthcare, a classroom for climate education, and a resource for critical urban issues like homelessness and income and racial inequity. 

    It’s not because of our impact, either. During the past five years, we have turned “park prescriptions” from an idea into reality. We have helped change national policy to bring healthy, nutritious food across our national parks, reaching millions of visitors each year. And we have welcomed more than 10,000 environmental leaders to the Bay Area through our Convene program and launched a Fellowship for Emerging Leaders to support and train the environmental leaders of tomorrow.

    And let’s be clear—I’m definitely not leaving because of the staff. The team here at the Institute is absolutely phenomenal and it’s been an honor to serve with them.

    So if it wasn’t for any of these reasons, why am I leaving?

    For the only thing that trumps a job I really enjoy: my family. With three young kids under 8 and my wife also working (and excelling) in a very busy job, the truth is, it was getting hard to juggle everything professionally while also being attentive to our kids’ needs. After some careful thought, we decided I should be the one to make the change.

    What made a hard decision easier is the strong place the Institute is in right now. With an incredible team of staff, a marvelous advisory Council, some terrific organizational partners and some strong programs, we really are on a very positive trajectory. 

    We’ll have more news on our next steps and the Institute’s incoming leadership very soon. In the meantime, though, I want to thank all of you for your active support over these past five years. I feel honored to have been a part of the story of this amazing organization.

    Finally, I hope you'll wish me luck as I make my transition from the first photo... to the second!

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  • Introducing the BayCLIC Website!

    After an exciting year since the launch of our climate collaborative, the Institute is very pleased to announce the creation of BayCLIC.org. This website will be our one stop shop for all things related to the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). On the site, we have information on who we are, showcase some of our partners, host a number of climate tools, and offer information on how interested individuals can plug into what BayCLIC is doing. Check out our website to learn more about the three key themes that BayCLIC has identified for advancing climate education and action in the region as well as the tools we’re offering related to each theme.

    One key theme is to provide educators with more tools and training opportunities. Acknowledging that there are already many existing toolkits and trainings out there, BayCLIC’s biggest value add will be to point educators towards the highest quality professional development opportunities that are available in addition to condensing the process for getting started.  To do this, we’ll be designing and hosting on our website a climate education roadmap, which will provide a brief and digestible summary of the recommended steps an educator needs to take to start communicating on climate change. While we work to create this roadmap the site has handful of our favorite climate education resources for educators to start using.

    Another key BayCLIC theme is to go beyond climate literacy and shift individuals towards more climate friendly behaviors. Research shows that climate literacy doesn’t always lead to climate action so we’re hoping to bring audiences from awareness to behavior change through a coordinated climate messaging campaign across BayCLIC organizations. The goal of this pilot campaign will be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle use by recommending alternative modes of transportation. We’ll be taking the next few months to plan out this campaign; in the meantime we’ve recommended a handful of leading organizations pushing for alternative transportation that educators can suggest their audiences look into.

    Finally, our last initiative is to increase educator access to more local climate science resources, stemming from the commonly cited desire among educators to be able to speak more fluently on climate risks at their sites or regions. As part of this initiative, we are very excited to share a local climate science database featuring science resources like reports, data visualizations, and charts that focus on the San Francisco Bay Area. Educators will be able to filter by climate change aspect—sea level rise, erosion, etc.—by parts of the region, affected species, and more. We will continue to add resources to this database periodically and will be accepting additional suggestions of local climate science resources.  If you’d like to submit a resource, please contact us and tell us more about the resource you’re recommending. In addition to the database, we’ll also be putting on science and educator seminars over the next six months that will be focused on spotlighting local climate science work and create more connections within the Bay Area’s science and educator communities. Check back on our events page in the coming months for more information on the seminars.

    BayCLIC is looking forward to expanding our audience and we hope that, through this site, more educators are exposed to the opportunities for authentic, science-based, and personal conversations on climate change. For those curious about the challenges educators have in talking about this topic, what role education plays in this important issue, and what it means for the Bay Area, watch this brief 3-minute video that frames why we do this work. 

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  • Every year from November through April, the Institute’s Convene program offers a special discounted rate at Cavallo Point - the Lodge at the Golden Gate to nonprofit and government groups addressing environmental, conservation, or sustainability issues. This year, we welcomed 27 groups of varying sizes and for various purposes. From small gatherings, steering committees, and roundtable discussions to board meetings, strategy sessions, multi-day seminars, and international conferences, all our guests took advantage of the stunning setting while exploring some of the most critical environmental issues of our time. 

    One of the groups that joined us this past year was The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) Feedstocks Division, a U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and dedicated to developing advanced biofuels. One of their core values is safeguarding public health and the environment by curbing the effects of climate change. The Feedstocks Division focuses on developing specialty biofuel crops (or “feedstocks”) that are more readily converted into biofuels. Their goal is to develop bioenergy crops that can thrive with little fertilization or irrigation on land unusable for growing food crops.

    The division’s recent gathering was an opportunity to bring together research staff and directors, collaborators from UC Davis and the University of Cambridge, and guests from each of the three other JBEI research divisions. With their first time staying at Cavallo Point through the Convene program, Leah Freeman Sloan, JBEI Feedstocks Division on-site coordinator noted that “Everyone had a wonderful visit. We were impressed by the quality of the hotel and meeting rooms, and stunned by the beauty of the location.”

    JBEI Feedstocks Division Annual Meeting group (photo by JBEI)


    We were glad to provide JBEI an affordable location as they discussed important matters impacting our environment. We welcome all nonprofit and governmental groups tackling similar issues to apply through the Convene program. 

    Plan ahead for your meeting during our next Institute rate period, from November 2017 to April 2018. Find out more about the Convene program, if your group qualifies for the special discounted rate, and how to apply by visiting our website.

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  • Crissy Field Park Prescription Day Highlights

    We had so much fun celebrating with everyone at Crissy Field's Park Prescription Day. On Sunday, we welcomed thousands of park goers to experience the health benefits of being outdoors. Participants of all ages were taking part in group activities, such as Tai-Chi and Zumba. Agencies were at booths encouraging families to be acquainted with the many free community resources around them. We want to thank all of our amazing event partners who helped make it possible for everyone to have fun outdoors! Photos by Curran White, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. 

    San Francisco State University students brought parachutes, agility courses, and games for children to play with. 

    Make your own smoothie without electricity? Point Bonita YMCA showed us how with their ever-popular smoothie bikes. 

    Institute staff were on hand to help participants navigate their way around the activity schedule and 40+ agency tables. 

    Park Prescription Day can't be complete without a park prescription from a white coat! San Francisco Recreation and Parks had their Doctor of Parks prescribing programs to passers by!

    As we found out, nothing gets a crowd going more than seeing a Golden Gate National Recreation Area ranger participating in Zumba!

    Tai-chi groups loved the open space to demonstrate their expertise. 

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  • Acting Collectively on Climate Change

    As we approach this Earth Day, it’s important to reflect that, as Rachel Carson one wrote “in nature, nothing exists alone.” Just as ecosystems are connected, environmental issues are connected to issues of social justice, community health, responsible land management, and much more. One of the most cross cutting environmental problems we’re currently facing is climate change, which not only touches the environment but affects the people, places, and animals we care about.

    Next week, the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy will be celebrating Earth Day (April 22) with a series of events throughout the week, wrapping up on April 29th. As a part of this celebration, the Institute will be hosting a climate change communications workshop for staff. Scheduled for Thursday, April 27th, this workshop will cover the role that parks can play in addressing climate change, basic climate science concepts, climate communications best practices, and share out some of the exciting progress already happening in our parks. The workshop will also set aside time for participants to think about how they can take back what they’ll learned to their own educational programs.

    One of the central takeaways for this workshop— and one of the reasons why collective environmental initiatives like Earth Day are successful—is that encouraging collaborative civic engagement leads to systems level action. The scale of climate change can feel vast and overwhelming and people instinctively want solutions they can take. It’s important to encourage individual level solutions like using less energy or driving less because these messages are impactful, short, and memorable. However, community level actions have greater impact and encourage a shift in social norms. As social animals, we have the power to inspire our peers and community members and encourage new behaviors. We see how the recycling culture swept San Francisco over the past decade; we can and must recreate this in order to have a tangible impact on the climate crisis.

    This Earth Day, think about what causes you care about and learn more about how to get involved with a group working on this topic. Support a public-bike sharing initiative, encourage proposals to subsidize renewable energy in your area, get involved in a local food movement. If you’ve thought about it, chances are someone else has too and that there’s already an organization working to advance your chosen cause.

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  • By now you’ve probably heard us mention the Crissy Field Park Prescription Day event that we are so excited for on Sunday, April 23, 2017. But did you know that the Crissy Field celebration is just one of 14 events taking place across the Bay Area? Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area member organizations are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the second annual Park Prescription Day the only way they know how – by having free, fun, and family-friendly activities in parks and open spaces!

    There are events in several different counties and all of them offer guided programs that encourage being healthy outdoors, such as hiking, nature walks, yoga, and more! Here’s a list of all the fun and FREE activities happening in the Bay Area on Sunday, April 23:

    • Marin Health and Wellness Center, Marin City Community Services District, and Marin County Parks are hosting a celebration at George “Rocky” Graham Park in Marin City. Participants will enjoy an afternoon filled with live music, food, and fun exercises.
    • California State Parks will be leading two guided hikes on Mount Tamalpais State Park, where participants will explore how nature, science, and mindfulness intersect with one another.
    • Contra Costa Health Services, the City of Richmond, the National Park Service, and Walk & Roll to School are hosting a celebration at John F. Kennedy Park in Richmond. At this event participants will enjoy a free lunch, free health screenings, and fun activities that will show them how their local park can benefit their physical, mental, and emotional health.
    • East Bay Regional Park District will be holding guided wellness walks in each of their seven interpretive sectors in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
    • Santa Clara County Parks will be allowing free vehicle entry and parking to all 29 Santa Clara County Parks on April 23rd to celebrate their new ParksRx program.
    • Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is leading a leisurely-paced hike along the Ipiwa and Sunny Jim Trails while the docents share California native people’s management and use of indigenous plants and animals. They’re also leading a leisurely walk along Waterwheel Creek Trail where you’ll learn about how John Muir experienced the world and why he continues to be an inspiration and influence to nature lovers.
    • The Institute at the Golden Gate and San Francisco health, park, and community partners are hosting an event on Crissy Field in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This event will have fun activities for everyone, such as tai chi, Zumba, and guided walks. Attendees will also be able to receive free health screenings. RSVP to the San Francisco event on Facebook!

    For more information about the Bay Area events, visit hphpbayarea.org. See you in the parks on Sunday, April 23!

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  • Calling Emerging Leaders to Join our Team!

    It’s that time of year again – the Institute is hiring our next cohort of Emerging Leader Fellows!

    Are you starting out in your career and interested in exploring how parks can help solve some of society’s biggest challenges? Are you looking for an opportunity to gain critical experience and skills, take ownership of your own project, and make an impact? If so, the Institute’s Fellowship for Emerging Leaders may be for you!

    Our Fellowship seeks to empower early career professionals by offering paid opportunities that support their development as future environmental and community leaders. Participants receive individualized mentorship and career coaching, participate in learning opportunities designed to increase their project management skills, and take ownership of specific projects, ultimately adding tangible products to their professional portfolio and supporting their career growth. Examples of previous fellowship projects include our Post to Park Transformations report and the Park Prescription webinar series.

    Maria Romero, 2016 climate fellow, presenting on her work

    The Institute intentionally seeks fellows with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help explore new ways for parks to provide value to all communities. We strive to broaden and support the next generation of park leaders and advocates as well as to give to our fellows the opportunity to apply their creativity to the complex challenges that parks and communities face.

    But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Lea Kassa, our 2016 health fellow, had to say about her experience with the Institute:

    My fellowship with the Institute was beneficial in so many ways. For me, it was the perfect segue into the working world after graduating from Cornell. It allowed me to develop essential professional skills like project management, business etiquette, public speaking, and facilitation to a degree I had never before experienced. What stands out most is how much responsibility and trust was instilled in me from day one. I felt truly valued and listened to as a part of the Institute’s Health program, which gave me the confidence to speak my mind and actively participate in and contribute to meetings.

    My experience with the Institute was also, without a doubt, a large part of the reason I ended my fellowship with two full-time job offers from other organizations. My manager was incredibly supportive throughout my job application and interview process and I had a wealth of experience from my fellowship to discuss during interviews. I have so much to thank the Institute for, and I know anyone who pursues this fellowship will feel the same way!

    If this sounds like an opportunity for you or someone you know, visit our website for more information and apply via our online application form following the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Climate Change Education or Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Urban links. We look forward to hearing from you!

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  • The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) is the industry leader in providing professional development, products, and support services related to the Project Based Learning (PBL) teaching and learning methodology. Through this method, K-12 students work on extended projects that engage them in solving real-world problems. They demonstrate their knowledge, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills while also focusing on teamwork, confidence, public speaking, and resilience. Projects often involve environmental issues such as climate change, sustainability, pollution, and habitat protection, including one created by the National Environmental Education Foundation and curated by BIE.


    This year, BIE gathered 25 prominent educators and representatives of organizations with an interest in PBL at Cavallo Point through the Convene program for their High Quality PBL Steering Committee with the aim to develop guidelines for widespread adoption. The national park lodge and surrounding Fort Baker area created “the sense of being ‘away from it all’ yet not remote from the real world around us,” the BIE organizers said. “The location is one of the main attractions; having the close-up view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the dramatic landscape of the San Francisco Bay gives a sense of importance and ‘world-classness’ to the work we do there. The site and the way the historic buildings have been preserved yet modernized creates a feeling that ‘we are doing some historic work here.’ Being able to stroll the grounds amid the scenery gives participants in events the opportunity for reflection and contemplation.”

    High-Quality PBL Steering Committee at Cavallo Point (Photo Credit: BIE)

    While PBL is gaining awareness and acceptance, there is a concern that quick growth without focus could dilute the marketplace and effectiveness of a proven method. As such, BIE hopes to facilitate the development of PBL implementation guidelines to be used by teachers, schools, districts and states, other countries, education support organizations, curriculum providers, and researchers. While this is just the first step of their 4-year strategic plan, the group meeting at Cavallo Point generated initial ideas for defining the characteristics that must be present for a project to be deemed “high quality”. By Spring 2018, BIE hopes to finalize the guidelines and publish them on a website accessible to the public.


    The Institute at the Golden Gate was happy to provide an inspiring backdrop for BIE’s important work. The Convene program offers special discounted rates to non-profit and government groups gathering to address environmentally-focused issues and runs annually from November through April. Learn more about the Convene program, if your group qualifies for the special discounted rate, and how to apply by visiting our Convene page.

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  • Join us at Park Prescription Day!

    The planning for Park Prescriptions Day is under way! Come celebrate this free and fun day in the parks on April 23, 2017, from 11-3 at Crissy Field. We will have lots of fun activities for all ages. Climb our rock wall, enjoy a serene tai chi lesson, get health screenings, or learn about the different parks around us! We want to inspire everyone to have fun and enjoy the health benefits of nature. Join us!

    Enjoy many different group activities or visit one of our many tables and booths to partake in fun games and learn about the different park and health programs in the area. Activities include: Zumba, tai chi, obstacle courses, dance-walking, ranger-led walks, and health screenings. Learn about ways to use public transit to access your local parks, healthy eating and exercise tips, and youth programs in parks.

    If you are an organization and would like to offer a free activity or to table at Park Prescription Day, please fill out this survey.

    In addition to providing engaging education, we also welcome companies that want to take part in the event, either through a sponsorship or through providing participants with giveaways. For more information, please contact Diane Mailey at dmailey@parksconservancy.org

    For more information on the day, please visit the event website

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  • Convene - The Nature Conservancy at Cavallo Point

    The Nature Conservancy, established in 1951, has a mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. With such a mission, Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate was the perfect place to host their latest team retreat for the Office of the Chief Scientist. Through the Convene program–the Institute’s partnership with Cavallo Point–we aim to ensure that this national park lodge is available and affordable to organizations addressing important issues around the environment and sustainability.

    With a focus on science ranging from agriculture and climate to marine life and urban conservation, The Nature Conservancy’s more than 600 scientists, researchers, analysts, and innovators are an integral part of the organization’s work to protect the planet. This past December’s meeting allowed a small portion of this group, the Office of the Chief Scientist, to gather and train their team, set global strategy for the coming year, and socialize in a relaxed setting. Retreat attendees work all over the world using decision science tools from economics and applied mathematics to formulate and solve conservation problems in the real world. Gathering the group at Cavallo Point proved to be the perfect central location: close to an international airport, easy and quick to get to, and a great backdrop for a conservation-focused organization.

    Cavallo Point lies within Fort Baker, encompassing 335 acres around a cove north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The area provides miles of coastal and inland trails, diverse flora and fauna, and a mix of historic and modern, eco-friendly structures. “The natural setting was amazing and perfect for our group!” Sarah-Kate Weaver, Executive Coordinator for the Office of the Chief Scientist said. “Our team members loved being able to connect with nature. We went for a beautiful hike, and people were able to go for morning and evening walks on their own to get out in nature. On the very first day folks excitedly reported seeing a coyote, fish, many kinds of birds, and seals! We were blown away by the Lodge. The rooms were beautiful with incredible views of the bridge and city. We were very impressed with the professionalism and responsiveness of the staff.”

    The Convene program’s discounted rate period runs annually from November through April, providing an affordable and beautiful meeting place for non-profit and government groups gathering to address environmentally-focused issues. Learn more about the Convene program, how your group may qualify, and how to apply by visiting our Convene page.

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  • Being Seen - Homelessness in Parks

    In January, I went to a workshop on homelessness in parks hosted by the National Recreation and Park Association. After a rich panel discussion, one homeless advocate shared a bit of wisdom that is still sticking with me. He remarked that our communities have a lot more compassion for the homeless, and thankfully, it’s no longer socially acceptable to treat homeless folks with disdain. Yet many of us still haven’t developed a healthy approach or view of the homeless. Instead of disdain we disassociate, becoming quite skilled at distancing ourselves from our homeless neighbors. Now we avoid eye contact, ignore their greetings, and refuse to acknowledge their presence. Sitting in a conference room of 60 people, I felt a wave of heat go up my spine. He was talking about me. I ignore the homeless.

    He went on to say that homeless folks often internalize being ignored. He argued that ignoring our homeless neighbors robs them of their dignity; of their humanity. Later on in the workshop, his point was validated by two women who were once homeless living in parks. They shared their story, and both of them told of being ignored and avoided, and then later becoming experts of hiding, of being unseen.  For both women it took someone seeing them to jump start their journey out of homelessness. One woman, who struggled to manage her schizophrenia while homeless, remarked that it was the first person who talked to her that convinced her to seek support and services. It was a beautiful moment, witnessing two women who spent years being invisible in parks, now speaking in front of a room of park professionals from across the country – advocating so that other folks might be seen. 

    Now that I’ve had a little time to process all the information from the workshop, I’m wondering what cost parks pay for disassociating from the homeless. It might be robbing us of our agency. How can we attempt to solve, or at least improve, what we refuse to see? What if parks are more powerful, more skilled, and better advocates than we imagine? Considering that only a minority of homeless individuals are chronically homeless (15% by the latest estimates), what if the problem isn’t as scary and unsolvable as we dismiss it to be? To put it another way: if you knew there was an 85% chance that any homeless person would find housing within a year, would it change how you saw them? 

    I, too, was resigned that the homelessness crisis was hopeless, but now I feel empowered. What an exciting time to work with parks! I’m anxious for all the new solutions and partnerships that might come from really seeing our homeless neighbors. It feels much more honest and brave to tackle this head on. Who knows? Parks might really be powerful.  

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  • Our Health program’s newest report is now complete!

    Introducing the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, A Roadmap and Case Study for Regional Collaboration.

    Since its creation in 2012 we have seen many successes with the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative, and wanted to capture our challenges, successes, and lessons learned to not only share with those who work at the intersection of parks and health, but also with those interested in creating their own regional cross-sector collaboratives.

    As a collaborative, HPHP: Bay Area seeks to be a space for park and health agencies to share best practices, workshop programmatic challenges, and accomplishes this through the initiatives of First Saturday programs and Park Prescription programs.

    We decided to frame this report as a roadmap and case study for regional collaboration because the story, successes, and challenges of HPHP: Bay Area provide a unique case study and potential roadmap for other collaboratives across the county who are looking to connect health and parks within their agencies and communities.

    We also wanted to frame this report within the context of a roadmap because the evolution and growth of the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative has been –and continues to be— a wonderful journey of innovation, exploration, partnership, and iteration.

    This report pulls from 30 interviews of collaborative members and comprehensively describes the history of the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative. The roadmap is broken down into six steps, allowing readers the ability to take a deep dive into how to create a vibrant cross-sector collaborative such as Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. The steps are as follows:

    1. Identify and convene stakeholders
    2. Develop a purpose
    3. Create a collaborative structure
    4. Pilot an idea
    5. Provide consistent and appropriate park programs
    6. Develop tailored Park Prescription programs

    This report also provides successful program models of current Bay Area Park Prescription programs.

    For those who would like to download the report, it is available at hphpbayarea.org/resources and instituteatgoldengate.org

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  • Save the date for National ParkRx Day!

    Mark your calendars for Sunday, April 23, 2017, to celebrate the second annual National ParkRx Day! Across the nation, there will be public events that will promote the growing movement to prescribe parks and nature to improve human health.

    Last year, the US Surgeon General was at the main ParkRx Day celebration in DC and prescribed everyone a walk in the park. This year, we’re going to encourage everyone to do it again in more locations.

    If you are in San Francisco, join us at our signature event at Crissy Field from 11-3pm to celebrate the day with family-friendly games, activities, booths, and so much more. Events will take place all around the Bay Area as well. For more information on the Bay Area events, click here. For information on the national events, click here

    See you in the park!

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  • For most of my life, I’ve held the belief that parks were ecologically valuable, beautiful, and could stir up emotions in people with an affinity for nature. However, I admit to being limited in the way I thought of parks, not really seeing their immense social significance. In my mind, parks were stagnant. They housed long-living, unmoving trees or cold statues of important people we were taught in school to revere. However, since starting my job at the Institute at the Golden Gate and working with the national parks I’ve begun to understand that parks, like our nation’s history, are far from stationary. They’re fluid, changing with the times and the people infusing new meaning into them.

    This past Thursday, outgoing President Barack Obama added 50,000 new acres of national monument space, bolstering his legacy of preserving the most natural, cultural, and historic sites of any American president under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Thinking of this momentous act by numbers—in this case acres—does not do it justice. It is the social significance of these sites to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States that makes this a captivating story.

    One of the new national park sites is the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, making up around four city blocks. This site includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four African American girls died and 22 other church goers were injured in a bombing set by a white supremacist in 1963, Kelly Ingram Park, where non-violent civil rights protesters were hosed down by police, the A.G. Gaston Motel, where segregation opponents organized in the 1960s, and more.

    Another one of the new sites is the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama, which includes the site of a former Greyhound bus station where members of the Ku Klux Klan fire bombed protesters who fought for integration in interstate busing. Like the protests at Kelly Ingram, the visuals of the firebombing rattled the consciousness of Americans, spurring for the federal government to eventually overturn interstate bus segregation.

    The other new site is the Reconstruction Era National Monument, located in Beaufort County, South Carolina and represents a number of places where black Americans built their communities and grappled with how to live in the country post slavery. It is the first national monument that spotlights the realities of Reconstruction. The national monument includes Penn Center, formerly the Penn School, one of the first schools for freed slaves.

    All of these new monuments hold immense importance to telling the difficult truths in America’s history and help us to reconcile our past so we can move towards progress. These sites are spaces where black Americans were routinely targeted, where they prayed and strategized for the betterment of their people, and where their communities did their best to thrive despite the institutionalized barriers that existed long after the formal end of slavery. Coming off of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we know now more than ever that America still has a long way to go to address the injustices of our past and make sure we safeguard the civil rights of those here now. 

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  • Reflections on 2016

    2016 was a year of both introspection and action here at the Institute. As an organization, we have continued to grow and evolve. The ongoing change allows us to be flexible and dynamic. It has also meant that we need to constantly assess our organizational identity and brand in the context of this evolution.

    Last year, we began a strategic communications process that has allowed us to take time out to evaluate our growth, what we’ve accomplished, and who we are as an organization. We have thought deeply about the language we use, pushing ourselves to match our message to the passion and potential of our work.

    We see a critical opportunity for parks to be catalysts for social change, reaching outside of their traditional boundaries to embrace a role that moves beyond conservation and recreation. By reframing parks in this way, they become more vibrant, relevant, and valuable to everyone.

    Over the past year, we have reaffirmed this mission and will continue to refine both our language and our program approach in 2017. At the program level, we reached a number of milestones in working towards this vision in 2016:

    • Climate: Publicly launched the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, a coalition of environmental educators dedicated to increasing climate literacy and action throughout the region. We also collaborated with the National Park Service and NASA to host a climate change education training for interpreters and educators in the Pacific West Region.
    • Health: Created two new websites, hphpbayarea.org and parkrx.org, to connect park and health professionals to resources and to others interested in the nexus of parks and health. We also organized the first Bay Area Health Outdoors! Forum which brought together parks, health, and community organizations to explore new partnership opportunities, such as Park Prescription programs, that can help overcome complex health equity challenges.
    • Urban: Supported the National Park Service Urban Agenda. This included building a community of practice in the Pacific West and Intermountain Regions and supporting the one-year gathering of national stakeholders. We also began working with Golden Gate National Recreation Area leadership to identify opportunities to strengthen community outreach and support efforts to ensure that park management and planning processes are inclusive of all community voices.

    As we look forward to 2017, it is hard to know what the new year will hold. But I feel confident that, with our amazing team and the inspiring work we have ahead of us, we can take on any of the challenges that we face.

    Photo credit: Scott Sawyer

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  • The Association of Women in Water, Energy and the Environment (AWWEE) held their recent mini-conference at Cavallo Point through the Convene program. Convene is a partnership between the Institute at the Golden Gate and Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate committed to bringing high-quality programming around conservation and environmental issues.

    Photo credit: AWWEE Facebook

    Started in 2009, AWWEE is a nonprofit organization focused on providing women in the water, energy, and environment fields opportunities to expand their knowledge and professional networks. Throughout the year, they host events connected to current environmental issues, ranging from climate change and the effects of the drought on our forests, to renewable resources and sustainability. In addition to events focused on industry issues, trends, developments, and policies, they also host a “Path to Power” series focusing on women’s personal and professional journeys to success. In just the past seven years, AWWEE has hosted more than 100 events for more than 1,000 members, friends, and, colleagues.

    The mini-conference at Cavallo Point boasted a Path to Power panel, skills session, and update on the organization’s upcoming events and programs. It also served as an opportunity for members to connect with each other and enjoy the beautiful location and surroundings at Fort Baker. After hosting their bi-annual conference here in 2015, many guests requested a chance return, and this was the perfect opportunity. As Meghan Roberts, the AWWEE executive director stated, “There’s little not to love at Cavallo Point. The meeting space was perfect for our group of 75. As the event organizer, the service planning our event and the support the day of the event were wonderful. I could rest easy the nights leading up to the event because I was certain that everything would be handled seamlessly – and it was!”

    We were glad AWWEE hosted their event at Fort Baker through the Convene program. Every year from November through April, Convene offers a special discounted rate to nonprofit and government groups gathering to address environmentally-focused issues. Learn more about the Convene program, if your group qualifies for the special discounted rate, and how to apply by visiting our Convene page.

     

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  • Happy Holidays to All

    Wishing you all the happiest of holidays! See you in 2017!

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  • Parks For All

    Photo credit: Kirke Wrench, National Park Service

    Call me sentimental, but I love the holiday season. I love the lights, the flavors, and the smells. I love that we make time in our busy schedules for friends, for family, for loved ones, and for our community. I also love the sense of perspective it gives me – the opportunity to reflect on what is important in my life and how my decisions reflect those values, both personally and professionally.

    I won’t sugar coat it, the past month or two has been a challenging time for many of us. Whatever your political stripes, most people can agree that the rhetoric in 2016 was more divisive than ever, and that we are entering a time of uncertainty and transition. How the things we value may be impacted in the years to come is not yet clear. Now, more than ever, I seek solace and inspiration from those around me, the values that we all share, and the work we are doing to amplify those values.

    Over the past year, the Institute team has dug deep into who we are as an organization, the key beliefs and values that motivate our work, and how those show up in what we do every day. One core value that has come through loud and clear is our belief in the role of parks as safe and healing spaces. We believe that parks must be welcoming and be available to all, no matter their background, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, ability… the list goes on and on.

    Parks have so much to give to society – they are places to build community, to engage in open and respectful dialogue, to deeply connect with people who are different from us, and to explore and overcome our common challenges. This belief is core to who we are as an organization.

    In this time of change and season of giving, we’d like to share just a few examples of park-based programs that are building community and offering healing, growing spaces. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we do.

    Please use the comment box to add your favorite to this short list, we know there are so many inspiring programs out there!

    From Donna:

    As the Institute continuously champions our beliefs that parks are for everyone, we know that our park partners are working tirelessly to make this belief a reality in the different communities around the Bay and country. Through our work in Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, we know that parks have been providing warm welcomes to new users for years through multicultural programming and First Saturday programming.

    East Bay Regional Park District creates large, intentional walks that bring together many different ethnicities to share wellness, culture, and enjoyment through its Healthy Parks Healthy People Multicultural Wellness Walks. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department offers gorgeous scenery while leading participants through Tai Chi and Qigong exercises.

    East Bay Regional Park District Multicultural Wellness Walk at Coyote Hills

    With park leaders playing a crucial role in carving out space for meditation, interaction, and reflection, we hope that you follow their lead to ensure that parks continue to be a democratic space for health, both physically and mentally. If you see prejudice or hate happening in parks, or your neighborhood, speak up and protect your neighbors. Parks are for all, forever. 

    From Oksana:

    This past year has brought to the fore a number of challenges this country still faces around racial, economic, and social justice. Tied in with all of these is climate justice. Parks provide invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and are also uniquely threatened by climate change. Through the Institute’s Climate Education program we work with park interpreters and other informal educators to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be the best climate communicators they can be. This includes not only telling the story of how our parklands are threatened by climate change but also how it will affect neighboring communities, particularly groups that are most vulnerable.

    There are a number of organizations working at the intersection of environmental challenges, public lands, and social justice, with one of the most prominent being Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). LEJ is based out of Southeast San Francisco and provides local residents opportunities in urban greening, eco-literacy, community stewardship, and workforce development. The Institute looks forward to continuing to celebrate how parks and their partners can not only help heal the environment but also how maintaining these democratic spaces is central to building an inclusive community.

    From Elyse:

    Lake Merritt, at the heart of Oakland, CA, is an obvious setting for a picnic, or a walk. As a proud resident of Oakland, Lake Merritt holds a special place in my heart. This park holds many fun memories for me.

    This year, Lake Merritt has also been a site for healing. When Oaklanders were reeling from the loss of friends and artists from the devastating Ghost Ship fire, it was Lake Merritt where we grieved together. After an election filled with dangerous rhetoric, Oaklanders stood up against hatred at #handsaroundlakemerritt, a show of solidarity and appreciation for the diversity of Oakland. These beautiful moments of Oaklanders coming together proved that Lake Merritt is where the best of Oakland can be seen.

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  • End-of-Fellowship Thoughts

    As December draws to a close, so too does the Institute’s third fellowship cohort. Maria and I started our work with the Institute way back in June, which now seems like a lifetime ago.  As we tie up the final loose ends of our respective projects, we reflect on our work these past six months. We’ve had a wealth of enriching experiences, including:

    • Gaining in-depth knowledge and practice with project management, research, writing, and public speaking
    • Facilitating bi-weekly all-team meetings
    • Helping organize and staff the Health Outdoors! Forum on September 21
    • Participating in team-building excursions to Angel Island, the Home Land Security art exhibit, and more
    • Sharing tons of laughs and sweet treats in our office

    Our individual projects, detailed below, helped support the work of the Institute’s Health and Climate programs. 

    Lea:

    My work involved creating and executing a three-part webinar series for the National ParkRx Initiative. The webinar series will serve as a tool for all current and future Park Prescription program creators with its resources, tools, and inspiration for program design and implementation.

    Maria:

    I worked closely with members of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC) to design and distribute a survey focused on gathering resources and identifying needs within the group related to their three initiatives. I am excited about the results and how this information will be able to assist the collaborative as they move forward in the next year.

    Maria and I feel incredibly grateful and humbled by all of the energy the Institute put into making our fellowship experience what it was. We have learned so much from our colleagues in the Institute, our partner organizations, and the Conservancy as a whole. As we wonder what our future holds, we are certain of one thing – that our fellowship experience – the things we learned and the colleagues we grew close to – will remain with us forever.    

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