$100 Million Raised In 25 Years For Parks

Monday, December 18, 2006

At a time when many national parks are eliminating programs and delaying maintenance, our own Golden Gate National Recreation Area is flourishing. Part of the reason is a non-profit group now celebrating its 25th anniversary. A look at one of the park service's most successful partnerships.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a rarity among national parks -- a spectacular expanse of nature right in the middle of a sprawling urban area. Activists who helped create the park say the key to getting it through Congress in the 1970s was community involvement.

Amy Meyer, park supporter: "So to say this belongs to you -- people. Everybody can come and hike and walk and drive and see and enjoy and take pictures and bird watch. All of this is yours."

Once the park was created, many of those same activists wanted it improved and expanded. So in 1981, they started the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, a non-profit group that's become the gold standard of park support.

Greg Moore, Conservancy Executive Director: "That extra measure of help makes all the difference between a nice park and a wonderful park."

The conservancy began with just a handful of volunteers. That number has since grown to almost half a million. The early volunteers worked in native plant nurseries, and there's still a dedicated corps of people who carefully tend plants to be placed all over the park.

Tuck Johnson, volunteer: "You collect the seeds, you plant them, you transplant them, you get to plant them in the field. It's been a great experience."

One of conservancy's most successful projects is the restoration of Crissy Field in San Francisco. Crissy Field had been a military air strip and parking lot -- 70 acres of asphalt and concrete. Five years ago it was reborn as a marsh, the way nature intended. Tens of thousands of conservancy volunteers put in native plants and raised $35 million dollars.

Brian O'Neill, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent: "What they contribute to this park is absolutely extraordinary and is way beyond what any other non-profit provides to any other national park."

Since it's beginning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has continued to grow. It now stretches from Tomales Bay in Marin County 80 miles past Crystal Springs Reservoir in San Mateo County. It includes Alcatraz, Stinson Beach and Muir Woods -- but that patchwork of land created somewhat of an identity crisis, making fundraising difficult. So 10 years ago, the conservancy launched a first of its kind marketing campaign.

Greg Moore: "That really, I think, helped the Bay Area public understand how lucky they were to have preserved these places and that the whole family needed their protection, not just the ones people knew, but some of the less known places as well."

They created a now famous set of logos that appear on signs, posters, clothing, candy -- all featuring parts of the park in a unified graphic theme. It was a huge success, raising awareness and money.

The conservancy also operates park stores and the audio tour on Alcatraz. And, of course, there is constant fund raising.

Greg Moore: "Over our 25-year history, we've provided over $100 million dollars of support."

The latest project is the restoration of Land's End on the southern side of the Golden Gate. A few months ago, you couldn't even see the view here. Now, volunteers have cleared the brush and will soon cover the hillside with native plants. And as with every project, the key is to get the community involved.

Greg Moore: "In any way that we can involve the American public with the future of these treasured lands, whether it's as a visitor like many people come, whether it's school children, or a volunteer or a contributor, that bonding to these public lands will ultimately be what carries them and saves them for the future."

We congratulate the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy on their 25th anniversary. If you'd like to find out more about visiting, volunteering or contributing to the park, visit the following Web sites:

  • Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • History of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (authored by Amy Meyer)

    Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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