We had so much fun celebrating with everyone at Crissy Field's Park Prescription Day. On Sunday, we welcomed thousands of park goers to experience the health benefits of being outdoors. Participants of all ages were taking part in group activities, such as Tai-Chi and Zumba. Agencies were at booths encouraging families to be acquainted with the many free community resources around them. We want to thank all of our amazing event partners who helped make it possible for everyone to have fun outdoors! Photos by Curran White, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
Make your own smoothie without electricity? Point Bonita YMCA showed us how with their ever-popular smoothie bikes.
Institute staff were on hand to help participants navigate their way around the activity schedule and 40+ agency tables.
Park Prescription Day can't be complete without a park prescription from a white coat! San Francisco Recreation and Parks had their Doctor of Parks prescribing programs to passers by!
As we found out, nothing gets a crowd going more than seeing a Golden Gate National Recreation Area ranger participating in Zumba!
Tai-chi groups loved the open space to demonstrate their expertise.
The planning for Park Prescriptions Day is under way! Come celebrate this free and fun day in the parks on April 23, 2017, from 11-3 at Crissy Field. We will have lots of fun activities for all ages. Climb our rock wall, enjoy a serene tai chi lesson, get health screenings, or learn about the different parks around us! We want to inspire everyone to have fun and enjoy the health benefits of nature. Join us!
Enjoy many different group activities or visit one of our many tables and booths to partake in fun games and learn about the different park and health programs in the area. Activities include: Zumba, tai chi, obstacle courses, dance-walking, ranger-led walks, and health screenings. Learn about ways to use public transit to access your local parks, healthy eating and exercise tips, and youth programs in parks.
If you are an organization and would like to offer a free activity or to table at Park Prescription Day, please fill out this survey.
In addition to providing engaging education, we also welcome companies that want to take part in the event, either through a sponsorship or through providing participants with giveaways. For more information, please contact Diane Mailey at email@example.com
For more information on the day, please visit the event website.
Mark your calendars for Sunday, April 23, 2017, to celebrate the second annual National ParkRx Day! Across the nation, there will be public events that will promote the growing movement to prescribe parks and nature to improve human health.
Last year, the US Surgeon General was at the main ParkRx Day celebration in DC and prescribed everyone a walk in the park. This year, we’re going to encourage everyone to do it again in more locations.
If you are in San Francisco, join us at our signature event at Crissy Field from 11-3pm to celebrate the day with family-friendly games, activities, booths, and so much more. Events will take place all around the Bay Area as well. For more information on the Bay Area events, click here. For information on the national events, click here.
See you in the park!
Park Prescriptions Program Panel at American Public Health Association Conference. Photo courtesy of Donna Leong.
The American Public Health Association Annual Meeting took place in Denver earlier this month and I had the privilege of attending on behalf of the Institute at the Golden Gate. For the Institute’s work at the intersection of parks and public health, it was important for us to understand how parks fit into the priority areas of this large field of public health. Joining 12,000 other colleagues, I saw firsthand the enthusiasm that these public health professionals had for community health promotion.
For community health promotion, APHA looks at the local services that can be accessed for healthier communities; parks, unsurprisingly, were important parts of the social fabric of community engagement. It is always heartening to hear the importance placed on parks from other sectors and the public health professionals at APHA acknowledged the potential that parks had not only to increase public health, but to also create connected communities and mitigate climate change. The emphasis on creating upstream solutions framed the role of parks on creating vibrant communities.
Additionally, I went to show support for the National ParkRx Initiative, which had a panel presentation. As a testament to how parks are received in the public health community, the room was filled and became standing-room only. Drs. Jean Coffey, Nooshin Razani, Robert Zarr, and Daniel Porter discussed their Park Prescriptions programs, which dot the nation, from DC to Vermont, and Texas to California. As equally engaged as the doctors were in their work, it was also exciting to hear the level of enthusiasm that the audience had for the topic. Psychiatric nurses, community liaisons, and students wanted to understand how they could incorporate park and nature-based prescriptions into their own line of work.
As with many conversations around Park Prescriptions, the important question is not just why incorporate the program, but how to incorporate the program? A sentiment that I took away from the conversation was that the first step to incorporating it into any public health field was to try. The entire APHA conference was a crash course in understanding how creativity and a can-do attitude can create a multitude of effective public health solutions. How did communities help to regulate the consumption of tobacco products? They tried programs that would reduce the number of storefront advertisements for them. Now, most counties in the nation are adopting this practice of working with local stores to reduce environmental advertisements of tobacco. How can communities start using parks to create community cohesion, mitigate climate change impacts, and improve human health? The Institute at the Golden Gate is trying out its programs that address these issues and so are our partners.
National ParkRx Initiative Convening Attendees
Last week, the Institute hosted the 3rd National ParkRx Initiative Convening in St. Louis, along with our partners: NRPA and NPS. At this convening, we discussed the next phases of development for not only the National ParkRx Initiative, but also for the ParkRx movement, as it relates to each individual program.
At the meeting, we discussed roles, responsibilities, fundraising goals, and communications plans for the National ParkRx Initiative. We were grateful to the dozens of people and agencies that came to the convening, as we were able to take a day to reflect on the collective goals of these many different organizations. At the National ParkRx Initiative, we know that there are many different ways that programs have started and we are interested in building up the Initiative to be able to support many different types of ParkRx programs.
When we had met in 2014 for the 2nd National ParkRx Initiative Convening, only a handful of ParkRx programs were on the ground; now, the US Surgeon General has approved of ParkRx and dozens of programs have started their second phase of development. It is quite a different landscape that we are working within now and the Initiative is excited to bolster its strategic direction. This strategic direction will bolster the National ParkRx Initiative’s role as the support system for different programs both in existence and starting up. We will reveal more information once the plans have solidified.
Are you wondering how you can strengthen your agency’s park prescription program? Want to start a park prescription program, but don’t know how? Unsure of what park prescriptions are, but eager to learn more?
Join us for the National ParkRx Initiative’s three-part webinar series this fall, Creating and Strengthening Park Prescription Programs. The webinars are free, open to the public, and will explore some of the most important elements for successful park prescription programs. Experts will provide case studies and best practices from their own successful park prescription programs.
For some background on the organizer of these webinars, the National ParkRx Initiative aims to strengthen the connection between health, parks, and public lands to improve physical and mental health of individuals and communities. By collaborating with national partners and subject-matter experts, the Initiative helps improve the quality of new and existing park prescription. The Initiative is currently led by the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National Park Service.
Why webinars, you might ask? In the process of developing a park prescription toolkit, there were several key themes that emerged as essential to the successful creation and execution of park prescription programs. These topics have been formatted into three different webinars:
In Part I, participants will get a general overview of the park prescriptions movement while learning about the specific needs, roles, and responsibilities of both park and health professionals. Speakers will focus on how to build partnerships. In Part II, participants will learn about why needs assessments are essential to successful park prescription programs. Speakers will focus on how to conduct and use space and community assessments to establish program modules. In Part III, participants will learn about park prescription program implementation, evaluation, marketing, and outreach. Speakers will focus on program sustainability.
Register for the webinars by clicking the links above, or click here for more information. We hope to see you there!
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 hphpbayarea.org.
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.
WHY A DAY TO CELEBRATE PARK RX?
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.
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.
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
To learn more about Mike Gonzalez's work at the American Heart Association, visit the American Heart Association of the Greater Bay Area online.
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!
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.
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.
(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
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.
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:
Come one, come all! Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park wants YOU to help break the Guiness World Record for largest crowd of people dressed up as Rosie the Riveter. History buffs, costume lovers, and coveralls aficionados are all encouraged to join us in Richmond, California for the exciting tribute to an American icon.
The event will take place on August 15th from 1-3 at the corner of Regatta Boulevard and Melville Square. For more information, including costume details, visit the official website here.
Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is hosting this event and many others to encourage understanding of America's role in the second world war. As it is situated in Richmond, California, one of the many ship-building sites in the Bay Area during the war, it tells as much national history as stories of local pride. Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon that shows the significance of women's economic power, but the National Historical Park takes a deeper dive into the role that WWII had in shaping our nation's trajectory.
In particular, the nationalism that cropped up during WWII had many ramifications on the trajectory of American identity and culture. Most of which were not as widely embraced as Rosie the Riveter. In particular, the internment of Japanese Americans during the war upheld narrow interpretations of what the limits of citizenship meant for different groups of Americans. Learn more about Japanese American internment during WWII at Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is a particularly important steward of cultural and natural resources for the Bay Area and the US precisely because it tells stories of the breadth of US involvement in WWII. Not all aspects of US involvement in WWII are as iconic and lauded as Rosie the Riveter, but that's exactly the reason why learning about them at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is important.
To learn more, visit the National Historical Park in Richmond, or explore its online content here.
This year, May 10-16 is National Women's Health Week, as designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Park use is not gender-neutral. Slide from Deborah Cohen et al. (Rand Corporation) presentation at Greater and Greener.
In honor of National Women's Health Week, we're shedding light on a structural issue that comes at the intersection of women's health and park use. Namely, we're wondering where are all the women in parks.
Park use equity is disparate among many different facets, especially for ethnicity and socio-economic status. However, new research is revealing just how disparate park use is between male and female constituents. Deborah Cohen and her team at the RAND Corporation is a year into their study of measuring park use through the SOPARC method. At last month's Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, Deborah shared preliminary results from the study and the results show a large rift in park use between these two genders.
Of course, the health benefits of being in nature have been stated many times on this blog, but the ramifications of having park use disparities is that parks' health benefits are disproportionately widening the gap of health equity. Collectively, women are already facing more adverse social determinants of health than their male counterparts. For women of color and lower socio-economic status, their gender is further compounded with other factors that limit their utilization of parks.
What does park use disparity have to do with women's health? Besides the fact that women are not getting as many of the health benefits of nature, the differences in use signal an underlying question of park design and programming. Why are women not in parks as much as men? Responses that suggest time constraints with motherhood and family obligations fail to address the larger role that parks and policies have to do with encouraging women--especially those with familial obligations--to go to their parks.
As we celebrate National Women's Health Week, we as park advocates must look at ways that we can reach out to women and especially women of color to bring them into parks in more substantive ways. Letting parks continue along the path of the status quo can lead to a further rift in women's health.
The social determinants of health, which coincidentally are the social determinants of park use (credit)
At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?
Social determinants of health (SDH) are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.
As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:
Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.
It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.
As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants.
Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.
To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park.
Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think.
HPHP walk at Coyote Hills in January 2015. Credit to Mona Koh at East Bay Regional Park District.
February 15th was the last day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. While we know that taking a walk in the park is enormously beneficial to our health and wellbeing, we also know that having health insurance helps ensure that accidents and illnesses are cared for.
Although parks are not often thought of as involved to the Affordable Care Act, there is certainly a tangible connection that the law outlines that can truly shape the future of parks as health providers.The Affordable Care Act—formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was created by lawmakers with the ambitious intention to make Americans healthier. Although the ACA’s most well-known facet is its insurance marketplace, this 2,000+ page law dedicates a hefty section (Title IV) to ensuring the connection of different formal and informal health and community systems to care for public health. Health starts outside of the clinic walls and that is why ACA’s Title IV emphasizes the need for healthier communities in community settings.
In Sec. 4201, the law states that the Department of Health and Human Services supports agencies that are “developing and promoting programs targeting a variety of age levels to increase access to nutrition, physical activity and smoking cessation, improve social and emotional wellness, enhance safety in a community, or address any other chronic disease priority area.” As part of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the National ParkRx movement, we see parks as natural health providers because they help improve the health and cohesion of the communities that they serve. We fully believe that on guided Healthy Parks, Healthy People walks, participants increase their physical and mental wellness, as well as their understanding and appreciation for the landscape and community. Health in all policies is an idea that has burgeoned with the ACA as it charges community agencies, from shelters to city planners to parks, to be stewards of their community’s health. HPHP: Bay Area and ParkRx are putting the idea of health in all policies into action. To learn more about both programs, visit our health page.
Healthy Parks Healthy People was a great idea borne from our friends down at Parks Victoria in Australia over a decade ago. Now, however, is the time when American national policy is open and receptive to integrating the park system into its understanding of community health. There is no time quite like right now to position parks as health stewards.
Although open enrollment has ended, you may qualify for the special enrollment period if you have recently experienced a change in life events.Click here for more details.
Fort Baker after the rain
The past few weeks’ torrential downpours have awakened Fort Baker. The parade grounds, thoroughly parched from the summer and fall, had conspired overnight to bloom into lush green carpeting. Despite the constantly foggy, bleary, and downright soggy days that we’ve gone without seeing the sun, the verdancy of Fort Baker and the Marin Headlands peeking through the Institute’s windows remind us of the urgent necessity of rain in this severe drought.
Although we are still in a persistent drought, the past two weeks has given the state 94 billion gallons--by all means, a holiday miracle. As the Institute powers down to spend the next few days with our families and communities, we wanted share our stories of the miraculous gift of nature. Nature—whether it is the rain ushering in a green Fort Baker, a dandelion clock holding steady in the cracks of a driveway, or the brisk scent of eucalyptus trees wafting through the Presidio—is the foundation of the Institute’s work and we strive to protect nature, both professionally through our policy work, and personally through honoring the memories that we have of connecting with nature.
Noticing, appreciating, and caring for nature in any and all of its forms can start at any stage in life, in any circumstance, and in any place. Although everyone continuously moves through nature in the day-to-day, we wanted to recall our memories and share our stories of the first time that nature inspired awe in us. When did being in nature bring us feelings of community, acceptance, understanding, and joy?
These memories are still salient to us, these many years later. The gift of nature is perhaps double-acting: first, we have the initial sense of awe while in the moment, then we recall the memories of being in nature with a similar awe that transcends time.
As you spend this holiday season with your loved ones, consider giving them the gift of nature that they can look back on with as much clarity, wonder, and awe.
I didn’t realize it back then, but looking back now, I think my “awe moment,” or I should say moments, in nature were taking annual camping trips with my family and a large group of our family friends. No one bothered bringing any electronics, the only entertainment we needed was each other, and maybe a book for the car ride to and from the campsite. I remember doing skits and playing charades by the campfire, roasting marshmallows, waking up to the light of day and smelling pancakes and hot chocolate, and riding bikes with all the kids around the entire campground. It was fun for adults and kids alike because there was endless entertainment exploring the area, going on hikes, or swimming in a nearby river or lake. These are my favorite memories of being outside because we were closer to nature and closer to each other. My family is still good friends with all of the families we went camping with back then and I hope that when I have my own family I can start a similar tradition.
On a Tuesday in October my parents woke me and my siblings up before dawn and we loaded into the car without any explanation. I awoke a couple of hours later, still in my pajamas, rubbing my eyes I couldn’t believe I was staring out at Bridalveil Fall, watching the light bounce off of Half Dome, and counting the trees along the valley floor tinged with signs of autumn. This wasn’t my first time and certainly not my last time in Yosemite National Park, but it has been the most memorable. The overwhelming beauty of Yosemite is awe inspiring, but why my parents took us to this place, on this day, felt even more awe inspiring. It instilled in me the essential role that nature plays in healing and connecting us to one another, especially during some of the most difficult times in life. My parents helped me find my sense of place in this world and for that I will forever be grateful.
More of a preface than an excuse: I grew up in the suburbs of LA. In high school, a friend described to me the vast, star-studded skies over the Sonoran Desert she saw on a camping trip (“like someone took a piece of black construction paper and just pricked as many holes as possible with a tack and held it to light”). I saw approximately three stars on smog-less LA nights and this description of the desert sky was anything but believable. I filed that analogy away for years before I finally got to experience it for myself.
In college, I roadtripped to Arches National Park in Utah with friends. After a strenuous walk to the Delicate Arch at sunset, we trudged towards the car; sunlight vanished exceedingly fast and the rocks changed colors rapidly with the coming dusk. I happened to look up and saw the millions of stars that my friend had described to me all those years back. I never believed that I would ever be able to see something so Nat Geo with my own eyes—the stars really did twinkle and sit in cloudy clusters. This memory and analogy have sustained me for a very long time and have made me appreciate nature and love the American Southwest.
I grew up in a small town in northern England and our house was next to a canal. One summer day when I was 9 or 10, my friends and I took our bikes and followed the canal path further than ever before. First, we headed south. As the miles passed, pleasant middle-class homes gave way to an old city of run-down terraced houses, broken windows, shuttered factories and post-industrial decay.
Eventually, we turned around and cycled back, passing my house and pedaling north past open fields, streams and finally, purple and green moorlands. The contrast of urban decline so close to the stunning Yorkshire moors struck me hard. Imagine Detroit right next door to Muir Woods! I knew even then how much happier I felt among the trees and fields than in the city's crumbling foundries and empty sweatshops. I believe this experience was the start of my lifelong passion for environmental stewardship and sustainable development.
My high school had this amazing yearly science trip to Death Valley for Juniors and Seniors in good academic standing. It was a weeklong trip – leaving at 4am on a Sunday morning and returning Friday afternoon. We had old army canvas tents that leaked (I know because it rained one year I went and we were laid in puddles each night) and cooked our meals by campfire. Each day our teacher and the other chaperones would split us up into groups and we would go off to learn about the mineral deposits at Artist’s Palette, the geographical history of Golden Canyon, plant ecology at varying altitudes, desert oases such as Darwin Falls, and more. My first year, I remember staying up late chatting with friends in sleeping bags on a tarp (it did not rain that year) and staring up at the stars; the following year, as a returner, I was allowed to search out native American cliff paintings with some interested chaperones. While I was fortunate to go on camping trips with my family from an early age, this was the first time I stopped to really think “This is amazing. Death Valley is beautiful and mysterious, and needs to be shared and explored.”
In 2009, I had just finished serving two years in the Peace Corps. Coming home to Marin and trying to find a job in the depths of the recession, I was going through a large life transition. I had many questions about my future and few answers. I suspected that I wanted to work in the environmental movement, but I had experience working in public health as well – maybe I would have more success finding a job in that field?
One day, during this time period, my dad and I were hiking around Bon Tempe Lake in the Marin Municipal Water District lands. I remember pausing as we came around a bend in the lake, the hills were golden with the fall grass, water birds were skimming along the lake, Mount Tam rose up behind the small valley. I was so awe struck with the beauty and so moved by the majesty of the nature that was in our backyard. It was in that moment that I realized that working to conserve and improve our relationship with the environment was the only field for me.
On October 13th, the Institute will be co-hosting the 2nd Annual National Convening on Park Prescriptions with the National Parks and Recreation Association in Charlotte, NC. We have invited the nation’s Park Prescription champions to share their on-the-ground stories of program implementation. Our Park Prescription friends have programs that are unique to their regions, but we realized at the 1st national convening that there are operational hurdles that every program will need to overcome in order to create a sustainable program. At this event, this group of park managers, program managers, clinicians, and professors will come together to learn from each other.
Check back for a follow-up on how Park Prescriptions is moving forward!
Park Prescriptions are just one of the ways that our coalition partners are keeping people and parks healthy for future generations.