SFExaminer Article: Stop calling it ‘Golden Gate National Parks’

SFExaminer Article By Sally Stephens on March 27, 2016 1:00 am

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.