From the Presidio to Point Reyes, from the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais to Crystal Springs Lakes, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a national treasure located in the Bay Area’s backyard. It has become a model for the entire world on how to create a breathtaking national park in a densely populated urban area.
The entire GGNRA was the idea of one man, Dr. Edgar Wayburn, a distinguished former internist at U.C. San Francisco and Stanford, who will be 100 years old Sept. 17. It was Ed Wayburn, as five-term Sierra Club president, who lobbied tirelessly for years in Washington, D.C., to help late Bay Area congressman Phil Burton ramrod the National Recreation Area bills through Capitol Hill.
Surprisingly, the GGNRA is not even Wayburn’s biggest or hardest-won victory. He is recognized as the primary driver in the 13-year push for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which protected 104 million acres of wilderness and doubled the size of the U.S. national park system.
“He has saved more of our wilderness than any person alive,” President Bill Clinton said when presenting Wayburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.
Now residing in a San Francisco assisted living facility on Post Street near Grace Cathedral, Wayburn will spend his 100th birthday privately with his four children and three grandchildren.
But two days earlier, on Sept. 15, he is being honored at Fort Mason Center by his friends and associates.
Wayburn was born in Georgia and graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School. After his Air Corps service in World War II, he came back to San Francisco, where he had joined the Sierra Club in 1939.
On one of his early Sierra Club weekendjaunts, he was introduced to his wife, Peggy, who became his partner in ecological activism for some 60 years. She died in March 2002 at the age of 84.
When asked what additional conservation project he would most want to see completed during his lifetime, Wayburn quickly brought up the controversial proposal to revive the Hetch Hetchy Valley by blowing up the reservoir dam that keeps it underwater.
“I don’t think that will happen for another 50 years,” Wayburn said. “But ultimately I believe a change in public opinion will demand that Hetch Hetchy Valley be restored.”