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Stop calling it ‘Golden Gate National Parks’

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Bicyclists ride past Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, toward the Golden Gate Bridge. (Eric Risberg/AP)


Congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area “to concentrate on serving the outdoor recreation needs of the people of this metropolitan area.” That’s from the official report of the creation by the U.S. House of Representatives. And that’s also why Congress made it a National Recreation Area — not a National Park.

Yet some people, in a radical reinterpretation of history, are now trying to claim the GGNRA, which includes Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Muir Beach and Crissy Field, was always intended to be a traditional national park. Instead of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, its official name, they call it “Golden Gate National Parks.”

This renaming is not harmless. By constantly referring to the Golden Gate National Parks, the radical revisionists may hope people will, over time, forget it was created with a recreational mandate. And that, over time, people may come to think of this urban recreation area as a traditional national park — something it was never intended to be.

For the first 20 years after its founding in 1972, the National Park Service managed the GGNRA for recreation. Then new staff came and began to change the way it was run, first with closures ostensibly for habitat restoration, then with restrictions on recreational uses like bicycling, bonfires and dog walking.

At about the same time, wealthy donors formed what became the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to raise money for the GGNRA. Money talks, and the idea of changing the name took root.

Eight years ago, Rep. Nancy Pelosi introduced legislation in Congress to make it official. It was just a cosmetic change, she said. Calling it a “national park” would give the recreation area more prestige and help the conservancy raise more money.

But the conservancy has never had any problem raising money. In 2014, they raised more than $43 million. That’s more than the nonprofits that support Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined.

But Pelosi’s legislation was much more than “just” cosmetic. It would go into the enabling legislation and replace the word “recreation” with “national park” wherever it occurred. With the stroke of a pen, the recreational mandate behind the area’s creation would disappear.

Fortunately, a coalition of recreational users found out about the legislation the day before it was to be voted on and stopped it.

The National Park Service, however, apparently didn’t notice. All the tchotchkes they sell say “Golden Gate National Parks.” Official emails are signed as coming from the National Parks.

The name change gambit reflects a fundamental shift in how the Park Service sees the GGNRA. Indeed, they no longer use “recreation” as one of its guiding principles. Instead, they want to treat nearly all of the urban recreation area as if it is remote, pristine wilderness. It’s not.

For example, they want to manage nearly all of Ocean Beach and most of Fort Funston, for low visitor use, with controls on access and use, so people there can have a “solitary visitor experience” and test their outdoor skills … in the middle of dense, urban San Francisco. It’s absurd.

Despite widespread opposition, the Park Service is intent on imposing its “national park” mindset on our recreation area. If they decide to plant or place a new species near where you have walked, biked, surfed, rode horses, or kayaked for decades — or if they decide they don’t want people on a beach or trail for any reason or whim — you’re out of luck. In direct violation of its enabling legislation, recreation now plays second fiddle.

The GGNRA has been preserved from development and maintained as open space since its creation. Generations have shared and enjoyed these areas with other people, plants and wildlife. The changes the Park Service wants to make will hurt those who have relied on the GGNRA for decades for their outdoor recreational needs. They will hurt the very people the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was created to serve.

Stop calling the GGNRA the Golden Gate National Parks. There’s no such thing!

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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  • Pelosi could fix this misstep of hers by passing a resolution to definitively declare the GGNRA is a Recreational Area for Recreation (for recreating) and not the GGNP.

  • BFlatlander

    So long as they keep dogs out, they can call it whatever they want. It needs to be protected.

  • Free Voice

    Right on! Kudos to Sally Stephens for writing this!!! I find it interesting that the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy no longer even refers to the GGNRA or Golden Gate National Recreation Area. All of their tax filings, annual reports, fundraising materials, and social media refer to the GGNRA as the fictitious “Golden Gate National Parks”. There’s even a map in the 2015 annual report that refers to what is clearly the GGNRA as “The Legislative Boundaries of the Golden Gate National Parks”. The 2015 report has not a single mention of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As a non profit, the Conservancy has stated since 2006 in its federal tax filing that their mission is to be the non profit fundraising partner for the “Golden Gate National Parks”. When the conservancy was first formed in 1981 or so, that mission was in support of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They’ve given the GGNRA over $360 million since 1981. Not a penny of that has gone to actually maintain and operate the GGNRA. They like to pay for restorations and capital improvements and native plantings. But the real money to run the GGNRA and maintain the new things that they build still only comes from appropriated dollars. So they are actually adding to the maintenance pressures on the GGNRA. They are a big reason that actually managing the GGNRA for recreational ACCESS has become secondary and more difficult. Their money and the decisions made behind their boardroom doors are having profound negative implications on the GGNRA.

  • outdoorgirl0814

    I second the kudos to Sally Stephens for this article. Not sure why @BFlatlander:disqus hates animals… but he/she certainly knows that his/her comment dismiss the meaning and motivation behind the article. I do think that BFlatlander illustrates for us what a real driving force behind the support of the NPS usurping recreation lands…an anti-dog sentiment. I have encountered many a bandwagon snowy plover environmentalist that could really care less about habitat preservation but that wants any excuse to ban off-leash dogs. It is somewhat difficult for me to comprehend how we can set aside places in this urban area where one lives, drives, goes to the bathroom and does whatever else without canines as NOT a protected area and suddenly decide that a slightly less developed urban recreation area IS protected. Maybe the Snowy Plovers really wanted to nest at 48th and Taravel, but there were already houses there. Just as wherever it is we live is zoned for urban living, so is the GGNRA set aside for recreation. There are plenty of places to go without dogs–state parks and beaches abound–and very few places to go with dogs. And finally, from a purely outdoor standpoint, how many people are there that dislike dogs or are afraid of dogs but are have an incredible affinity for wildcats and coyotes and don’t fear them? I really think the typical GGRNA lover is a little more magnanimous and accepting of people and animals of all varieties than those that are trying to “preserve” the area by shunning people and pets.

  • Free Voice

    The GGNRA is already armed with a legislative mandate from 1972, and a designation that says those things. The failure of HR 6305 in 2008 means that the GGNRA was never re-named or given a new designation. And only Congress can change or create a NPS unit’s designation. I think there needs to be legal action to protect the legislative integrity of the GGNRA. The new General Management Plan for the GGNRA even changed the GGNRA’s “purpose”. Where it was originally “to provide for the maintenance of recreational open space necessary for urban design and planning”, the GMP changed it “to provide a National Park experience”. I think that even this change is an end-run around Congress and should be challenged.

  • Aikyu999

    Why can’t our commute be as enjoyable as recreation? On one hand, Park may exclude humans, on the other Recreation treats it as unimportant (funding-wise), whereas Transportation is getting from Point A to Point B.

  • riclf

    Thank you ! Well stated. Important info. many thanks.

  • RJG

    The reason that GGNPC refers to the “golden gate national parks” is because they’re using it as an inclusive term covering areas like Muir Woods National Monument, or Fort Point National Historic Site, which are not part of the Recreation Area and who’s designations suggest uses other than pure “recreation”. There is no hidden agenda, and this is nothing more than an issue of semantics. The park’s decision making will rarely align with the needs of all recreators, the needs of the 35 rare, threatened or endangered species that live in the park, or infrastructure needs, or many other issues faced by a huge urban park.
    The population of the Bay Area is exploding, and all those new people also want to enjoy the park, the park as we know it will change in many ways in our lifetime and sometimes seemingly for the worse. Such is the nature of a crowded world.
    Let’s all try to have a little more appreciation for the people who dedicate their lives to managing and improving the places we all love.

  • Free Voice

    Sorry but this plan is a solution searching for a problem. There are many other mechanisms to manage recreational usage. Better enforcement of existing refs would b a good start. Unfortunately this park service is managing for elimination of people because a wilderness is a lot less expensive. And then the GGNRA can focus on touristy monetized sites like Muir Woods and Alcatraz. And there are very real consequences of the “public private partnership” on the upkeep of our national treasures. The Conservancy has its own agenda of planting, habitat “restoration” and capital improvements. Since they’re the ones with the money, they are de facto deciders about what gets prioritized. And appropriations are still required to maintain all their additions and improvements….and that ultimately adds to budget pressures and siphons money away from more mundane needs like trash removal and bathroom maintenance.

  • Snowqueen85

    Too bad these “semantics” have actual consequences in terms of what activities will be allowed, so trying to blanket an entire system of parks with a proper noun tied to strict governmental rules for the sake of “sounding prestigious” is foolishly short-sighted. Maybe you could take a refresher course on the difference between what you can do in a National Park vs a National Recreation Area?

    The designations given by the NPS are NOT arbitrary and each one has a very specific list of DOs and DONTs. Referring to a National Monument or a National Recreation Area as a National Park is not an issue of semantics–it’s disingenuous and flat out wrong. This isn’t high school, you can’t label places arbitrarily because they sound better.

  • jbt

    great article

  • crayon

    This is actually completely inaccurate. No matter the designation, all units of the National Park Service must follow the regulations in 36 CFR. I don’t know why this myth continues, but there are not separate laws for National Parks compared to National Historic Sites, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, and the many other designations.

  • Snowqueen85

    Yes there are, jesus christ you are a fucking stupid cunt. EDUCATE YOURSELF

  • Valium Kilmer

    Yea that bitch is fucking stupid as a cunt and also a fucking slut