All Posts (89)

  • Lessons Learned from ParkRx Programs Nationwide

    If you haven’t heard already, this coming Sunday is the third annual National ParkRx Day. Here at the Institute, we are celebrating the growing Park Prescription movement as more are prescribing time outside to improve health and wellbeing. The Institute has been working to promote Park Prescription programs since 2010, and we are inspired and proud to be a part of the rapid growth of this concept, nationwide.

    For a quick refresher, Park Prescription programs are collaboratively created among healthcare providers, public land agencies, and community partners with the goal of improving health through time spent outdoors. While these programs can be as diverse as the communities for which they are designed, often, they include some type of referral or “push” from a healthcare or social service provider and “pull” from a park system that connects participating individuals with local outdoor activities.

    When the Institute launched in 2016, the website featured case studies from eight different Park Prescription programs. Just two years later, we are excited to announce the addition of 11 new case studies. These case studies highlight diverse programs from across the country and are intended to serve as a resource for those interested in starting their own Park Prescription program.

    As you peruse these case studies, keep an eye out for the many ways Park Prescription programs can be designed and implemented. Here are some things to think about:

    • Who is leading the Park Prescription program? Many of the more established programs seem to be led by parks, and many of the emerging programs are coming from healthcare organizations. In either case, a Park Prescription program requires collaboration and commitment from all partners involved. Where is the energy coming from within your partnerships?


    • What is the “push and pull” a patient or client receives when referred to a Park Prescription program? Some programs have stronger “pushes” from the healthcare or social service provider, sometimes incorporating a patient navigator or health educator to follow-up directly with the patient. Other programs have stronger “pulls” from the park system with special introductory programs, user-friendly websites of local trails and parks, and even incentives for completing a goal.


    • How is the patient prescribed time outdoors? The prescription mechanism can be formal, where a patient receives a personalized push and ideally the written prescription is tracked within the electronic health records for follow-up. The prescription mechanism can also be informal, where a person may receive a handout of local outdoor activities or a link to a park resource website, but the prescription isn’t tracked and the programs prescribed aren’t usually tailored to the patient’s interests.


    • What outdoor activities are being prescribed? Is it a self-guided hike to get families connected to their local parks and open spaces? Or is it identifying a local walking club for safety and peer accountability? Maybe it’s finding a local playground for kids or a senior outdoor yoga class to get people outside instead of staying cooped-up indoors. Even a family nature walk paired with naturalists and free lunch can be an eventful outdoor activity. In some cases, volunteering in the park is the way to get people to go outside and give back to their community with a sense of purpose.

    Gathering these case studies and creating a nationwide directory of Park Prescription programs are just a few first steps as we build into the leading hub of information on Park Prescription programs and develop it as a space for knowledge sharing in the practitioner community. Our goal is to ensure that is home to the best tools and resources to help others develop and strengthen their own programs. If you have a relevant Park Prescription case study, tool, resource, or media article to share, we encourage you to submit that information here.

    Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more and sharing your ideas on the future of, please join us for our first community-wide ParkRx call on May 8, 1 p.m. EDT/ 10 a.m. PDT, by visiting GoToMeeting on the date of the call and dialing into the conference line: (605) 468-8015, PIN:297788#

    We look forward to hearing from you on our community-wide call!

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  • How Parks Help Build Healthy, California Communities

    On January 10 I participated on a panel titled “Maximize Community Active Living Opportunities Through Partnerships with Parks” at the California Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) Local Implementing Agency Forum in Sacramento, California. This panel featured the Parks After Dark (PAD) program from the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, Marin County’s Parks Prescription programs, and the Institute at the Golden Gate's work as a technical assistance provider for issues at the intersection of health and parks.

    County of Los Angeles Parks After Dark

    Los Angeles’s PAD program transforms parks into community hubs through extended summertime park operation hours, bringing together a variety of programs and services that help build strong families and communities. Agencies involved in this program include the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, Chief Executive Office, Department of Public Health, Probation, Sheriff’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Human Resources, Department of Mental Health, the Public Library, the Department of Public Social Services, and a variety of community-based organizations all working across sectors to build community cohesion through parks. At a PAD program, you may see law enforcement officers playing basketball with local youth, walking clubs, team sports, at-risk youth hired to assist with park programming, talent shows, movie nights, cooking demos, career fairs, resource fairs, or a neighborhood potluck!  

    Marin County Park Prescription Programs

    Marin County is an innovative leader in Park Prescription programming through their Marin City and San Rafael-Canal pilot programs. Working closely with federally qualified health clinics, social services, local park agencies, public health educators, and community-based organizations, these Park Prescription programs create a referral process that supports patients in making healthy lifestyle changes that lead to improved health biometrics and other markers of success. Some of Marin County’s keys to success include building on existing momentum within the community, building partnerships to leverage resources, and engaging community members throughout the process.

    Institute at the Golden Gate Technical Assistance - Connecting Parks and Public Health

    If you’re a public health or social service organization interested in learning about how you can connect with parks, check out this handout for ideas on how to help your communities get healthy outdoors. It’s organized into four sections: Promotion, Program, Policy-Systems-Environmental Change, and Technical Assistance & Training. Even though this piece was created for SNAP-Ed program planners, I hope you will find this list useful for finding the wide range of ways to connect parks and public health.


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  • The Right Outlook for Collaboration

    This past spring, the Institute released a Collaboration Handbook in support of the National Park Service’s Urban Agenda. The Collaboration Handbook features tools for park professionals to jumpstart collaborative initiatives within their communities. This how-to guide offers practical information on the collaborative process and recommends outlooks and attitudes that support it. Below are a few helpful attitudes that park professionals should take when developing a more collaborative Park Service. 

    Collaboration requires an entrepreneurial or hustler spirit. Park professionals should be resourceful, flexible, and creative. Collaborative efforts require that you leverage resources, rally community members, and seek creative ways to overcome longstanding obstacles. Park professionals should be able to experiment, take calculated risks, and possibly even make mistakes.

    Collaboration requires resiliency. Park professionals should be able to recover when the inevitable set-back happens. They should have the determination to navigate complex regulations, have courageous conversations to repair relationships, and build collaborative efforts brick by brick. Park professionals should be able to stay for the long haul. 

    Collaboration requires time. The impact and strength of a collaborative effort is linked to the amount of time invested within it. Park professionals should be patient and plan for the long term. This is not to discourage smaller projects, with faster results – these collaborative efforts are valuable, too – but even small projects do better with dedicated staff time.

    The above attitudes and assumptions are helpful to have before beginning any new collaborative effort. The lessons and tools found within the Collaboration Handbook will only be enhanced by having the right mindset. Click here to read the Collaboration Handbook.

    And with that, you might be ready.  You might be ready for deeper collaborative work.  You might be ready to start.  Your community might be waiting.  

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  • Communicating Climate Change and Extreme Events

    Climate literacy is low across the U.S., and where there are great examples of climate action in the San Francisco Bay Area, there exists a different narrative on a national level. Educators, scientists, and practitioners, like those in attendance at the latest BayCLIC workshop, face these and other barriers when broaching topics of climate change. Yet, the 70 participants at Dig Deep into Extreme Events were undeterred in their efforts to learn how to best communicate the ecological and social implications of extreme climate and weather events. It was a proud moment realizing our workshop had provided useful guidelines for communicating these extreme occurrences.

     Participants were given steps on how to best connect their audiences to the information, starting with framing the message around values proven to resonate across demographics. Research from the FrameWorks Institute found two values that connect with most people are preparedness and responsible management. When calling on the shared value of preparedness, discuss the possible impacts of extreme events and how preparation for these risks can limit their negative impacts. It is particularly effective to frame the risks of extreme events around the health and well-being of the people and places we cherish. The second value, responsible management, addresses how practical actions can safeguard natural resources and places. These proactive actions can benefit future generations in addition to current ones. Finally, as acknowledged by one of our speakers Mike Moran of East Bay Regional Park District, changing perspectives on climate impacts and framing them in ways that are optimistic and fun can empower many people to act.

                    After peaking interest and gaining the trust of the audience, begin explaining the causes, impacts, and consequences of climate change. As Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at The Marine Mammal Center, described, the key to making your point about climate change is to start at the very beginning—like how burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide (CO2)—and explain each step from there. The National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) calls this process the “explanatory chain.” When connecting the dots between climate change and extreme events, focus on what is known rather than uncertainty. Use a phrase like “climate change is making torrential downpours like the one we are experiencing now more severe and frequent.” When confidently stating that climate change contributes to extreme weather events overall, the link between the two is more convincing than focusing on the inconclusive findings for a specific event To help the audience follow the explanatory chain, employ metaphors and analogies like the heat-trapping blanket and regular vs. rampant CO2. I encourage you to look at the website and search the phrases “heat-trapping blanket” and “rampant CO2 for more information. 

    The primary goal of climate change communication is to engage your audience with the solutions presented at the conclusion of your explanatory chain. It may seem that piecing together the narrative around climate change is the end goal , but as we learned from Adam in the solutions messaging activity, it is not! We may think that the process of climate change is important to know and retain, and while that is true, ending with actions that can be taken to limit the risks of extreme events gives your audience motivation to retain the information and to act on it, avoiding fatalism. So, offer audiences community solutions. Solutions can include supporting bike-share programs, encouraging workplaces to install LED lightbulbs, or even talking with others about climate change. I hope that I’ve given you a few helpful tips for doing that.

    Other resources on climate communication can be found on BayCLIC’s Local Climate Science Database at I recommend reading the report “How to Talk about Climate Change and the Ocean” by FrameWorks Institute; the “Uncertainty Handbook” by Climate Outreach; and the various resources on

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  • During my six-month fellowship, I had the opportunity to speak with different park professionals and stakeholders, from park police to social service providers, regarding homelessness in the parks. This allowed me to examine the issue from many angles, and one thing I learned is that any approach involves many moving parts. These parts are interconnected, and if one piece, or stakeholder, is not being engaged in the most effective way, then the whole system becomes less sustainable. With this in mind, I explored innovative initiatives that parks have utilized to address homelessness.

    Although actual practices differed from site to site, most approaches shared similar steps when addressing issues around homelessness. Most of these steps are possible because of internal and external collaboration that supports park professionals as they manage homeless situations in more effective ways.

    The following were some of the elements that a range of parks found to be effective:

    Create Internal Space for Discussion. Park professionals should create an internal dialogue across divisions directly impacted by homelessness in parks and should identify current challenges, trends, and ways of measuring progress. This often includes building space for dialogue across law enforcement, natural resource management, maintenance, community engagement, communications, and more.

    Identify and Implement Park-wide Protocols. Park-wide protocols, often led by management, communicate a common set of tactics that park professionals should follow when addressing homeless park goers. These help staff understand what is expected of them and provides them with clear support on how to properly proceed, which ultimately leads to more effective and sustainable approaches.

    Collaborate around Commonalities and Resources. Collaboration between different agencies serves to better utilize resources and builds strong relationships with different stakeholders. By working with other agencies, park professionals can connect homeless individuals to service providers that are equipped to provide serves where the parks cannot.

    Provide Training on Homeless Interaction. Park professionals would benefit from crisis intervention training as well as instruction around the causes, effects, and services surrounding homelessness. This can create safer interactions and help park professionals feel more secure and equipped, allowing them to be a part of the solution.

    Designate a Liaison. Creating a role or team trained to directly address the needs around homelessness facilitates engagement between homeless park goers and staff. Given the complexity of the issue, parks can benefit from having dedicated staff with the training and support necessary to create sustainable approaches.

    Keep the Public Informed. The public should be included in discussions around homelessness in parks because their collaboration leads to better stewardship and safer park experiences for everyone. Parks should share successes as well as challenges that they face.

    In the above steps, buy-in from management is critical and can facilitate innovative approaches by offering park professionals a sense of support. Creating park-wide approaches and protocols can address inefficiencies and provide much-needed guidance to frontline staff. Approaches that place parks as the connection between homeless park goers and resources can benefit all stakeholders. Although one solution does not fit all park sites, internal and external collaboration has led to safer interactions and sustainable approaches to homelessness in the parks.

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  • BayCLIC's Next Workshop Digs Deep into Extreme Events

    Register for Free Here

    After a successful first workshop on ocean acidification (see the highlights in the Conservancy’s E-venture article), the workshop series by BayCLIC is evolving from water to land. The second workshop, Dig Deep into Extreme Events, will cover extreme climate and weather events like droughts and wildfires. Tapping into our network of organizations that help steward and cultivate our natural resources, we have partnered with East Bay Regional Park District and the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club to hold the event. We are excited to create a space for educators and scientists to learn about climate-related extreme events in the Bay Area, witness best practices for speaking on this topic, and brainstorm how to discuss solutions. Dig Deep into Extreme Events will be held at Temescal Beach House (6500 Broadway, Oakland 94168) on December 7, 2017 from 9:30-1:30 PM.

    The Science and Education Communities Come Together to Discuss Extreme Events

    In light of the recent extreme events in the Bay Area and globally, we want to be sensitive in approaching this topic. At the same time, we know that climate educators are facing questions about the role of climate change in extreme events. Our workshop will equip them with research and speaking points for answering these questions. As you will see, we have gathered an impressive group of speakers with various areas of expertise to provide more resources. First, we have Minda Berbeco, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Director of the Sierra Club, opening the workshop with a fascinating presentation on climate science and extreme events risks in the region. Minda brings with her a background in environmental education to make her a great person to talk about the importance of science and education collaborations.                                              

    Photo credit: Minda Berbeco

    We’ll Discuss What They Are,                                                                              

    Next, a notable group of local researchers will give flash talks explaining extreme events occurring in Central and Northern California. Ever wonder how scientists can determine future projections of extreme events? Senior Scientist, Dr. Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, can tell us how. He is the go-to person for extreme event attribution and future projection modeling. Participants will hear what he has to say about climate change and the future of the Sierra Nevada watershed that provides water to the Bay Area.

    Photo credit: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

    Why They Matter,

    After learning the science behind extreme climate and weather events, we will discuss why they are of concern, particularly to our parks colleagues. In East Bay Regional Parks District, interpretive staff members use invasive plant removal as an opportunity to talk about climate change with volunteers. From the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rangers Roxi Farwell and Aracely Montero will demonstrate how to discuss social impacts of extreme events as they do in their Climate Without Borders program. As research has shown, place-based climate information that draws on common values like protecting well-being is part of effectively communicating climate change. We’ll be sure to cover this and other communication strategies in our workshop.

    And What We Can Do

    Finally, we’ll leave attendees with a framework to help them create solutions messages for their audiences with examples of successful community- level actions that they can help promote in the Bay Area. Providing solutions is an important part of climate messaging in order for audiences to feel empowered in addressing the issue. BayCLIC member and seasoned climate communications expert at the Marine Mammal Center, Adam Ratner will lead us through an exercise on solutions messaging.

    We also want to help the educators and scientists in attendance bring back what they learned from the workshops to their home institutions. A portion of our workshop will be dedicated to supporting attendees in thinking through the next steps they need to take talk more about climate change in their work and encourage them to consider collaborations with their peers in attendance to make this happen.

    This workshop series aims to be a catalyst for more cross collaboration between scientists and educators since we know that we cannot do the important work of promoting climate literacy without one another. For more information about the workshop or to RSVP, please visit If you have any questions or concerns, contact Maria Eller at

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  • National Park Service's Urban Agenda Resources

    Over the past three years, the Institute at the Golden Gate (Institute) has supported the National Park Service’s (NPS) Urban Agenda. Urban Agenda is a call to action for a more collaborative, interconnected and relevant Park Service. As the Urban Agenda’s pilot phase comes to a close, it’s time to share out some of the lessons learned. The Urban Agenda has a suite of resources for park professionals to activate the Urban Agenda in their neck of the woods. Below we’ve highlighted a few of these resources that are now available on the National Park Service’s Urban website.

    Urban Lights – Urban Lights is a collection of stories of national parks creating dynamic programming and new partnerships to increase relevancy to all Americans. This report shows how national parks are reaching park-poor communities, exposing youth to career paths within the Park Service, and connecting new audiences to the history and culture in their own hometowns. As the U.S. is becoming more diverse and more urban, the NPS is rising to meet the needs of the country’s changing demographics.  

    ONE NPS Workshops Summary – ONE NPS workshops were gatherings to explore how the Park Service could better work across divisions, functions and hierarchies. Having a more interconnected Park Service is critical for park professionals to improve the impact and quality of their work. Intra-agency collaboration allows parks to better tap into relevant resources and rally support around shared goals. Parks and park professionals looking to increase intra-agency collaboration should check out this summary to build off the knowledge and ideas of their NPS peers.

    Community Assistance Program Directory – Navigating the large ecosystem of NPS programs, partners and parks can be complicated. In order to better connect the community with NPS resources, the Urban Agenda has created a directory of 54 community assistance programs. The programs are categorized by the 5 types of assistance that they provide: national designations, grant and financial assistance, project assistance, investment and property acquisition assistance and internships, volunteer and professional development opportunities. 

    The resources above are a small sample of Urban Agenda outcomes. continues to add more resources, and the Institute is committed to supporting the unique opportunities and challenges of urban national parks.  

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  • Towards the end of the Convene program’s 2016-2017 special rate period, The Joseph & Vera Long Foundation gathered for a strategic planning meeting at Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate. As a nonprofit organization discussing conservation issues, The Long Foundation qualified for Convene, which offers discounted rates to nonprofit, government, and cross-sector groups tackling environmental issues. This unique partnership between the Institute and the Lodge lent the perfect National Park background to the Foundation’s strategy-setting efforts. Meeting at scenic Cavallo Point through Convene allowed the Board to “really focus and reflect without distractions,” Executive Director Milton Long stated. “[We enjoyed] the peaceful surrounding and privacy, and the many trails and outdoor spaces nearby.”

    The Long Foundation provides both strategic grants focused on achieving a defined impact, and responsive grants aimed at meeting Northern California and Hawaii community needs for qualified healthcare, education, and conservation not-for-profits. Within their conservation work, the Foundation funds efforts in habitat preservation, access to public lands, environmental education, and scientific research.

    Similarly, the Convene program aims to bring groups to Cavallo Point for environmentally-focused sessions that are action-oriented, represent diverse perspectives and sectors, have a local, regional, national, or international impact, and that spur commitment leading to clear outcomes. Every November through April, groups find inspiration in the national park lands, the San Francisco Bay, and historic Fort Baker through Convene. We help provide an affordable means for organizations to tap the beautiful surroundings while discussing their plans, goals, and impact on the environmental arena.

    If your non-profit or government group is planning a meeting around environmental, conservation, or sustainability issues, consider joining us at Cavallo Point through the Convene program. Discounted rates run from November through April every year and applications are accepted year-round. We hope to see you there soon.

    All photos provided by The Joseph & Vera Long Foundation.

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  • How to Use the Park Prescription Program Toolkit

    Park Prescription programs are designed to improve the physical and mental health of both individuals and the communities that they are part of. This is accomplished through creating programs that are designed collaboratively among park professionals, health care providers, public health professionals, and community based organizations.

    At the 2016 Health Outdoors! Parks and Public Health Forum, two questions commonly raised by participants were: How do I build a Park Prescription program? What sectors should I partner with in order to get my programs started?

    In response to these questions the Institute’s Health program did two things: 1) create collaboratives in various counties throughout the Bay Area to help facilitate the creation of Park Prescription programs within them, and 2) create a comprehensive toolkit that efficiently and effectively models each step needed to create a Park Prescription program.

    What is unique and wonderful about this toolkit is that it allows the user to not only see the steps that are needed within their own sector, but also allows them to see the steps that other sectors have to follow as well.

    How to use this toolkit:

    To get started, select the portal for the sector that you represent (clinical, public health, community, or parks) or would like to view.


    This will then open a series of steps in green, below is an example using the portal for park professionals.

    Select the step that you are interested in learning more about by clicking on each green box. Once selected, the box that you have chosen will expand to provide training videos and technical assistance tools that support your progress in this step. Below is an example of what Parks Step 1: Determine your population looks like when selected.


    As with most toolkits, the implementation of this toolkit works best when supported and championed by all of the agencies and sectors involved. If you have any questions or feedback about the toolkit, email

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    Click here to register

            The Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC) presents the Local Climate Science and Education Series. We are convening the Series because we heard from many of the teachers, docents, interpreters etc. that we work with that they would like to know more about studies being conducted in the Bay Area and be connected to different researchers in the region. At the same time, we see that researchers are interested in science communication and public outreach, which we could help with by connecting them to teachers interested in their work. In each of the workshops, we will discuss regional climate change effects, learn from examples of science communication, and brainstorm solutions. The first workshop, “Deep Dive into Ocean Acidification,” is being held on Thursday, September 21 from 1:00-4:30pm at the General's Residence, Fort Mason and will focus on the causes, impacts, and study of ocean acidification.

           We invite formal and informal educators teaching all ages to attend and learn about local climate science directly from the researchers themselves. The activities center on data, demonstrations, and reports so that you can then translate climate science into your classrooms or informal education settings. Our goal is for educators to be able to bring what they learned from the workshops to their students immediately. Therefore, elements of the seminar, such as the hands-on activities, will be aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

            It is with the generous support of scientists that the Series is possible. We appreciate all researchers who can take time away from their research to attend and provide their expertise. It is important for researchers to have a voice and a space to represent their work fairly. In turn, our workshop will give them strategies for effective science communication. Whether a seasoned researcher or a graduate student, come learn how you can bring your research into education settings and connect with educators for future public outreach and broader impact collaborations.

           Let’s come together as educators and scientists to share current research and increase public awareness of climate change and ocean acidification! For more information about the workshop or to RSVP, please visit If you have any questions or concerns, contact Maria Eller at Hope to see you there!

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  • The issue of homelessness is not a new one, it afflicts big cities and small town alike and although the levels of severity are different, it is an issue that has yet to have a tangible solution. In fact, the 2017 Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey revealed that in San Francisco there is a total of 7,499 homeless men and women, and a staggering 58% of them are unsheltered. Due to the gravity of the situation, the city of San Francisco has proposed different policies, initiatives and ideas, with the sole aim of alleviating the matter. Nevertheless, the issue persists, and so does the impact that it has in different sectors, infrastructures, jobs, as well as the physical environment. The impacts of this issue can also be clearly seen in recreational parks, as well as the national parks around San Francisco. Thus, this issue has become a hot topic around the park system, since there is work as well as the natural environment that is directly affected by homelessness. Due to that, it is an issue that I have been interested in learning more about; for I see so much potential in connecting park staff to creative and innovative ways and practices around addressing this issue.

    In order to further comprehend the impact that homelessness has on staff and the natural environment, I went on a ride along with a National Park Service Law Enforcement Officer. During our ride along, Officer LaSalle explained to me that complaints about homeless park goers have become a daily part of his duties. From complaints about a tent in Ocean Beach, to someone calling in dispatch about a person sleeping or smelling bad and thus being perceived as a public nuisance, to encampments in the park. “Being homeless is not illegal” he pointed out, but encampments are. Due to this, he explained that he has worked on collaborating with different departments and different park divisions in order to address the issue in a more wholesome way. Officer LaSalle, along with other park staff, has teamed up with the Homeless Outreach Team in order to provide resources for homeless park goers who might be in need of them. He sees value in this because he recognizes that they are in the park because they have nowhere else to go, and instead of seeing citations as a solution (when they are doing nothing illegal), he provides them information about resources, as well as gets them in touch with the Homeless Outreach Team.

    As this issue continues, I think that the collaborative approach that he and some other members of the park service have taken are key in addressing this issue. After all, this approach brings a very human solution (instead of a bureaucratic one) to a very human problem. It allows for relationships to be made, for effective services to be connected and for solutions to be brought forth. As I continue this project, I find myself truly believing that through the collaborative efforts of rangers and officers in different park divisions as well as outside services, the park system will create innovative ways of addressing this issue; as well as move forward in truly being inclusive for everyone.

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  • Meet Betty, New Health Program Manager

    I’m excited to be joining the Institute at the Golden Gate as the new Health Program Manager. I come to the Institute with a public health perspective, having worked with California’s SNAP-Ed nutrition education and obesity prevention program since 2005. Through SNAP-Ed, I learned how local health departments work with state agencies on federal funding while staying attuned and responsive to community needs – a complicated dance of staying nimble and staying focused.

    I also come to the Institute as an avid park enthusiast! On the weekends, you’ll find me hiking, biking, and snowshoeing in search of wildflowers, waterfalls, expansive views, fresh air, and those perfectly placed park benches. For several years, I was an outdoor trip leader with Sacramento State’s Peak Adventures. I relished seeing strangers become friends by the time we arrived at camp, the cooperative attitudes along the journey, the feeling of accomplishment doing something that seemed beyond reach, and the appreciation of nature, ourselves, and each other at the end of the day. This is why I love parks and being outdoors—this feeling of connectedness is something I want every person, particularly those with the highest health need, to experience. Parks are a place to be healthy, from the inside out.

    How can we connect more people to parks? I am impressed by the Institute’s commitment to bringing parks, health care, public health, and community partners together in the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. This type of multi-sector collaborative approach is a meaningful way to create change and build healthier communities, literally, one step at a time (preferably in nature!).

    I am inspired by the Institute’s vision to imagine parks as key players in solving complex human challenges, like stress reduction and obesity prevention. As I explore opportunities at the intersection of parks and health, I hope to continue the good work of the Health program to position parks as a catalyst for social change so that everybody sees parks as preventative health care and a place for them.

    For the many partners out there working on nature & health and getting people outdoors, I look forward to working with you. May we rally together: Parks for All! Health for All!

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  • Click here to explore the new toolkit

    Park Prescription programs are initiatives designed in collaboration among public land agencies, healthcare providers, and community partners to encourage people to utilize parks, trails, and open space for the purpose of improving individual and community health. National Geographic just wrote about Park Prescription programs and these programs have been recognized by the Surgeon General’s Office, the National Park Service, and the American Public Health Association as important tools to promote wellbeing.

    This is all to say that Park Prescription programs have really flourished in the United States. One question still remains: “How do I build my own Park Prescription program?”

    That’s the question that the Institute always receives. As the convener of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative and the National ParkRx Initiative, it makes sense that we get fielded this question. Answering this question has been our guiding light for the past few years. We’ve led workshops, hosted webinars, and written reports, all in pursuit of finding out what makes a Park Prescription program work.

    After years of observing programs, especially those in the Bay Area, we have created a Park Prescription program toolkit to guide the process of creating a program. This toolkit is a "program-in-a-box," curating examples, templates, and guidance for those interested in implementing Park Prescription programs. We know that there are a myriad of agencies interested in building these programs, so this toolkit was created with sector-specific guidance for clinicians, public health providers, community service providers, and parks staff.

    I hope that this resource makes it easier for you to serve your community!

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  • Welcoming Our 2017 Fellows

    The Institute at the Golden Gate is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2017! Gabriela and Maria joined our team last week and are already working hard on their respective projects. We've asked both of them to share a little bit about themselves and discuss why they wanted to participate in our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. Keep an eye on our blog for updates from them about their projects.

    Gabriela Estrada, Urban Fellow

    My interest in the kind of work that this fellowship offers originally arose from many instances where I did not see inclusivity being the norm. It grew from my observations of different spaces not allowing for everyone’s needs to be met. This lack of inclusivity, I noticed, was especially present in the environmental realm and underprivileged communities. However, I was never quite sure how to go about approaching these situations and spaces. It took different mindful spaces, different mentors and their guidance to make me realize that I could become a positive change maker. It was through my development in this area that I was determined to take the knowledge I gained in order to create positive inclusive change in the community. As a result, I knew that after graduating college, I wanted a career where people’s needs were being met regardless of their socio-economic condition.

    Due to this, applying to the urban fellowship was in many ways an interesting mental process. I could not believe that a lot of the pivotal points that I hoped my new career interests would include, could be so present. This fellowship offered the opportunity to actively take an inclusive approach to very human needs with the aim of creating solutions for the homeless population who are down on their luck. Through the application and interview process I found myself more and more invested and eager to see what direction this project would take.

    During my time here, I hope to be able to complete the project successfully and make a positive impact in the community through the work that I do. I hope that my blind idealism will carry me through this project and that by the end I will have something tangible that will go beyond a simple idea of equity in the parks system. Additionally, through the length of the fellowship, I look forward to the wonderful professional development opportunities and people that I will meet and learn from.

    Maria Eller, Climate Education Fellow

    When I visited San Francisco for the first time, I was dumbstruck by the fog. “Look at those low, fast-moving clouds,” I exclaimed before someone explained to me what it was. The fog was as awe-inspiring to me as the Golden Gate Bridge is for others. You see, I lived in Arizona for most of my life- a native of the Sonoran Desert. I am familiar with cacti, monsoon storms, and summer days where the temperature reaches 110+ degrees. The Grand Canyon was the beloved national park of the area and my favorite place to hike with my family. Perhaps from such time outdoors and my family’s value of nature, I developed a growing passion for conservation and education. This led me to study sustainability and work in environmental education at Arizona State University. Yet, as I was approaching graduation, I was overwhelmed by the possible careers that my sustainability degree opened to me. What I was certain of was my desire to be positioned around a diversity of work while making a tangible difference.

    Now a few years later, I am back in San Francisco becoming reacquainted with Karl the Fog because I found such an opportunity with the Institute at the Golden Gate. The Climate Education program has been doing important work on using the park to communicate climate change and to overcome barriers that limit climate education in the informal setting. As the climate education fellow, I am excited to contribute to this work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). My project is to collaborate with BayCLIC partners in the planning and facilitation of science and education seminars. The seminars will bring together local researchers and informal educators to highlight local climate science. I feel so empowered and motivated to share my previous learning experiences with BayCLIC and to expand our awareness of climate change in the Bay Area together.

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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 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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  • 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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  • 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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