Huey Johnson

Huey Johnson is a pioneering conservationist who was key in the formation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore. As the Western Regional Director of the Nature Conservancy, Huey was responsible for saving the Marin Headlands from the Marincello development so that those lands could be included in the GGNRA. He went on to become the president of the Nature Conservancy, and later co-founded the Trust for Public Land, and The Grand Canyon Trust. He also served as Jerry Brown’s first Secretary of Natural Resources from 1976-1882. He was featured prominently in the documentary, “Rebels With a Cause”, a film that documents the precedent-setting battle to conserve the GGNRA and Point Reyes National Seashore. We owe Huey a huge debt of gratitude for his incredible, landscape-changing conservation work, and for speaking up now about what’s happening in the GGNRA!


This is an open letter that Huey Johnson drafted to present to San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, after learning that Supervisor Mar had decided to not support San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors otherwise-unanimous resolution opposing the GGNRA’s Draft Rule for Dog Management. Supervisor Mar was the lone opposing vote, but that resolution passed regardless. The letter was then sent to the full three County Boards of Supervisors in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties. 


Supervisor Eric Mar
City and County of San Francisco

I’ve been glad you were an official who supported the idea—and the ideal—of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and the multiple ways that this National Recreation Area serves the people of San Francisco. The 1972 foundational promise of the GGNRA has brilliantly predicted the increasingly diverse ways that the increasingly diverse populations of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties will find “use and enjoyment” in the Area’s 80,000 acres.

This impartial access to beaches, trails and open space has always included pet dogs and their guardians.

I was, therefore, saddened to learn today that an open space advocate, Amy Meyer, has been calling on supervisors in the Bay Area, peddling the incorrect argument that the GGNRA is a “National Park” with specific restrictions on access and use—including long-held dog walking rights—thus trying to persuade elected officials to ignore a groundswell of opposition to the new Dog Management Plan.

I have been working on environmental and sustainability programs on a broader state, national and international scale. So, I have been less seen and heard on the GGNRA, which I helped to found and establish.  You may recall the prevention of the Marincello development.

It is time I publicly disagree with Ms. Meyer. 

In the movie “Rebels With a Cause,” Amy Meyer and I have prominent roles. But in those intervening years, we have taken varied paths:  Ms. Meyer, from her mansion across the Bay overlooking the GGNRA, has spent many years focused on her goal to reshape the National Recreation Area into the image and entity of something it is not and was never intended to be: a Congressionally classified National Park.  It is important that our public officials understand the difference between these designations.

I assumed the GGNRA, armed with the Congressional mandate, would forever remain a National Recreation Area, but Ms. Meyer has helped to fuel the movement to hijack our Recreation Area from the public and to rebrand it in fictitious ways for the purposes of restrictions and control. A consequence of this manipulation is the GGNRA’s Dog Management Plan that perverts the original intent of the GGNRA and redefines equitable access to lands held in the Public Trust.

To begin, the idea for a government office focused on outdoor recreation came from the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1958. Congress established the commission to help set aside large Federal open spaces near urban centers as recreation outlets for densely impacted, large cities of the nation. The mandate was to assess the nation’s recreational needs—aside from the needs of conservationists and preservationists. Based on the commission’s report, President Kennedy established the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation.  The commission’s report was wonderful, but it appears Ms. Meyer didn’t read it.

Prior to the establishment of the GGNRA, I worked with people in the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation.  An interesting friend who was a high-ranking staffer was Brian O’Neill, who would eventually become the Superintendent of the GGNRA when it was folded into the National Park Service.  He knew he wasn’t running a national park or a wilderness area. He was running a National Recreation Area: a place where laborers, retirees, and urban residents enjoy nature within the vicinity San Francisco.

Ms. Meyer and I are also currently at odds over the grazing abuse and mismanagement by the Park Service at Pt. Reyes.  I have filed suit in Federal court to correct the situation.  It is hard to square the idea that she is against families and their pet dogs on expanses of GGNRA beaches and trails but ardently supports expansion of subsidized commercial ranching operations on the National Seashore—operations profiting from cattle whose numbers and natural resource impacts far exceed their leasing agreements and contribute to degradation you can view on my website,

 And I am alarmed by the increasing power and influence of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, which has become the engine behind the “rebranding” of the GGNRA as the “Golden Gate National Parks,” which has been embraced by Ms. Meyer and others in all communication platforms, tax returns, and fund-raising efforts.

It must be clarified:  There is no such legal entity as the “Golden Gate National Parks.” (And, unfortunately, the name has created confusion about the status of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.) Yet Ms. Meyer, the Conservancy, and even the desperate-for-funds GGNRA have applied the false “National Parks” name as a basis for altering public use—including dog walking—in the GGNRA.

As the official fund-raising partner of the GGNRA, the Conservancy is hugely successful in its financial support of the National Park Service, touting more than $362 million it has raised from 1982 through 2014.  But I’m sure you recognize that the reliance on private money for public resources offers a way which to lower the appropriations needed to sustain our Public Lands. Within the GGNRA, the private dollar may be giving an elite influence over GGNRA priorities.

One situation that particularly affects you and your constituents is the increasing costs to public land facilities that used to be free. Now there is an attempt to make a profit from them.  Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, for instance, had free admission when I settled in Marin.  As of 2016 your voters pay $10 per person to walk through it. Working people with average incomes can no longer comfortably visit it.  Ms. Meyer was a supporter of the Reaganomic fee idea.  People in parks have never seemed like a concern of hers.

I intend to start a Civil Rights suit over the matter of limiting poor urban peoples’ use of public lands.  Congressman Phil Burton, the wonderful SF congressman, had often said it was the government’s responsibility to safeguard public assets, and that the public should never have to pay a fee to enter public parklands.

In summary, dogs should be allowed in the GGNRA. A National Recreation Area should remain a buffer between the heavy use by urban dwellers for needed recreation and the placid idealism of true, Congressionally designated National Parks that are located much farther away from cities with their recreation needs. Increasingly restrictive access and recreational constraints—urged by Ms. Meyer and others—disregard the promise of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s enabling legislation. This is especially significant for the urban residents for whom recreational lands represent social equality for individuals and families.

Huey Johnson

Founder and Board Chairperson
Resource Renewal Institute