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  • Photo courtesy of San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks

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

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

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

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

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

    Find a First Saturday program near you by visiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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  • I was enticed to move to San Francisco from Washington DC for one compelling reason–to work in the Presidio. I had a rewarding job working on global health and environmental issues in communities affected by rapid industrialization. Nonetheless the opportunity to work in the Presidio with one of the first NGOs, The Gorbachev Foundation, as it transitioned from a military base, signaled a unique opportunity. The ironic symbolism of the former Soviet leader taking up residence in the same geography that had recently served to guard Americans against his communist regime only added to the allure. It was an easy decision for me to pack up and head west.

    Like many, I was stunned by the metaphysical beauty of the Presidio and the juxtaposition of the Golden Gate Bridge – hands down the best piece of public art ever. However, I quickly recognized how the natural environment was more than a backdrop to the early vision of the Presidio and its many partners to create a “global center for sustainability.” The park was, and endures as, part of the solution. With its natural, historic, cultural, and social resources it inherently provides a springboard for continuous innovation among many stakeholders and partners.

    Today, as I gleefully return to work in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with the talented team at the Institute at the Golden Gate, I’m reminded of the same sense of awe and possibility that first beckoned me to San Francisco. The Institute’s mission of using parks and public lands as problem solvers could fundamentally reframe how we value our natural commons. When we sustain public lands and water, we are investing in national habitats and a depth of cultural and community assets that could be the building blocks to designing solutions to bigger societal challenges.

    Imagine if more parks were positioned as a key part of our healthcare system with healthcare professionals trained to prescribe outdoor activity in local and national parks with easily accessible programs for all. A simple cost-effective approach could impact obesity, heart disease, stress, depression, and other related chronic diseases. Based on this approach, the Institute is an engine to help sustain our public lands while creating new solutions to advance public health, climate change education, and urban sustainability.

    Much has changed for me and the city since my arrival but my early experience has sculpted my belief in the transformative power of this epic national park that I loved from day one. I am looking forward to looking out at the Golden Gate vista and tapping that inspiration.

    Taking a park prescription on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park.  

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  • Celebrating our Junior Rangers

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

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

    Overall, how did the Jamboree go?

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

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

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

    What were the highlights of the day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Youth can also complete the Junior Ranger Centennial Booklet.

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

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

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

    Photo credit: Barbara Bartlett and Alison Taggart-Barone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Richmond Wellness Trail community kick-off event. 

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

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

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

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

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

    The Institute’s Park-Nerd Book Club

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

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  • Earth Day held special significance this year. In December of 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP21), brought together over 170 countries to decide on and agree to an internationally-binding climate deal limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, officials convened in New York at the high-level signing ceremony. This is an important demonstration of the progress we are witnessing with climate action.

    Started in 1970, Earth Day is not only one of the catalysts of the modern environmental movement but also, with over 1 billion annual participants, it is now the largest civic observance in the world. Environmental educators, environmentalists, and other allies can recognize that while the growth of the environmental movement hasn't been the result of one concrete intervention but rather many intersecting actions, its growth is undeniable. 2014 was the first time in 40 years that the global economy grew and carbon dioxide emissions fell (Source: ThinkProgress).

    This incredible feat was thought nearly impossible by many; however, proponents of taking action to protect the environment recognize that, with enough collective will, making steps to reverse unsustainable global habits is possible.

    Starting last year, the Earth Day Network also initiated Climate Education Week (which runs from April 18th to the 25th) to spotlight the unique and integral role of climate change education within the broader scope of environmental education--with climate change affecting all aspects of the environmental system. Having the Earth Day movement give voice to climate education is huge and reflective of the elevated status that climate change is rightfully receiving in environmental discourse. 

    In addition to Earth Day, National Park Week (April 16-24) has just wrapped up. These two campaigns naturally intersect, with both focusing on the stewardship, preservation, and innate significance of our natural resources. The Earth Day Network even launched two campaigns that relate to open spaces: endangered species protection and reforestation. Our open spaces, whether wild or highly cultivated, are integral parts of our ecosystem and provide a multitude of benefits. Parks and other open spaces are not only threatened by environmental issues, such as climate change, but they also serve as outdoor classrooms that provide the perfect conduit to convey environmental education. 

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  • April 24th is National Park Rx Day and it is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients to improve human health. Additionally, National Park Rx Day encourages everyone to start seeing visits to parks and public lands as very important parts of their health. Last fall, the U.S. Surgeon General released a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. National Park Rx Day builds on this call to action and provides citizens with parks and green spaces to promote public health.


    • To amplify the visibility and viability of the nation-wide Park Rx movement in parks and communities across the nation.
    • To celebrate existing Park Rx programs and practitioners across the country.
    • To serve as a catalyst to bring together local health providers, park agencies, community leaders, and nonprofits to begin dialogue and momentum to develop their own Park Rx programs for improvement of their communities.
    • To increase the relevance of parks for all people; how people can connect with parks daily for their improved physical, mental, and spiritual health and create a new generation of park stewards.


    One of the signature events will take place in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. While the park has weekly drum circles and many different users, it is also a site that has seen it share of violence. When we talk about the health of a community, the violence within a community is just as important to curb as alcohol abuse or obesity rates. Although there is a lot of buzz and interest in Park Rx programs, it is a tactic to bringing forth larger changes in a place. It is also a tactic to bring in new sectors to look at the role that the built environment plays and our relationship to it. 

    I encourage us lovers of nature and Park Rx managers to think about the role that Park Rx has in combatting community violence so that others can have the chance to love nature and feel attached to their neighbors and neighborhoods. Park Rx programs and certainly National Park Rx Day cannot solve all of this in one fell swoop, but having a concerted effort to start and sustain these dialogues is a first step. 

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  • This week we have a guest blog post from Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at The Marine Mammal Center and member of Bay-CLIC. In honor of Earth Day (April 22) and Environmental Education Week (April 17-23), we asked Adam to speak on the importance of place-based climate education.

    The idea behind the Climate Change Education Initiative at The Marine Mammal Center is to bring climate change into the conversation.   We utilize the sick and injured marine mammal patients at the hospital as a vehicle to communicate the science of climate change, the effects it is having on animals, ecosystems and people, and what people can do in their own lives and communities to help curb carbon pollution. So often with climate change, the effects communicated today are very abstract and foreign to the everyday member of the public.  By highlighting marine mammals suffering direct consequences of changes in their ocean environment (and California's “backyard”), we can bring climate change to the forefront of the conversation and connect the community to the ocean ecosystem.  With the ultimate goal of releasing our patients back to the wild, we are able to inspire our guests to take action to help give marine mammals and ourselves a healthy environment to live in.

    I have been fortunate over the last 5 years to be heavily involved in many climate change focused projects, and have gained the skills, experience, and confidence to engage people around such a complex topic.  Beginning as part of a study circle with the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), and then being chosen as a Community Climate Change Fellow by the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), has provided me with a network to learn from and collaborate with. I am thrilled to continue to utilize those networks and contribute as a regional leader for the Central California NNOCCI alumni and a member of the Steering Committee for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) as I build our climate change programs at The Marine Mammal Center.

    (Adam Ratner in Center making the “Home Alone face” along with the other North American Association of Environmental Education Community Climate Change Fellows)

    Through a system of training classes focusing on climate change, we introduce hundreds of adult and youth education volunteers and staff at the Center to the science of climate change; providing them with tools for interpreting the science to audiences of all ages, and techniques to guide guests to identify solution-based actions to reduce their carbon footprint and become better environmental stewards. The “train the trainers” program allows us to capitalize on the great experiences that some of our education staff have had the opportunity to be a part of, and share it with hundreds of passionate volunteers that not only engage our visitors, but our community leaders of their own.  We have utilized the knowledge gained from the NNOCCI system where they provided staff and volunteers at zoos and aquariums around the country with climate change science direct from the climate scientists and scientifically-tested communication strategies from social psychologists to guide visitors toward strategies to reduce their fossil fuel use. Bringing together experts from different fields of science, communication, and social psychology allows us to build messages that are powerful and relatable, leading to stewardship in our communities.

    Through the project, in addition to the conversations had at the Center, we wanted to have a digital presence and create tools that can be used by the community.  One of the most exciting elements of the initiative is the development of a climate change animated short, in collaboration with the California College of the Arts and Bret Parker of Pixar Animation Studios.  Utilizing animation, under the direction of Bret Parker, highlights the science of climate change and effects on marine mammals in a way that can be engaging for both kids and adults.  The video will be launched in May 2016, along with web content on various aspects of climate change, to help us reach new audiences online and communicate our work at the Center for our guests.  Be sure to check out our website in May 2016 to see some of the great work that has come out of the first year of our Climate Change Education Initiative at


    Dr. Whizzlepuff and her assistant from the new climate change animated short by The Marine Mammal Center and the California College of the Arts

    © California College of the Arts

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  • Reminiscing about our Fellows

    As we enter into our final week of recruiting for our next class of Emerging Leaders Fellows, I’ve been reflecting on the impact that the program has had on the Institute and the amazing influence that the individual fellows have had on our team.

    Hector Zaragoza and Ruth Pimentel were the intrepid members of our first Fellowship cohort. They joined the team knowing that they were part of our guinea pig year, willing to grow and learn with us as we went along. They helped us hone our fellowship curriculum, gave us critical feedback on designing fellowship projects, but most importantly showed us the life and energy that new team members can bring to our work. We had a great time with Hector and Ruth – helping them develop and implement their projects, taking park prescriptions around Fort Baker, making the occasional Friday after work trip to the yacht club, and even getting our hands dirty during a volunteer day that Ruth planned for us at Mountain Lake!

    Rhianna Mendez and Sophia Choi joined the Institute in our second year hosting the Fellowship. We like to think that we’d learned a bit about managing a fellowship by the second year, but as we tell the fellows, there’s always opportunity for growth and improvement. Rhianna and Sophia’s flexibility and positive attitude in the face of any challenge was truly inspirational for us. From a willingness to try new things (You’d like me to design and run a workshop on storytelling? Present my findings to a room full of partners? Sure! Why not?), to rolling with the punches as we sorted out the details of our office move, Rhianna and Sophia brought a curiosity and humor that was infectious. And of course we can’t forget the fashion sense and restaurant advice we gleaned from these two East-Coasters.

    We value our Fellowship program highly for the passion and energy that these emerging leaders bring to our team. And we make every effort to ensure that they get as much out of the experience as we do. Here are a few nuggets in their own words:

    The Institute is a hub of innovation and this instilled a sense of urgency in me to innovate through brainstorming sessions with colleagues or conversations by the “water cooler.” Whatever the challenge may be, the Institute provides the knowledge, resourcefulness, and confidence to go into uncharted territory and make your mark. 

    Working in a program that is centered around core values of partnership and collaboration gave me many opportunities to network with the amazing professionals of both the National Parks Service and the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Those people that I’ve met through this program have been career mentors and invaluable resources for support and advice as well.

    If you’re an emerging leader, we urge you to submit your application before the deadline this Friday, April 8!

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  • Post-to-Park Transformations

    Amidst a global rise in population, cities and urban areas are absorbing much of this growth, posing many challenges and questions. How do we conserve and rebuild the open spaces in our urban areas in ways that are sustainable and conducive to healthy lifestyles for diverse communities? This has become not only a topic of discussion for architects, urban designers, and planners but also a driving force in many new projects.

    It is especially an exciting time for these disciplines as well as its many cross-sector industries because the awareness of this societal challenge is no longer siloed to our cities’ builders; the awareness is resonating with the larger community as the diverse inhabitants of urban areas are experiencing the impact and consequences of rapid urban growth first hand.

    The challenges in creating spaces for diverse communities, paired with the challenges that come with working around the density of existing built structures have given way to some of the most creative and innovative urban park spaces today. Ranging from reclaimed industrial spaces, conservation of historic parks, to innovative infrastructure reuse projects, the new urban park is constantly being redefined as a result of the efforts of communities and industry leaders.

    The recent transitions of former military bases to public parklands provide critical examples of how local needs, community interests, and partnership opportunities ever present in cities can be leveraged to create engaging and sustainable urban parklands. Looking at Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, the Institute gained valuable insight on urban park planning and implementation. After conducting research and interviewing key stakeholders who helped create these parks, we collected our findings in our report, Post-to-Park Transformations: Case Studies and Best Practices for Urban Park Development.

    While many practical sustainable building practices are present in the parks of the case studies, we wanted to put our focus on the potential that diverse urban areas harbor to bring together people from different industries, experiences, and interests in order to implement great parks. We hope that this report and lessons learned could be used for innovation in the role of parks and public places in cities and encourage others to take advantage of the rich cultural fabric of urban centers to keep parks relevant, engaging, and beneficial to a changing and growing population.

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  • Meeting Betty

    This week's blog post comes from Jennifer Greene, Associate Director, Community Engagement Program with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

    On March 2, the National Park’s Community Shuttle brought the Bayview Network for Elders to Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. The group of 35 African American women had long wanted to visit the Park and meet Ranger Betty Soskin, the woman whose life story reflected their own. Just like her, they were the daughters and wives whose lives revolved around a shipyard just across the Bay. As it turned out, the visit was as meaningful for Betty as it was for them.

    The ladies filed into the visitor center, quietly, smiling, orienting themselves, and there was Betty behind the desk and in uniform. I could feel the mutual familiarity and comfort, the warmth of the connection between the group and Betty, who shared, “It’s so nice to see people who look like me in my park.”

    She also shared with us her history, her story, and communicated in prose how her story was emblematic of so many other lives. One Bayview woman shared how she too had moved from Louisiana with her husband and two-year old daughter to work in the shipyards, the same daughter who sat a few rows in front of her. She provided the truth behind the “Greatest Generation,” how it’s more layered and complex, and fraught - how the truth of integration had been whitewashed. As some women noted on the shuttle ride over, “Rosie was a white woman.” Black women had always worked - families had always needed two incomes. She shared how, between her, her mother, and her grandmother, all of whom were alive at one time together, spanned generations that lived through slavery to the challenges we still face today. It’s a story she graciously describes as belonging to us all – nobody more than the women in that room.

    It didn’t cross my mind that Betty might need a reminder of her importance, her connection to history, and women of her generation. She wrote in her blog (cbreauxspeaks) of our visit that day,

    “The 35 lovely and lively African American women took photos to share with their families, and I felt affirmed and appreciated in my work by their enthusiasm. It was clear that the history being shared belonged to us all, and that we were united -- not only as American citizens whose life experiences varied greatly -- that we were all survivors of a badly broken social system, but that we were still one people willing to share love beyond any previously limiting boundaries…….. But maybe it's work that I, as a primary source of that important Era, am best suited to do.... and how brilliant of Life to have set me down in this space and time with a whole busload of loving Sistahs!”

    We all need to feel connected, to be reminded of our place in the world. In this case, all one group of women needed was a ride to meet the woman and Ranger who communicates the power and significance of their story to the world.

    To follow Betty’s blog go to cbreauxspeaks.
    Go to YouTube to see Betty’s 4-minute video on the truth of the “Great Generation” Of Lost Conversations.
    To learn more about the Community Shuttle Program, contact Jennifer Greene, or visit the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website.  

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  • The Institute is excited to announce that we are now recruiting for our third class of Emerging Leaders Fellows!

    Our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders is one of the Institute’s newest initiatives, which seeks to empower people who are just starting out in their careers by offering paid professional opportunities that shape their development as future environmental and community leaders. Through this program, the Institute intentionally seeks Fellows with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help explore new ways for parks to provide value to all communities. In this, we strive to support the development of the next generation of park leaders and advocates as well as to give to our Fellows the tools to apply their creativity to the complex challenges that parks and communities face.

    Through the Fellowship, participants receive individualized mentorship and career coaching, participate in learning opportunities designed to increase their project management toolkit, and take ownership of specific projects, ultimately adding tangible products to their professional portfolio and supporting their career growth. The Fellows in our first two cohorts conducted research, evaluated programs, created roadmaps and case studies, and built partnerships that have all had a lasting impact on the Institute and our work.

    While we like to think that the benefits to the Fellows are very enticing, we also know that the Institute gets a lot of value out of welcoming these news perspectives and passions to the team. Since the start of the program, our Fellows have brought energy, ideas, and inspiration to our work and we are excited to continue that tradition with our 2016 class.This year, we are recruiting two Fellows to integrate into our programmatic work. One Fellow will support the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area initiative, helping create resources to scale up lessons learned across the region and beyond. The other Fellow will be supporting our work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, researching and creating resources focused on successful public engagement campaigns and locally relevant scientific data.

    If you or someone in your network is interested in this opportunity, please visit our website to learn more or apply via our online application form (Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Health, Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Climate).

    We can't wait for our 2016 Fellows!

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  • Mindfulness for Park Professionals

    My office is just a short walk away from Fort Mason’s Great Meadow.  This park has gentle, grassy hills and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Every morning as I head into work, I’m greeted with the ocean, air, bees, and native plants.  Luckily for me, I don’t have to sneak away to see this beautiful space. Here at the Institute, we have an organizational culture that values outdoor time; I am encouraged to spend time in nature.

    View from where I meditate.

    I take full advantage of this park perk.  I enjoy walking meetings and impromptu botany lessons on the Great Meadow. But most of all, I cherish my daily mindfulness practice.  It’s nothing fancy— lasting only 7 minutes— but it is the best perk my employer can ever give.  Better than any sweet, salty or caffeinated snack, these 7 minutes help me refocus after a hectic morning, or calm my nerves before a big meeting.  I’m more creative in my problem-solving, more patient with obstacles, and more present with my co-workers.  In short, it makes me a better employee.

    I don’t want to be one of those self-righteous hippies, pushing the latest crunchy granola health practices on my co-workers, but I can’t help it when it comes to mindfulness.  I think mindfulness is a useful tool for all park professionals.  I know from experience, but science supports it too.  Mindfulness can bolster mental and physical health.  It can even change our neural pathways –changing the physical structure of the brain.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it builds up inner resilience.  Mindfulness and meditation practices are linked to increasing compassion, mental flexibility, and attention. 

    Inner resilience is a crucial asset for park professionals right now. Urban parks are entering frontiers that require us to tap into our best attributes. Climate change, health disparities, and homelessness are all daunting challenges that parks must bravely face.  These challenges deserve our creativity, patience, focus, and best interpersonal skills.  In order to be better stewards of our parks and our communities, we need to invest in our own inner stewardship.     

    So, at the risk of sounding preachy, take advantage of your park perks.  Prepare for a challenging, and exciting future.  I’ll meet you at the Great Meadow.  

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  • HPHP Website Dreams Do Come True

    Written in collaboration with Lori Bruton

    If you are a long-time fan of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, you’re in luck! The HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative has been working hard over the past year to create our own website!

    For a group of practitioners dedicated to the integration of health and nature into real-life programs, this foray into web programming, site design, and beta-testing was—undoubtedly—a feat that was only achieved through team work. Like much of what Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Institute at the Golden Gate do, this website only became reality when different groups came together to collectively solve a problem. Sometimes, the problem is making parks accessible to high health needs populations. Sometimes, the problem is a limited-functionality website that we had outgrown.

    We built this website the same way we built our collaborative, through many people bringing their expertise to the table, constant partnership, and a desire to improve the health of all Bay Area residents.

    One of the main reasons we created this website is to make it as easy as possible for new and existing park users to be able to find a HPHP: Bay Area program near them. HPHP: Bay Area aims to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents, especially those with high health needs, through the regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands, and in order to do so one must be able to first find a park and see what introductory programs are being offered there. You can learn about the HPHP: Bay Area programs being offered on the homepage of the website, and also on the programs page. You can sort by date, distance from your house, activity, program leader, and do so much more.

    First and foremost, the Institute at the Golden Gate is honored that the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative had trusted us to manage the process of website creation. Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed their ideas, content, photos, videos, and website development skills to this website. Red Wolf Technology has been a creative, technical, and patient consultant in helping us develop this website from idea to tangible product. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Web Team has been a guiding light and strong support system for helping us novice website creators at the Institute put our big ideas and dreams into an organized and realistic component list. And of course, the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative partners have been our cheerleaders, content-creators, beta-testers, and program leaders from the very beginning. Without their hard work to put on these programs to welcome diverse groups into parks, none of this would be a reality. Lastly, the website would not exist without the new and current park users that attend these HPHP: Bay Area programs and believe in the health benefits of parks and nature.  

    We hope you enjoy the new website as much as we do! Please feel free to contact us if you have any feedback about the website.

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  • February is American Heart Month

    February is American Heart Month and to celebrate, we’ve asked Mike Gonzalez, Regional Director of Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association to give us a few tips on how to celebrate.

    Mike Gonzalez is the Regional Director of Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association. His foray into public health started in school, but was solidified during his internship with a local public health department where he was working to improve and expand on healthy eating programs throughout agricultural communities in California. Through this internship, he saw first-hand the compounded effects that low access and low resources have on entire communities.

    In his current role in the American Heart Association, Mike works to achieve the AHA’s 2020 impact goals by engaging in prevention and recovery for multicultural communities. Within prevention programs, Mike extolls the importance of knowing your biometric numbers, as well as the importance of healthy eating and active living. Within recovery education, Mike and his team help to ensure high survival rates for those who are affected by heart disease.

    American Heart Month is an entire month dedicated to talking about heart health. Heart disease is one of the top chronic diseases affecting Americans and disproportionately, it affects communities with low resources and low access to healthy food or physical activity. February gives Americans the opportunity to raise awareness for this disease, as well as opportunities to advance our knowledge and understanding of how it can be prevented and treated. Multicultural communities should take special care to celebrate during this month because African American and Asian communities have higher rates of stroke and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease.

    American Heart Month starts the discussion for all partner agencies to bring heart health into the conversation, but presents specific actions for individuals to take in order to ensure their own heart health.

    Ways to celebrate American Heart Month

    • Know your numbers! It is important to know your indicator numbers: blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and BMI. If your access to these indicator tests is limited, knowing your blood pressure and BMI are great places to start, as they provide a window to your health. Call the AHA if you need help understanding what the numbers mean.
    • Engage in physical activity in open space! Parks are low-cost (often no-cost) areas to stay healthy in your community. Even walking to the park to sit for 15 minutes lowers your stress level, a major trigger for high blood pressure. If you are in the Bay Area, visit to find a free park program near you. 

    To learn more about Mike Gonzalez's work at the American Heart Association, visit the American Heart Association of the Greater Bay Area online

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  • Ten Things Presidents Have Done for the Parks

    On February 12, 2016 President Obama designated three new desert monuments in California—Castle Mountains National Monument, Sand to Snow Monument, and the Mojave Trails Monument. There has been a long history of presidents contributing to the expansion and improvement of the national park system. In honor of President’s Day, here is a list of ten things past presidents have done for the National Parks.

    1)  Abraham Lincoln

    In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that established Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as a public trust. This bill laid the groundwork that allowed Yosemite Valley to become a national park in 1872.

    2) Ulysses S. Grant

    President from 1869-1877, Grant created America’s first national park –Yellowstone National Park—in 1872. This is in addition to being the first president in United States history to set aside land with the sole purpose of protecting wildlife.

    3) Benjamin Harrison

    President Harrison designated land in Alaska as a refuge that would eventually become Katamai National Park and Preserve. He was also responsible for creating the Casa Grande reserve in Arizona, which is the first prehistoric and cultural site to be established in the United States.

    4) Theodore Roosevelt

    Theodore Roosevelt is often regarded as the conservation president. President Roosevelt saw conservation as a tool to keep America’s natural resources and beauty safe for public enjoyment and not leveraged as manufacturing resources for entrepreneurs. During his two terms, Roosevelt set aside over 230 million acres of land, created over 50 bird sanctuaries, and signed the Antiquities Act—which gives the president the authority to protect natural and cultural resources. Roosevelt used this act to not only create 18 national monuments, but also to designate five national parks. Since the signing of this act into law, 15 other presidents have since used it as grounds for designating national monuments.

    5)  Woodrow Wilson

    Most remembered for his work with United States foreign policy, in 1916 President Wilson presided over the creation of the National Park Service. The national parks created under Wilson’s presidency include Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

    6) Franklin D. Roosevelt

    During the New Deal, Roosevelt used the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ 250,000 young men and use them to work in federal and state parks and forests. Men from the CCC helped develop the Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, and many other projects. From 1933 to 1942 these men built roads, bridges, forests, cabin camps, and park structures throughout the county. The Civilian Conservation Corps to date was the largest park improvement program to have taken place in the US.

    7) Lyndon B. Johnson

     President Lyndon B. Johnson was very active in the conservation movement because it was a passion of his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. In 1964, Mrs. Johnson formed the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, where she directed that flowers be planted –especially tulips— within the parks of Washington D.C.  Overtime her beautification movement became nationwide, as she visited national parks and historic sites with the intent of promoting conservation and historic preservation. During his administration, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Wild Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and established many new national parks.

    8) Gerald Ford

    In his youth President Ford was a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 1936. He later returned to the park as president on August 29, 1976 with the hope of generating new public interest in the national parks.

    9) George H.W. Bush

    President George H.W. Bush and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, were frequent visitors of national parks. During his presidency George H.W. Bush and his wife visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, the Everglades, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and the Martin Luther king Jr. National Historic Site. This is in addition to visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

    10) Bill Clinton

    In 1994, President Clinton established Joshua Tree National Park under the California Desert Protection Act. This act created the largest protected area of wild land in the lower 48 states, adding 234,000 acres to the park.

     John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt at Glacier Point in 1903. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


    Scott, Gary. "The Presidents and the National Parks." WHHA. The White House Historical Association, Fall 2010. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

    Howard, Brian Clark. "The Presidents Who Gave Us Our Best Parks." National Geographic.National Geographic Society, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. 


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  • A Parks Love Fest

    In honor of Valentine's Day, the Institute staff took a few minutes to share why we love parks and green spaces, because really, what's not to love? Please share why you love the parks in the comments below!


    For me, I love visiting parks because they are a great space to be social with my friends while also reaping the many health benefits of nature. One of my favorite parks in the Bay Area is Lands End because not only do you get the breathtaking views of the sea and Golden Gate Bridge, but you also get the opportunity to hike through the Presidio to Baker Beach. Furthermore, I really love spending time in parks with my friends because we always end up meeting new people and learning new things about Bay Area wildlife.


    I love visiting new parks – seeing new landscapes, new rock formations, new plants and animals. Working so closely with the national parks has given me the motivation and opportunity to visit Arches, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain in this past year. I love the amazing variety of life on this planet and the little glimpses I saw of this in the parks. But I also love the parks in my own backyard, the parks that I grew up in and that remind me of my family and my home. The county parks and city parks that my family has been hiking and exploring for years, where I had many a birthday party, and that represent connection to community and to the environment.


    What I've loved most about parks this past year is the chance to introduce them to the next generation. With three young children aged six, four, and two, I'm taking every opportunity to introduce them to the many wonderful parks in our backyard here in the Bay Area. Whether it's playing in the waves at Stinson Beach, watching the wildlife on the pier at Crissy Field, or learning about America's history at the Fort Point Civil War Days, I'm grateful for the chance to see these places anew through the eyes of my kids.


    Roger Williams National Memorial is the 20th smallest national park in the nation. It’s so small that I couldn’t find a spot to lay a picnic blanket down in the first beautiful days of spring in 2011. It’s so small that I walked its entire length each day to get to my first job. It’s so small, but so lovingly etched into my mind that thinking about its tiny visitor center or winding pathways (not trails!) makes my heart skip a beat.


    My favorite park in Oakland is Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks. This small plot of land is owned by Oakland Parks and Recreation, but is stewarded by City Slicker Farms, an urban agriculture non-profit. Every week neighbors tend to the fruits, herbs, and veggies growing in the urban farm. The harvest is then re-distributed to their West Oakland community at a weekly farm stand. I like the chickens, the medicinal herbs, and I especially like the rows of nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetables, but that’s not what I love about the park. What I really love about this park is what this little farm represents: a community reinvigorating a once underutilized green space. Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks is a living reminder of the special places and special relationships that bloom when neighborhoods, city government, and community organizations work together.  


    What’s not to love about parks, especially the national parks? I love the process of planning a vacation and trying to visit as many parks as possible in one trip, the excitement of travelling to a new place by car or plane, and that awe-moment when you see the natural wonder for the first time. It’s always special to have the opportunity to gaze up at Half Dome, peer into the Grand Canyon, or watch Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone, and those are experiences I will cherish forever. I'm already planning my next national park road trip because I can't get enough of them - Glacier National Park here I come!


    I love parks because they were, and still are, a place where I can exercise my imagination. Living in the city, most buildings and streets are labelled. There's isn't really any mystery to what you see. When I was young, parks were places that my grandparents often took me to and where I remember countless hours of molding the scenery around me. At Sutro Park, near Ocean Beach, I was usually d'Artagnan from the Three Musketeers and the scene was in Paris. Other times I was Aladdin and Sutro transformed into the streets of Baghdad. Coming back to that park still elicits the best memories for me and, even now, it is a place where I can let my thoughts flow unrestrained.

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  • Addressing Sea Level Rise Hands On

    This past Saturday, community members concerned with climate change, Crissy Field enthusiasts, and park staff converged together at the Presidio Officer’s Club to discuss how projected sea level rise might impact our beloved coastal parklands. Looking specifically at Crissy Field as a case study, workshop participants were able to learn about the anticipated climate change impacts on Crissy Field as a result of 3-6 feet of sea level rise, with additional scenarios illustrating how conditions would be compounded by the king tides (exceptional high tides) and 100-year floods (a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year). After learning about these potential threats, the room was divided into groups and each table was tasked with finding unique solutions to protect Crissy Field, such as building seawalls, restoring wetlands, elevating buildings, and more—including the unfortunate but sometimes necessary option of retreating (evacuating).

    Put on by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, and the California Coastal Conservancy, and facilitated by landscape architecture firm, CMG, this workshop engaged participants on the practical realities of climate change but also invigorated them with potential solutions. Despite it being a Saturday morning and climate change being the main topic up for discussion, the positive energy in the room was palpable. During the workshop participants were given maps of Crissy Field, which functioned as game boards, and they were able to add icons to represent the adaptation tools of their choosing. They were able to protect the fragile habitats of Snowy Plovers at the west end of Crissy Field Beach or elevate the Warming Hut store. After being informed that cost was not a deterrent, participants moved across the board with excited hands.

    The workshop had a number of highlights, including Superintendent Lehnertz’s stirring introduction which helped provide context for the day and illustrate the commitment by the national parks to address climate change head on. However, I think the main takeaway for me is that one of the best solutions to engaging community members on their own climate resilience is simply to ask them what their solutions might be. It’s amazing the response you get just by asking “what would you do?” As a San Francisco native, I couldn’t help leaving the Officer’s Club that morning with a lingering sense of having been a part of something incredibly significant for the special places and people of this unique region.

    Stay tuned for the results from the workshop!

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  • Parks Are for Everyone

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    The founder of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp, taught me this mantra. Outdoor Afro often has first-time hikers or nervous campers chant “this is my park” before new wilderness experiences. Claiming belonging is a powerful tool in their work of cultivating nature connection with African Americans. I’ve borrowed this phrase from Outdoor Afro, using it when I’m a lone brown face in a green space.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    This year I’ve gotten to explore our local and national park system more than ever before. My increased connection to this land has increased my understanding of its African American heritage and history. I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers who, 150 year ago, were some of the original caretakers of these shores, meadows, and forests. This history is a source of comfort and pride for me and has spurred my curiosity about the other black folk that have walked and served on this land. I recently gathered another lesser-told story I’d like to share with you: a story of the pivotal role the Sutro Baths played in California’s journey towards civil rights.

    Postcard of Sutro Baths interior, circa 1909, photo courtesy of

    On July 4th and July 11th of 1897, John Harris, an African American, was denied entry to the Sutro Baths, a bath house, swimming, and recreation area located by the Cliff House. Now a part of Golden Gate National Parks, the Cliff House and Sutro Baths were once privately owned by Adolph Sutro, former mayor of San Francisco. The Sutro family contested that their white customers would not “co-mingle” with other races in their pools and that discrimination was necessary to avoid financial ruin.

    John Harris and the Sutro Baths made headlines when Harris sued Adolph Sutro. His case is notable because Harris won and, most importantly, gave teeth to California’s first civil rights law, the Dibble Act of 1897. Passed only a year after Plessy v. Ferguson legalized “separate but equal,” the Dibble Civil Rights Act mandated that Californians “of every color or race whatsoever” are “entitled to the full and equal facilities of all places of public accommodation.” The Dibble Act was the precursor for the better known Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, which ultimately served as a model for the nation’s Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Harris v. Sutro, was the first test of California’s commitment to civil rights and it was set right here in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The legacy of Henry Clay Dibble, author of the Dibble Act, is also tied to park land. Dibble, a champion for civil rights and women’s suffrage, is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

    I want to thank author Elaine Elinson and my new office buddies from the National Park Service, Steve Haller and Abby Sue Fisher for sharing this piece of history with me. As we kick off Black History month our park professionals, historians, community partners, culture-keepers, and educators are working hard, as they always do, to remind us that parks are for everyone.

    Oh – and pools, the coast, and ski slopes are for everyone, too.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

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