Park Equity project

The Wild Equity Institute’s Park Equity Project builds a more sustainable relationship between our communities and urban parks in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Our work focuses on protecting natural areas for people and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth, ensuring that those communities with the fewest resources are able to experience the natural world.

In the Bay Area we are blessed to live near the Golden Gate National Parks, perhaps our nation’s greatest urban national park. The GGNP was established during the National Park System’s “parks to the people” era of park creation, an era defined by bringing the values of the National Park System closer to where people live. During this era, some 35 years ago, our nation realized that the values preserved in the National Parks System were not reaching all of America’s communities equitably. With most national parks preserving places far from urban areas, those with the will and wherewithal to visit were primarily wealthy and white.

The National Park Service’s response to this information was, in hindsight, its first environmental justice program. The GGNP was part of this response: as explained by Congress in 1973, “many families in this urban impacted area do not enjoy the affluence which would enable them to take advantage of the outdoor recreation areas located even as close as the Point Reyes National Seashore,” and thus there was a pressing need to provide National Park values to Bay Area residents.

Today the GGNP gives people who otherwise cannot or won’t drive to Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks an opportunity to enjoy San Francisco as interpreted by the preservationist values that are the core of the National Park System. This of course applies to those without the fiscal resources to travel to our distant National Parks, but it also provides opportunities for the over-worked and time-stressed individuals who, because of life’s daily grind, cannot scrape the time together to visit far-away places.

The GGNP is also a hope-filled example of the transition communities can make from war and militarism to environmental protection and contemplative recreation. Much of the land that comprises the GGNP today was once used by the United States military to defend the San Francisco Bay and the Nation. The GGNP is a global model for the coming transition from militarism to environmental justice and reconciliation.

National Parks such as the GGNP cannot accomplish this purpose while simultaneously accommodating all forms of recreation enjoyed by the public without restriction. The National Park Service has thus recognized that the role of the National Park System is to “provide opportunities for forms of enjoyment that are uniquely suited and appropriate for the superlative natural and cultural resources found in the parks” and that the park service will “defer to local, state, and other . . . organizations to meet the broader spectrum of recreational needs and demands.”

The Wild Equity Institute’s work encourages the GGNP to meet its objectives of building diverse audiences for national parks while protecting the unique mandate of the National Park System.