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  • Cheers to 2015 – On to 2016!

    As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.

    2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.

    Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:

    Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.

    Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!

    Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.

    Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!

    Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.

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  • Meet Elyse, New Urban Program Manager

    This photo was taken the day I learned if you let one first grader drink from the hose, you have to let all the first graders drink from the hose.

    I used to be naive enough to think my work was something new. As an urban farmer, then a green jobs advocate, and now the newest Program Manager at the Institute – I thought it was cutting edge to use public and communal land to cultivate health, wealth, and connectedness. I thought it was original to use parks to grow produce at City Slicker Farms, and innovative to teach youth about green jobs at Ecology Center. Thankfully, I got some needed and righteous humbling when I learned about George Washington Carver. I mean, once I really learned about George Washington Carver.

    I got the same “peanut man” story that most folks get as a 3rd grader. My ignorance was exposed when, while at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a Reverend casually gave thanks to George Washington Carver. That simple act of gratitude was a catalyst for me to become re-acquainted with the man who laid the ground work for my personal and professional purpose. Carver had a deep love for the earth, he espoused sustainable agriculture practices (despite the mocking of his peers), and saw the land as a resource for self-sustainability, food security, handicrafts, and a means for poor sharecroppers to escape indebtedness. I now see George as a mentor and guide for turning to the land for community health, for financial and physical sustenance, and for community. I can completely nerd-out about George Washington Carver’s innovative work in sustainable agriculture and community education/outreach, but I’ll let you learn more about him on your own terms. Should you need some good starting points, I’ve got links below to my favorite books about Mr. Carver. One of the links is to a children’s book, because, (1) I’m the kind of adult who enjoys good children’s literature and (2) I will utilize any opportunity to teach or learn from kids about nature.

    I’m grateful that writing this blog, one of my first tasks in my new position, allows me to acknowledge the ancestors and communities that have paved the way for the Urban Program at the Institute. I hope to bring forth many more stories and heroes from marginalized communities through my work here. Within the Institute’s Urban Program, I’m excited to support parks that cultivate healthy, connected communities and communities that cultivate relevant, diverse green spaces. I am honored to be a part of your community and privileged to carry on the work of heroes like George Washington Carver, Dolores Huerta, and my grandmother, Gertrude.

    I hope to meet more of our community soon, but until then – tell me who your heroes are. Who inspires you in this work of creating restorative, inclusive and dynamic green spaces?

    Your hippie home-girl,

    Elyse’s favorite George Washington Carver books:

    For Adults: My Work is that of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver

    For Kids: George Washington Carver

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  • Happy Holidays!

    Wishing everyone happy holidays and a wonderful new year!

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  • Last week Oksana and I headed downtown to join the throngs of scientists, researchers, students, and educators flocking to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting at the Moscone Center. AGU is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, attracting over 24,000 attendees. While Al Gore and a sneak preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stole the AGU headlines, there was also a strong contingent of people exploring how to improve and strengthen climate literacy at a national scale.

    The opening afternoon of the conference, Oksana kicked off a union session titled Enabling Effective Climate Literacy through Collective Impact. In her presentation, Oksana discussed the formation of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, the strategic planning process, and lessons learned for others interested in similar collaborative initiatives. The other presenters represented a range of unique collaboratives and engaged in a lively panel discussion where they shared diverse insights into common challenges such as funding, member engagement, and scalability.

    The Institute also helped to convene a poster session looking at the impacts of place-based education on climate literacy. The posters included place-based initiatives from across the country and included a unique partnership project between our partners at the Exploratorium and NOAA. In speaking with the various presenters it was interesting to note the different ways in which organizations define “place-based,” which ranged from a strong focus on nature, to a broader geographic definition, to an individual’s connection to community. As the Institute continues to explore this space, it is interesting to note the use of place and what it means to different people.

    In between the myriad sessions, we had the opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with folks from government, academia, and the private sector trying to tackle some of the most intractable challenges to climate education. The buzz and energy coming out of Paris was tangible throughout the conference and the critical importance and timeliness of this work wove a sense of urgency into every conversation. We explored the importance of site-specific efforts and the potential impact of regional collaboration. We came out of our days there feeling simultaneously drained and energized; the scale of the problem often felt overwhelming but seeing the passion and diversity of those working with us to tackle this issue was inspiring.

    Photo credit: AGU Blog

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  • The following is a Q & A interview with National Park Service Urban Fellow, Kieron Slaughter who is working in Richmond, CA at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front.

    What was your motivation in becoming an Urban Fellow for the National Park Service?

    I was interested in a new career challenge and this position would allow me the opportunity to work with a national network and be more proactive rather than reactive. In my previous position as a city planner, one of my roles was to respond and react to development project submittals as opposed to proposing new initiatives and being proactive.

    Another big motivation for me was the opportunity to address social justice issues in the community while addressing the diversity challenge facing the National Park Service (NPS). I see my role as an Urban Fellow as an opportunity to serve as an example and potentially inspire people of color who may have never thought that working for the Park Service was an option for them. By seeing me, they will recognize someone that looks like them, comes from the same place, and has had similar experiences as them. They will also see that they could work for the NPS and have a positive impact on the community.

    The Fellowship also allows me to connect with local youth, primarily from Richmond, and explain to them that my road wasn’t always an easy one, and that I’ve experienced setbacks and stumbles along the way. This is what creates relevancy and these personal connections strengthen our relationship as an agency with the community. The NPS has an immense opportunity to facilitate 2nd and 3rd chances for underrepresented youth, especially those residing in urban environments like Richmond, CA.

    Now that you’ve been in this position for seven months, what impression have you had of the fellowship?

    So far it’s going great, although there’s been a steep learning curve because I came from outside of the NPS. Luckily, everyone I’ve worked with has been really helpful in bringing me up to speed with the Park Service culture, acronyms, and organization. Through trainings and traveling for the job, I’ve been able to accelerate my learning more quickly than I would have if I were just sending cold e-mails to new colleagues and partners and reading through publications. This really speaks to the power of in-person collaboration and the value of creating personal relationships. 

    On the whole, I think the Urban Fellows program has been well-received and I’ve witnessed a significant amount of local enthusiasm about it—among the community, public officials, as well as NPS staff. In April 2015, we had the opportunity to meet with the NPS Director Jon Jarvis and he formally announced the launch of the Urban Agenda during his keynote speech at the Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco. This demonstrates that the Urban Agenda and Urban Fellows are supported from the highest level of organizational leadership. That type of support is paramount to the success of the program and the buy-in of NPS staff.

    It’s been both humbling and encouraging to witness how community members value the parks, programs, and the NPS arrowhead—the symbol of the Park Service. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of meeting community members and community groups in their comfort zones—their neighborhoods and local events—as opposed to inviting them to meetings in city hall. Being visible and representing the arrowhead to the public also let me hit the ground running a lot quicker.

    What really makes the Urban Fellowship distinctive from other positions I’ve held is the way in which our cohort was on-boarded and our ongoing support structure.  We attended an intensive 3-day, retreat-styled orientation that not only focused on the principles of the Urban Agenda, but also emphasized our individual experiences, backgrounds, and journey to that moment.  This was instrumental in creating a trustworthy environment that each of the 10 Urban Fellows can rely on while we navigate this fellowship in 10 different cities around the country. I really feel connected to my cohort of Urban Fellows and our support team.

    What have been some of your biggest challenges in your fellowship? Conversely, have you had any moments of inspiration?

    One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is wrapping my head around some of the intricacies of the NPS, such as the organizational hierarchy, job titles, and deciphering all of the acronyms. Another challenge I’ve had is figuring out how all of the relationships with our partner and friends groups function and mapping out what their roles are.

    This isn’t exactly a moment of inspiration, but I’m generally inspired by the encouragement that the Urban Fellows receive from leadership to think outside of the box and think more deeply on how the NPS can be community partners. We’re encouraged to experiment and take more risks than most NPS employees, and we have more flexibility to work across established silos since we’re not in a specific division or branch. This fellowship provides a chance to challenge the status quo without fear of negative repercussions. In fact, I’d say my Park Service naivete has been a benefit in helping me think of how to make substantive changes within the system.

    What does OneNPS—one of the principles of the Urban Agenda—mean to you?

    OneNPS means re-thinking the hierarchical, military-inspired structure of the National Park Service and allowing for deeper lateral conversations. This includes potentially looking at startups and tech companies that have thrown out that model for inspiration. This principle also highlights that there has to be incentive to work with others outside of your department or division. It’s noble that the National Park Service is addressing this long-standing internal challenge through the Urban Agenda. 

    How do you see OneNPS playing out in the Pacific West Region and across the entire Park Service?

    The Pacific West Region is interesting in that we’re located near all of these major tech players that can provide us with unique models of collaboration. We’re uniquely positioned to be inspired by their way of doing things. In addition, the City of Richmond truly has innovative and inspiring non-profits and community groups that are doing awesome work. I’m inspired by groups such as Urban Tilth, Rich City Rides, POGO Park, Groundwork Richmond, Friends of the Richmond Greenway, and Trails for Richmond Action Committee—to name just a few. These groups and others have demonstrated how positive improvements to the built environment can occur on a grassroots level with limited resources.

    Thinking about how One NPS might function within the entire Park Service raises the question of how tenable it is to have communications all the way from an intern to the Secretary of the Interior. I think focusing on implementing One NPS on the regional level is the most feasible option and it’s fairly reasonable that units within a region could come together in person or when need be and share relevant information efficiently. We all complain about our overloaded email inboxes but we all continue to rely on email as our first mode of communication.  When you think about breaking down the silos of the entire Park Service system, it gets much more challenging; however, I think it can be done.

    What are some of the quick take-aways you want the public to know about the National Park Service?

    The Park Service does valuable work with partner organizations outside of the boundaries of the National Parks and not every NPS employee is a Park Ranger. We can play an important role in many relevant initiatives such as: health and wellness, local park planning, complete streets, urban agriculture, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, trail planning, and economic development.

    In addition, the Park Service has unique employment opportunities and workforce training for young people that can result in a job in any state or territory in the country; that’s an awesome opportunity that I wasn’t aware of when I was in high school, working part time at a fast food restaurant. Why work a summer job at the local mall when you could be working at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.? The more that the Park Service communicates that we are willing community partners that care about the well-being of the communities that we serve, the more people will see the National Park Service as a resource and reach out to us for support on community-inspired projects.  


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  • From Post to Park to My Own Transformation

    In this last week as an urban fellow at the Institute, I am spending most of my time finishing up my case studies report on post-to-park transformations, while relishing every spare minute to think about next steps. In thinking about the future I find myself reflecting on my own transformation in these last six months.

    Coming to the Bay Area right after graduating from school in New York, my educational background has given me a passion in sustainable urban development and I’ve always felt very strongly about the need to create more open spaces to forge better lifestyles for city dwellers. That’s what led me here to research urban park development and create a best practice guide in the hopes of helping others with the same passion who are planning and implementing their own projects.

    After six months of exploring new parks, meeting the people who created them, and researching every corner of Fort Baker, Crissy Field, and Governors Island, I’ve become emotionally invested. I feel a personal connection to these parks and their stories. And in these last days of my project, I’ve come to realize the reason why I now have a stronger relationship to parks, is the support I’ve had from the impassioned people who work hard to keep these open spaces engaging and relevant in our lives.

    The Institute’s unique team of creative thinkers and do-ers was like a family that helped to make parks my home. And as the Institute leverages parks as platforms for innovative thinking and action, it has also taught me to think outside the box in my own life, and gave me a new perspective on the meaning of an urban park. Not to mention, the overwhelming amount of support from the park professionals from both the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has given me a deeper insight on collaboration and partnerships across a variety of sectors as valuable resources for creativity. Coming in, I knew the importance of open spaces, but it wasn’t until my time here that I found so many diverse opportunities for forging other actions through these open spaces.

    Of course the fellowship has taught me valuable professional skills, do’s and don’ts, tricks and trades, but ultimately, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity that has added a new dimension to my passion for creatively building better environments.

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  • It is nearing my final weeks as a health fellow at the Institute. As I make preparations for my departure back to DC, I have found myself project managing my personal life and facilitating my friends and family.

    That is what six months at the Institute feels like.

    I know as I embrace loved ones over the impending holidays I will be bombarded with questions asking about my experience. As a recent graduate I experienced this phenomenon the same time last year. “What are your post-college plans?” said every one of my many family members. I would try to smile through the sigh I really wanted to give. This time around I have a wealth of things to discuss and a new passion I am bringing home. My family members will be the ones sighing as I incessantly talk about the power of parks.

    Researching the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative for the creation of a report has exposed me to many things, but I’d like to focus on the learning that took place outside of my regular duties. Yes, I have greatly advanced my project management skills. And yes, I have absorbed as much of my co-workers efficient work ethic as I possibly can but, the Institute is a very unique environment with many unique lessons to be learned. The perfect example of this was our most recent trip to Pie Ranch. As we toured the ranch and learned about their programmatic arms I was forced to think about the work I do within a completely different context. These moments of overlap and collaboration are what the Institute is all about and where great ideas take place.

    I thank the Institute and all of their many partners who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I now have a new set of skills and a new outlook on the way we tackle some of society's largest problems. And of course… new friends.

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  • Giving Thanks This Holiday Season

    Thanksgiving is only a few days away and while we are all looking forward to a day full of food, family, and friends, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on what each of us is thankful for and share our thoughts with all of you. We would also like to express our thanks for all of our wonderful friends, partners, and supporters who believe in the work we do at the Institute and help us advance our mission of parks as problem solvers.


    This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my wonderful family, friends, and their unending love and support. I am thankful for my sister who recently taught me how to be on top of my emoji game and my brother for keeping me in the loop with all of the happenings back east. I am thankful for my mom for being a wealth of knowledge and for always being available to answer my many life questions. I am thankful for my dad for always keeping me grounded and for reminding me of all the things that I can achieve. I am thankful for my grandmother for being the coolest lady I know, for sending the best care packages, for baking the best sweet potato pies in the world, and for always showing me life’s silver linings. Finally, I am thankful for my roommates who have been monumental in making San Francisco feel like home, and for always cooking, laughing, dancing, and drinking the tastiest wine with me.


    I’m thankful for Thanksgiving. Ok, I realize that may sound a little strange, but hear me out and I’ll explain. Growing up in England—where they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving—it wasn’t until I moved to the United States as an adult that I discovered this special day each year where we get to stop and take the time to appreciate everything we have. For me, I love spending time with my family and friends over a good dinner. This year, I’m feeling deeply grateful to live here in the San Francisco Bay Area—a truly special part of the world—and to work for the Institute in support of a mission I believe in so passionately.

    United They Stand…

    But Only One of Them Enjoys Thanksgiving!


    I’m thankful for the recent rains and hopeful of more in the coming months. While I am always thankful for the amazing outdoor adventures in our own backyard (my hat’s off to all park and public land agencies!) and the beautiful weather that allows us to explore them year-round, I also appreciate a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a warm beverage, a good book or movie, and loved ones by my side. I also can’t help but think about California’s extreme drought and keep my fingers crossed that we get some measure of relief this winter!


    I’m most thankful for the health of my family. It wasn’t always the case that my family was in good health; there have been many scares along this journey. Over ten years ago, my mom started to change the food that was coming into our home and started encouraging family members to walk and run outside. It sounds un-radical, but when I think back to what my brother and I did before the change, I remember a lot of hot pockets, pizza rolls, and endless television watching. The switch from pizza rolls to fruits was certainly not immediate, but having options was a start. This is all to say that I’m thankful for my family’s health, but even more so for the foresight that my mom had to change our behaviors.


    I’m thankful for national parks and for family. This may seem like a weird pairing, but for me they are intertwined. Since I was little, my family has planned most of our vacations around national parks. This year was no different, and on two separate family trips I was able to visit Crater Lake National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. Both resulted in moments of awe at the beauty of these places, and a few hilarious memories involving elk, but those are stories for another time. These experiences made me appreciate even more the public lands and open spaces our country has to offer, and the opportunities that my parents continue to provide for their children. 


    This year I’m most thankful for good health. A common mantra in my family is that happiness and health are the most valuable things you can have; everything else can be bought. This saying took on special meaning for me this past year when I experienced a setback in my health. Luckily, everything is fine now, but the news really put into perspective what is most important. While Thanksgiving isn’t often correlated to good health—what with the gluttonous feasts and infamous turkey-induced comas—this year I’m grateful that I can enjoy some stuffing and pumpkin pie with family and friends. Maybe the next day I will even opt for a run.


    This Thanksgiving I am thankful to be working in a field with such strong, benevolent values. Public health has given me a purpose for life and continually pushes me to be of open heart and mind. Every day I am a witness to the many ways in which public health impacts our lives and I have been so happy to see it receive more and more recognition worldwide. With or without story headlines, public health professionals will continue to work to keep us all healthy and able to enjoy this holiday with our families and friends. 


    I am so thankful for this fellowship position that gave me the opportunity to move across the country to work with some amazing people and see beautiful places. The nature in the Bay Area, especially living so close to the Pacific Ocean, reminds me of how vast this world is and makes me very happy! 

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  • COP21 and Global Implications on Climate Change

    Paris, like Beirut and Baghdad, has been rocked by a terrorist attack in the past few weeks, resulting in many casualties and a nation in panic. Despite a backdrop of grief and introspection, world leaders have decided to move forward with the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to take action on global climate change. While dissimilar in its level of devastation, global climate change poses many global risks to environmental and human health. The urgency of this conference is bolstered by a number of harrowing facts. Concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached a record high, new research links climate change to the severity and likelihood of the extreme weather events that occurred in 2014, each coming month breaks the record for hottest month ever recorded, and one of the major contributors to climate change, China, was recently outed for underestimating how much coal it burned in the past decade—hence under-reporting its contribution to CO2 emissions.

    However, not all the facts leading to the Paris talks are negative—far from it. Slated to have attendees from 190 nations, COP21 in and of itself is a testament to the global commitment to hold every nation accountable for its contribution to climate change. Additionally, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, indicating his commitment to elevating the United States as a key player in addressing rising CO2 rates.

    This year’s COP21 will run from November 29th to December 11th, continuing an effort that began in 2011 in Durban, South Africa. The ultimate outcome of this conference will be to create a legally binding, multi-national agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—considered by scientists to be the tipping point towards catastrophic climate change. Provisions in this treaty will likely include strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change impacts, and help countries that need assistance.

    Two years ago at COP 19 in Warsaw—well in advance of the Paris conference—countries were asked to provide their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), illustrating each country’s self-determined mitigation goals starting in 2020. While 156 countries submitted their INDCs, a UNFCC analysis shows that the INDCs submitted fall short of the 2 degrees Celsius benchmark. In order to get back on track with the intended goal, this Paris agreement will aim to create a flexible but sustainable global framework, building in provisions that require countries to return to the table periodically, potentially working to revise their INDCs or encouraging them to draft new ones.

    COP21 is significant not only in its commitment to creating a system of accountability for global climate change but also in highlighting the potential of the world to come together on an issue of grave importance regardless of religion, ethnicity, culture, or national border. This week the world is still healing from immense tragedy; however, our collective hope and the power of human progress keep us going—in Paris and beyond.

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  • Convene - Our Longest Standing Program

    Most of you are probably familiar with the Institute at the Golden Gate’s programmatic work, including our Health, Climate Education, and Urban Programs, but you may not be as aware of our Convene Program, our longest standing program.

    When the Institute first began in 2008, the mission was to welcome environmental organizations and government groups to host environmentally-focused gatherings at Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate at a discounted rate. We ensured that groups working to protect beautiful lands like Fort Baker had the opportunity to utilize this inspiring park setting. The Institute also played a convening role and hosted several large-scale conferences at Cavallo Point Lodge that focused on collaboration and finding innovative solutions to environmental challenges. These Turning the Tide Conferences inspired some of our programs, such as our Food and Health Programs.

    In recent years, our Convene Program has focused on the Institute’s role as a connector for other organizations to host their own meetings, conferences, and retreats at Cavallo Point Lodge. There’s a wide spectrum of groups that host their events at Cavallo, ranging from board meetings to internationally recognized conferences of more than 200 attendees. We welcome nonprofits and government groups to host overnight environment and/or sustainability focused meetings from November through April of each year. To learn more about how to qualify for the discounted rate, visit our website.

    If you’re not too familiar with Cavallo Point Lodge, let me paint a picture for you. Imagine sitting in a conference room, and feeling the warmth of natural sunlight shining through the window. Imagine being able to sit outside on a porch during a break in the schedule, enjoying the fresh air, and gazing out at the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Imagine stepping out of your room or meeting onto an expansive Parade Ground, fit for walking, picnicking, playing a game, or just relaxing. Imagine wanting to stretch your legs, and being able to take a stroll on the hill behind the hotel to seeing views of Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the skyline of San Francisco.

    The stunning vistas and outdoor opportunities are just some of the benefits of staying at Cavallo Point Lodge. The one of a kind venue also has outstanding customer service, eco-friendly indoor facilities, and delectable food options from an award-winning restaurant.

    The priority period for 2015 – 2016 has already begun, but there’s still time! Apply here to qualify for the discounted rate, which extends through April 2016.

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  • Zarnaaz Bashir and Robert Zarr presenting at the APHA session "Prescribing the outdoors to improve overall health and well-being."
    Photo courtesy of Robert Zarr, Clinician at Unity Health Care, Founder of DC ParkRx, and ParkRx Advisor for the National Park Service.

    This week, thousands of public health aficionados descended upon Chicago for the annual American Public Health Association conference to discuss the latest and greatest preventative health measures for communities. Just as we have seen Park Prescriptions take hold in parks conferences, there's an influx of Park Prescriptions presentations in health conferences. This year at APHA, there were many different sessions focused on how the health community views and uses natural areas for community health. 

    In particular, Zarnaaz Bashir, Leyla McCurdy, Dr. Nooshin Razani, and Dr. Robert Zarr each had sessions on how the health community can understand, articulate, and implement their crucial roles in the Park Prescriptions movement, which comes at the intersection of community health and environmental health. Click on each of the names to see a summary of their sessions. 

    We are excited that these Park Prescriptions practitioners and champions are presenting this concept to the larger public health community. Now it's time to get the stewards of the land and stewards of health to come together to turn these ideas, programs, and ideals into large-scale reality!

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  • Finding Urban Inspiration in the Rockies

    Last Thursday, I hopped on an early morning flight and made my way to Estes Park, Colorado. You may not think of the little mountain town that serves as an entry to the Rocky Mountains as a hub of urban thought and innovation, but last week that is exactly what it was.

    Over 100 Groundwork USA youth leaders, staff, and federal land management partners descended upon the YMCA of the Rockies to share their initiatives and efforts to better connect with and serve urban areas as a part of the Groundwork USA National Conference and Youth Summit.

    Throughout the day, partners from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Groundwork Trusts from across the country shared their stories of urban connection and the multiple benefits of building stronger relationships between communities and natural areas. Along with our NPS partners, Urban Fellows, and their Groundwork counterparts, we held a panel discussion exploring the NPS Urban Agenda and how it seeks to align and partner with communities in new and innovative ways.

    The importance of collaboration was a main theme throughout the conference. Many speakers touched on the challenges and resources necessary for authentic, successful collaboration. However, all highlighted it as critical to the future sustainability and health of national parks, open spaces, wildlife refuges, and the communities themselves.

    While it was a great opportunity to learn about complimentary efforts across federal agencies, the highlight of the day was hearing the youth leaders of Groundwork talk about their work and the profound impact that it is having on their communities and their lives. Groundwork’s youth development programs provide extensive training in community and conservation skills and hands-on experiences on public lands through paid, neighborhood-based opportunities. The work of the Groundwork youth leaders connected the discussion around reaching new audiences and collaborating with new communities with on-the-ground examples of how these principles can be applied in practice with profound impact.

    Seeing these youth leaders in action and hearing their personal stories reminded me of why I was in the room, grappling with this challenging but impactful work.

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  • Making Parks and Green Space Home

    As I packed my belongings to leave my childhood home in New Jersey for my new position here in San Francisco, I found myself once again thinking about what it means to have a home, and what it means to make a place your home. Sitting on the floor surrounded by a circle of suitcases and folded clothes I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia; five years ago I sat in the same position— both literally and figuratively—preparing for my journey to Los Angeles for my first year of college.

    During my time as an undergraduate, I chose coursework that constantly challenged me to define and redefine concepts of space, identity, community, and how one can create a sense of home within each. Eventually the concept of home and the many forms it can take surfaced in my research as I investigated the intersections of racial, gender, sexual identities and how they interact with various forms of HIV education to shape the lives of young black adults in both Durban South Africa and Los Angeles California.

    But it was not until this summer when I was tasked with mapping, researching, and documenting historic LGBTQ spaces in Los Angeles, that the concept of home ceased to solely be a series of theoretical notions around systems of privilege, oppression, and obtaining a sense of belonging. Instead it became a paradigm that illustrated that ways in which a public space can not only serve as a space of refuge, solace, growth, and community, but also a space where entire minority histories are preserved and expressed.

     Ever since I was young, parks and green space have served as and continue to be a home for me. Some of my fondest memories come from picnicking, playing soccer, and training for track meets in municipal parks. This is in addition to backpacking, skiing, and camping over long weekends. Being active in parks and greenspace throughout my life has taught me to be invested in conservation of the natural world and how to lead a healthier, happier life. It is because of this that I joined the Institute at the Golden Gate, with a desire and passion to make greenspace and parks a home for communities and individuals to feel safe, welcome, supported, celebrated, respected and, most importantly empowered, to live healthier and happier lives.

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  • Global Climate Change Week is just around the corner, starting October 19. This unique initiative encourages educators around the world to challenge students and their surrounding communities to take action on climate change. It recognizes that educators of all disciplines play a significant role in fostering civic engagement among students, not only teaching about climate change, but also empowering young people to take action. Action and climate solutions are spotlighted to illustrate that while climate change literacy is important, adapting to and deterring climate disruption will require action. The Institute at the Golden Gate supports related local efforts by playing a backbone, coordinating role for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. 

    Created in August of 2014, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative is composed of a diverse group of informal environmental educators dedicated to making the Bay Area the leader in climate literacy and action. While the Bay Area is a hub of progressive values and policies, there is still work to do in moving the needle on climate change. In a 2013 study conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, researchers found that while most San Franciscans believe global warming is happening (87%) only 11% are convinced that people can take action to reduce global warming and that they will do so successfully. This sentiment presents a serious obstacle—if people are pessimistic about our ability to take action against climate change they might be likely not to make individual changes or support collective action.

    The Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative hopes to empower educators to communicate to their audiences that while climate change is real and dire, there is hope and people should feel encouraged to take action. For the next 1-3 years the group will dedicate itself to three priority initiatives, or focal areas, aimed at helping educators build their communication toolkits in order to better convey this message and develop strategies that spur behavior change. These initiatives are listed below.

    • The first initiative is providing climate trainings for environmental educators. This will involve organizing trainings or larger gatherings targeted towards environmental educators and communicators. The goal of these trainings would be to increase knowledge of climate change and increase comfort and ability to effectively discuss the topic.
    • The second initiative, connecting educators to local impacts and science, will initiate projects that being together local scientists and climate communicators. Fostering this relationship will enable educators to refine climate messaging so that it is up to date, accessible, and relevant to local audiences.
    • Our most innovative initiative, piloting joint sustainability projects, will leverage the collective power of the group and serve as a catalyst for behavior change.

    These initiatives will be developed and implemented by three working groups, with working group members representing prominent organizations ranging from the California Academy of Sciences to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The steering committee will be responsible for making sure the group sticks to its lofty, yet achievable mission of increasing climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area by sharing successes and building capacity of climate educators and messengers. While our work is specifically focused on the Bay Area, the Collaborative is proud to join educators all around world in the call to action of Global Climate Change Week—to halt climate change through increased knowledge as well as personal and community level-responsibility to take action.

    If you are interested in getting updates on the Collaborative, please feel free to sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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  • Getting (and Taking!) Good Advice

    How do you stay on top of your game? Here at the Institute, we’re always trying to make sure we’re doing our best work to advance our mission of “parks as problem solvers”. To help us stay on top of our game, we are immensely fortunate to have not only a dedicated and talented staff, but also to have access to some of the smartest people in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond on our Institute Advisory Council. With civic leaders and inspiring figures from the technology sector, new media, research and academia, and civil society, we are blessed in the quality of people willing to volunteer their time to guide and advise our work.

    Last week, the Council held a one-day retreat in San Francisco to review our work and help us plan for the future. It is now three years almost to the day since the Institute refined its mission to focus on the role parks can play in helping solve major societal challenges like our healthcare crisis and climate change, and so it felt timely to take a step back from our daily work and review progress with our Council. During an inspiring and productive day, the group:

    • provided welcome guidance on our overall strategic direction and sustainability, and endorsed the continuation of our current mission;
    • provided deep and helpful insights into our current programs focused on health, climate change, and urban development;
    • assessed the Institute’s “niche” and role as a catalyst in advancing innovative policy and practice; and,
    • suggested how to approach and assess new program ideas.

    I left the meeting inspired and eager to continue to advance our mission of “parks as problem solvers” in every way possible, and feeling armed with new tools and advice to help me stay on top of my game. To learn more about the people I find so inspiring, check out our talented team of staff and advisors here:


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  • Stroll Call: Surgeon General Issues Our Walking Orders

    On September 9, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, launched a nationwide Call to Action on Walking. As chronic disease, depression, and obesity rates in the country soar, “America’s Doctor” is extolling the health benefits of walking. 

    The “Step It Up!” campaign challenges the nation to make walking a national priority in all facets of American life. Dr. Murthy’s Call to Action seeks to promote development of communities where it is safe and easy to walk, launch walking programs, and conduct research on walking. 

    As lovers of parks and open space, we at the Institute at the Golden Gate (a Parks Conservancy program in partnership with the National Park Service) are doing our part to answer the Surgeon General’s call. In fact, our belief in the health benefits of parks is so great that we’re taking many approaches to promote parks as places to walk and recreate.

    • Individually, we use park trails and paths to experience first-hand the physical, mental, and social benefits of walking.
    • Locally, we have dozens of programs (such as Healthy Parks Healthy People, the Crissy Field Center, LINC) that bring communities into the park to walk and enjoy the parks.
    • Regionally, we work with thousands of park stewards to maintain safe and accessible walking paths in parks.
    • Nationally, we convene the top researchers, practitioners, and advocates of the parks/health nexus to develop policies that amplify the role of parks in healthy, walkable communities. We’re excited about our growing role in fulfilling the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking—and we invite you to join us.

    Take the first step, and reconnect with the physical, mental, and social benefits of visiting a park. Attend a Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area program this Saturday, October 3rd. There are over 10 family-friendly, easy, and fun walks all over the Bay Area to get you started.

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  • (co-written by Kristin Wheeler, Associate Director) 

    Parks need health partners and public health needs parks. That was the ever-emergent theme of this year’s National Recreation and Park Association Congress. At this congress—one of the biggest parks and recreation conferences in North America—the Surgeon General announced his call to action on walking and specifically highlighted the importance of how parks and recreation create healthy, active communities. At the Institute, we know that the intersection of human health and parks is prominent, but hearing our colleagues at the national level discuss their involvement with this intersection was educational and rewarding.

    What we learned

    • Health systems are taking a closer look at parks—The Surgeon General’s opening remarks hammered home the value of parks to health. His approach was significant because he talked about parks not just as part of the built environment, which has a big influence on public health, but he specifically talked about the inherent properties of a park, as opposed to other parts of the built environment. The fact that usually the only way to get to a park is to walk or roll (from your house or your parked car) is significant and can influence the policies and environments around the park as well.

    • Parks want to learn more—The Institute’s two sessions, in which we discussed our regional and national work regarding Park Prescriptions, were well attended and netted fruitful discussion on ways that other agencies can incorporate health into their current missions. All of the agency representatives we spoke with were eager to engage in active stewardship of community health, but wanted more tools to help them navigate the often complicated world of health systems. While we may not have all of the answers, our collective resolve to bridge the two systems of parks and public health are moving us in the right direction. 

    • Agencies are already trying things out—If there is one thing that conferences are great for, it’s chatting with like-minded folks. We met many different agencies that are already trying out different programs in their own jurisdictions to contribute to the health of their communities. It was inspiring to hear of the successes that these different agencies have had and how they have troubleshooted some of the questions that we've racked our brains around. Check out the Miami-Dade Park Prescriptions program or the New Orleans Veggie Prescription program.


    There are infinite ways in which parks can and do contribute to community health. Being able to share promising practices openly and willingly benefits the entire movement of making sure that parks and open space are seen as active and vocal advocates for the wellbeing of their communities. 

    With that, I hope to see you in the parks. The Surgeon General insists. 

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  • The National Recreation and Park Association's Annual Conference kicked off yesterday with a keynote address fit to celebrate the organizations 50th anniversary. The opening general session included impassioned speeches from U.S. Surgeon General Murthy and Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities. Both speakers highlighted the importance of NRPA's pillars, which ring just as true today as they did fifty years ago.

    From social equity, to health and wellness, and conservation, the role of parks across the country is vital to building and retaining strong communities. The opening session was a great reminder that we, park professionals, are more than just recreation leaders - we are public health providers, educators, community organizers, and leaders in the fight for equity.

    Look for more thoughts and lessons learned from the NRPA Annual Conference next week! 

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  • A toast to health in Marin City

    Pass by corner of Drake Avenue near Phillips Drive in Marin City and take in the sights and sounds of George “Rocky” Graham Park. Initially built in the 1940s, the park had been dismantled in the 1990s due to maintenance issues. Rocky Graham Park had its official reopening on July 11th, 2015, and its vibrant green turf and nature-themed playgrounds have been in continuous use since.

    The story of Rocky Graham Park not only encompasses a community’s tireless advocacy for a public good, but also the bringing together of different partners, agencies, and stakeholders to make it happen. To sustain the use and enjoyment of this beautiful, community-built space, Rocky Graham Park will be a pilot site for park prescriptions programs.

     In partnership with the Marin Health and Wellness Center, the Marin City Community Services District will be offering a plethora of free programs in Rocky Graham that will help to promote the wellness of the community. For most fitness levels, the programs range from guided gentle walks around the park and neighborhood to martial arts on the turf. These programs not only encourage physical health, but also usher in the mental and social health benefits that being in nature and learning about one’s own community offers.

    Check out Marin City Community Services District’s website for more information on the programs being offered. If you are client of the Marin City Health and Wellness Center, be on the lookout; your health care providers will be prescribing park programs to you very soon!

    If you do find yourself wandering around the park before you receive a park prescription, fear not! Here's a prescription for activities that you can already do in the park without attending a program: 

    • Go down the treehouse slide 
    • Follow the walking path twice, taking in the beautiful views of Marin City, the headlands, and the fog
    • Walk to the bulletin board and download the oral history app. 


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  • This upcoming Monday is Labor Day, or as many may know it, the holiday that allows them to have an extended long-weekend. Something people may not be as aware of is that the national parks and the American labor movement share deep-rooted ties. Both are vital to the American social landscape and yet both have fought hard political battles. The Cesar E. Chavez National Monument stands as the physical embodiment of these connected histories, as it commemorates the famed Latino leader who founded the country’s first permanent agricultural union. The progress made by both movements extended protection—legal, social, and otherwise—to entities and people that had previously been excluded from certain rights and protections.

    The National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1916 upon the notion that parks should be accessible to all and indefinitely preserved for future generations. The creation of the NPS was a response to immediate threats facing national lands. Though President Roosevelt led early 20th century conservationists in establishing a number of new national parks, the absence of a centralized organization to manage the parks meant a lack of protection and funding. Additionally, with the onset of rapid industrialization, private commercial interests began to take an interest in the natural resources protected by this loose network of parks.

    Now that the NPS is nearing its 100th birthday, it can look back on its legacy and the significant conservation efforts that have been made.  Looking at just the past few years, President Obama has designated more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters for federal protection – more than any other president. But our work is far from over. The national parks are still vulnerable in terms of funding, most immediately from the re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and in terms of its relevance, particularly those who have felt historically unwelcome in our public open spaces.

    The labor movement has a similar story of triumph as well as a call for further progress. While the Industrial Revolution was catapulting the nation into economic success, the laborers on which the Revolution was built shouldered many burdens of the growing economy. Facing 12-hour work days and dangerous conditions, 19th century American workers dreamed of an eight-hour work week  as well as restrictions on child labor and improvements to the poor working conditions, the latter felt especially by the poor and recent immigrant Americans. 

    (image source: Wikipedia)

    We have come a long way since then, with unions playing an integral role in the labor force, from school teachers to nurses, and labor laws that protect against child labor and improve workplace health and safety. However, as is the case with the national parks, there is still much improvement to be made. Some of the defining issues of the next few years will be directly tied to bettering the plight of our country’s workforce—such as potential minimum wage increases across cities and states. 

    Both movements to conserve our national lands and protect workers have proved to be a difficult, challenging process but both have made great strides. This upcoming Labor Day, we can think back on these lasting legacies and look forward towards further progress.  

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