Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area


Designations of National Park System Units

The numerous designations within the National Park System sometime confuse visitors. The names are created in the Congressional legislation authorizing the sites or by the president, who proclaims "national monuments" under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Many names are descriptive—lakeshores, seashores, battlefields—but others cannot be neatly categorized because of the diversity of resources within them. In 1970, Congress elaborated on the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act, saying all units of the system have equal legal standing in a national system.

National Park: These are generally large natural places having a wide variety of attributes, at times including significant historic assets. Hunting, mining and consumptive activities are not authorized.

National Monument: The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments.

National Preserve: National preserves are areas having characteristics associated with national parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction. Many existing national preserves, without sport hunting, would qualify for national park designation.

National Historic Site: Usually, a national historic sitecontains a single historical feature that was directly associated with its subject. Derived from the Historic Sites Act of 1935, a number of historic sites were established by secretaries of the Interior, but most have been authorized by acts of Congress.

National Historical Park: This designation generally applies to historic parks that extend beyond single properties or buildings. National Memorial: A national memorial is commemorative of a historic person or episode; it need not occupy a site historically connected with its subject.

National Battlefield: This general title includes national battlefield, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national military park. In 1958, an NPS committee recommended national battlefield as the single title for all such park lands.

National Cemetery: There are presently 14 national cemeteries in the National Park System, all of which are administered in conjunction with an associated unit and are not accounted for separately.

National Recreation Area: Twelve NRAs in the system are centered on large reservoirs and emphasize water-based recreation. Five other NRAs are located near major population centers. Such urban parks combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in location that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.

National Seashore: Ten national seashores have been established on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts; some are developed and some relatively primitive. Hunting is allowed at many of these sites.

National Lakeshore: National lakeshores, all on the GreatLakes, closely parallel the seashores in character and use.

National River: There are several variations to this category: national river and recreation area, national scenic river, wild river, etc. The first was authorized in 1964 and others were established following passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

National Parkway: The title parkway refers to a roadway and the parkland paralleling the roadway. All were intended for scenic motoring along a protected corridor and often connect cultural sites.

National Trail: National scenic trails and national historic trails are the titles given to these linear parklands (over 3,600 miles) authorized under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

Affliated Areas: In an Act of August 18, 1970, the National Park System was defined in law as, "any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational or other purposes."The Affiliated Areas comprise a variety of locations in the United States and Canada that preserve significant properties outside the National Park System. Some of these have been recognized by Acts of Congress, others have been designated national historic sites by the Secretary of the Interior under authority of the Historic Sites Act of 1935. All draw on technical or financial aid from the National Park Service.

Other Designations: Some units of the National Park System bear unique titles or combinations of titles, like the White House and Prince William Forest Park.

Garden Conservancy

There are more than 145 species or varieties of plants in 105 known genera living on "The Rock"—a surprising collection considering all of the plants were introduced to the island, some more than a century ago, and have survived forty years of neglect and a challenging environment. Over the years, gardeners indulged themselves with their favorite plants-former Secretary to the Warden Freddie Reichel brought in rare plants, prison staff and their families leaned toward roses and fuchsias, while the inmate gardeners tended toward bulbs and brightly flowering plants. Co-author Russell Beatty wrote in Gardens of Alcatraz:

"Each rationale for planting introduced yet another botanical variation into a place where no one would ordinarily have considered planting anything at all. As a composite, these individual choices created an island garden that has evolved over the years into a rich tapestry."

To learn more about the efforts of the Garden Conservancy or how you can volunteer, please try any of the following links:

  • Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project
  • Garden Conservancy
  • Alcatraz Gardening Volunteer Opportunities
  • Garden Calendar

Support Your Park

If you are interested in opportunities to help support Golden Gate National Recreation Area in our efforts to preserve and protect these natural and cultural resources, we recommend the following ways to help contribute to Golden Gate.

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization created to:

  • Preserve the Golden Gate National Parks,
  • Enhance the experiences of park visitors, and
  • Build a community dedicated to conserving the parks for the future.

The Conservancy's work is undertaken with generous contributions from individual, corporate and foundation donors, as well as income earned from operating park bookstores, merchandise and retail, publishing educational materials and providing interpretive tours.

Phleger Estate

In 1990, Mary Elena Phleger, widowed in 1984 and determined to keep her family's estate intact, offered Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) the opportunity to make it so. With only 5 paid staff and an exceptionally tight deadline, POST embarked on an ambitious fundraising, lobbying and public awareness campaign. POST staff and volunteers worked feverishly, drawing hundreds of letters of support from local and state officials. This outpouring of community support convinced Congress to provide matching funds—if POST could raise half the cost of the property. POST did just that, raising $5 million from Save the Redwoods League and from extraordinarily generous private donors. Then, literally agreeing to "buy or bust," POST staked their entire $3.5 million reserve and proceeds from the sale of the Phleger home to meet their final deadline, and the Phleger Estate turned from private property to public park early in 1995.

For More Information

Presidio Visitor Center
(415) 561-4323

Your Dollars At Work - Trails

Your recreation fee dollars are partially funding the Trails Forever program, which is renovating and expanding park trails. Trails Forever provides ongoing planning, design, construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of heavily used and actively maintained trails within the park. Trails Forever is sponsored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, National Park Service, and Presidio Trust.

Your recreation fee dollars also support annual trail clearing and maintenance at the Phleger Estate in San Mateo County; trails in Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County; and various other trails parkwide. These annual trail projects also provide opportunities for youth groups to perform trail maintenance, such as the Marin Conservation Corps, Americorps, and Student Conservation Association.

Your Dollars At Work - Alcatraz Island

This is Alcatraz as we know it today, but this was also the first images the military personnel saw on their way to The Citadel in the late 1800's. The ominous barracks in front was a solid, massive forty-three feet, four and one half inch in height with forty-five cast iron girders set and brick arches turned and leveled up with concrete. A defendable building with iron shutters for the windows, the barracks' heavy exterior oak doors and door frames that could withstand the worst assault in its days. On July 1, 1934, the attorney general officially ordered the establishment of the U.S. Penitentiary at Alcatraz Island.

The Alcatraz Historic Structures Stabilization project is made up of several projects on Alcatraz. These projects have removed loose concrete and rust; weatherproofed all the windows and door openings, repaired deteriorated roofs, stabilized walls, floors and structures. These efforts will help prevent further deterioration of the buildings on Alcatraz.

Future projects on Alcatraz will provide protection for ten historic structures, the last standing prison guard tower on , the New Industries Building, the Islands water tower, and the Quartermaster Building from severe marine climate.

Crissy Field

From a waste dump to a thriving coastal habitat, Crissy Field has gone through an amazing transformation. This former military land is now a dynamic public open space that recreates the multi-layered natural and cultural history of the site. Beginning in 1997, cleanup of hazardous materials on the site involved the removal of almost 90,000 tons of contaminated materials. The Park Service began involving the community in an extensive planning process to find out what uses the public wanted for this new open space in the city of San Francisco. From 1998 through 2000, the restoration of this 100 acre site included the recreation of an 18 acre tidal marsh linked to the San Francisco Bay, and the recreation of 16 acres of dune habitat, together supporting 105 different species of shrubs, wildflowers, and marsh plants. More than 230,000 cubic yard of dirt, sand and mud were excavated and a channel was opened to the tides in November 1999, allowing fresh and salt water to merge at Crissy Field for the first time in 100 years.

This project was inspired by the ancient 130 acre salt marsh system that flourished in the location for thousands of years. Prior to European settlement, the native peoples called the Ohlone used the estuary for harvesting fish and shellfish and lived in seasonal camps nearby, leaving behind shell middens on the site. When the Spanish arrived to El Presidio in 1776, they mostly ignored the tidal marsh, subsisting primarily through livestock grazing and agriculture. When the U.S. Army took control of the Presidio in 1846, the tidal wetland was considered a wasteland best suited for dumping and draining. The army used the filled-in marshlands for an airfield where important aviation history took place, including the first flight to Hawaii and the first Transcontinental flight. When the National Park Service assumed management of the Presidio in 1994, the area known as Crissy Field was a derelict concrete wasteland.

The San Francisco Bay is a habitat in peril. Less than 10% of the original coastline remains, and is heavily infested with invasive plants and exotic animals. The work done at Crissy field was like a giant band aid, peeling back the concrete and creating a living swath in which to heal. The restored marsh and dunes provide habitat for wildlife that have not existed in the Presidio for over a century. The mantra, "If we build it they will come," has certainly proved true. Crissy Field now provides feeding and nursery habitat for at least 25 fish taxa, and supports over 100 invertebrate taxa in what was once just a huge construction site. But the most dramatic story is that of the return of the birds to Crissy Field, a now attractive stopover point along the Pacific Flyway. Whether they be migrating ducks dabbling for algae, pelagic birds diving for fish, or shorebirds stabbing at crustaceans and worms hidden just beneath the mud, nearly 100 species of birds have been documented using the marsh. Birders from around the Bay Area show up for guided walks or Audubon bird alerts.

A comprehensive monitoring program was implemented with funds from the Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Crissy Field monitoring program included physical, chemical and biological variables, tracking the development of this complex ecosystem and guided management decisions. Hydrology and geomorphology, water quality, soils and sedimentation, vegetation, fish, invertebrates, and birds were all been monitored over a five year period. As other areas around the San Francisco Bay are targeted by local land trusts and management agencies to restore marshlands, the information gathered through our monitoring efforts will be invaluable to future efforts.

One of the greatest successes of the Crissy Field Project has been its ability to mobilize community support and participation, and its ongoing ability to educate the public about wetlands and coastal systems. Through funding from Golden Gate's non-profit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the public has been courted through advertising campaigns, special interest stories, and volunteer recruitment. Approximately 1500 annual volunteer hours are spent stewarding this natural area through invasive plant removal, fence and trail repairs, and plantings of native plants. As a very popular local park, thousands of people stroll down the Crissy Promenade every week. They read signage about the site's ecology and history. They stop and talk to Interpretive and Resource Management staff. They sit and enjoy the spectacular views and begin to realize that nature is possible even in this metropolis of nearly one million people.


Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
The Nonprofit Partner for the Golden Gate National Parks

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization created to preserve the Golden Gate National Parks, enhance the experiences of park visitors, and build a community dedicated to conserving the parks for the future. 


The Parks Conservancy works in collaboration with the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust to improve park sites, enlist volunteers in restoration projects, provide services and education programs for visitors and local communities, and engage diverse audiences in the national parks at the Golden Gate.


Funding and Aid to the National Parks


The Parks Conservancy’s work is undertaken with generous contributions from individual, corporate, foundation and public agency donors, as well as income earned from operating park bookstores, merchandise and retail, publishing educational materials and providing interpretive tours. Since its inception in 1981, the Parks Conservancy has provided the National Park Service with more than $70 million in aid and is recognized as one of the largest, most effective park partners in the country.


For more information about the Conservancy’s projects, and how to support the Conservancy, visit



You can learn new skills, teach others and stay active and involved. Volunteers at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument, and Fort Point National Historic Site help present the diverse resources of one of America's most popular National Parks to today's visitors, and help preserve these precious resource for future generations. Volunteers at Golden Gate play a vital role in almost all aspects of park operations:

• Collecting data on birds of prey at the premier hawk watching site on the west coast.
• Designing and conducting information programs for the general public and school children.
• Removing non-native plants, growing native plants, and working in one of the park's nurseries.
• Restoring historic structures such as a World War II barracks or a mess hall.
• Working with park scientists to protect endangered species like the mission blue butterfly and peregrine falcon.

Volunteer opportunities at Golden Gate NRA are as diverse as the natural and cultural resources of the park. History buffs, amateur naturalists, artists, students, gardeners and many more people have found a place to share their skills at Golden Gate. Each volunteer's contribution makes a big difference!

A Great Place to Volunteer

There are many dream jobs for volunteers at GGNRA...

Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a gem of the Bay Area. The park includes an array of resources unparalleled in the National Park System. Stunning forests, creeks, ridges and beaches. Hundreds of miles of trails. Rare plant and animal species. One of the most important collections of historic buildings in the country. And world renowned destinations like Alcatraz and Muir Woods, as well as lesser known but equally remarkable places. It is a park like no other.

Do you see your dream job? Do you want to know more about a job at GGNRA? If you have special skills or want to learn some, give us a call. All volunteers receive orientation and training. Come and join us!

Join the Park Volunteer Team

Be a part of one of the largest and most diverse volunteer programs in the National Park System!The National Park Service is an equal opportunity employer.

Please contact:

Volunteer Coordinator
Fort Mason, Building 201
San Francisco, CA 94123

Volunteer Hotline

(415) 561-4755

Climate Change

"Earth's climate is changing, with global temperature now rising at a rate unprecedented in the experience of modern human society."

—Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2004

Change has always been a powerful force of nature. National parks and the stories they represent help us understand and appreciate how much our lives are influenced by change. They illustrate for us how interconnected we are with our environment whenever change occurs.

Today, we hear more and more about the effects of "climate change." Scientists tell us there is little doubt that human activities are having a major impact on the atmosphere and ecosystems of our planet.

Glaciers and snow packs are melting, stream temperatures are going up, coastal erosion is increasing, and changes in weather patterns are leading to drought and heat waves both locally and regionally. According to researchers, the magnitude and pace of these changes, as well as additional ones that climatologists believe to be probable, are unprecedented in human history. Many of them have consequences that will affect the resources and influence the experiences for which the national parks were established. Regardless of their causes, we must do what we can to manage these impacts and adapt to the new circumstances they bring. Perhaps the same wisdom that has preserved our heritage in the past can guide us in making choices for the future.

Climate Change is Happening

Warmer winters and longer, more intense melt seasons have increased the rate of glacial retreat in Alaska's Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords National Parks. It is estimated by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey that by 2030, many of the glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park will be completely gone.

At parks like Bandelier National Monument, higher temperatures and drought have brought high mortality to the pinon pines as infestations of bark beetles have expanded to higher elevations and new ranges. At Everglades National Park, increasing sea level may overwhelm the mangrove communities that filter out saltwater and maintain the freshwater wetlands. At Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain National Parks, floods and fires have damaged historic structures and are threatening the loss of archeological sites.

Changes Have Consequences

Many climate change consequences make it difficult for park managers to preserve the resources unimpaired. Higher temperatures in spring and summer and earlier melting of the snow pack in recent years have contributed to an increase in the frequency and duration of wildland fires. Recent studies have concluded that a changing climate, not previous firesuppression policies or land-use changes, is the major cause. The 2006 wildfire season has set a 45-year-high in the number of acres burned. Particularly at risk are plant and animal species that are more restricted in their needs for habitat, have limited ability to relocate, or have surrounding development that leaves them few options.

In Yosemite, the pika population is in danger of extinction as warming temperatures occur higher and higher on the mountainsides. With each season, the cool habitat in which they make their homes shifts further upslope. Eventually, if this continues, they may have nowhere higher to go. Nutrient-rich whitebark pine seeds are a critical food source for the grizzly bears of Yellowstone. Warmer winters have enabled bark beetles to significantly increase mortality of whitebark pines over their entire American range with little sign of relief. Not only does this lower the grizzlies' survival rates, they are now more likely to experience human conflicts in their search for alternate foods.

Another dilemma for managers is occurring at Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua trees require cool winters and freezing temperatures in order to flower and set their seeds. Researchers have documented substantial mortality of Joshua trees and predict that because of climate warming, the trees will be unable to persist much longer within the park. Soon, Joshua trees may no longer be found in the park bearing their name.

We Must Do What We Can

While many changes to park resources are inevitable, they can still influence the ways in which visitors use and enjoy the parks. Closures are resulting from increased wildfires. Reduced winter snow pack and, in some cases, more rain, have changed the timing of surface runoff each year which often makes spring and summer water activities difficult or impossible. Salmon and trout populations, popular for fishing, are showing high mortality rates due to warming water and flooding. Indigenous users of these fisheries, especially in Alaska, are at risk to lose not only a food source, but a way of life. And winter seasons are opening later and closing earlier. Although this extends the season for activities like hiking and camping, it reduces opportunities for recreational skiing and other winter sports due to inadequate snow cover. Many of these impacts have economic implications.

Scientists who study climate change agree that human activities are a big part of the current warming trend. As stated in the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities." At Mauna Loa in Hawaii and around the world, specific evidence has been gathered of an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, predominantly carbon dioxide, which are contributing to the warming of the planet. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are higher than they've been in over 650,000 years.

For our national parks to thrive and for us to continue enjoying them, it seems appropriate now to do what we can to reduce climate change impacts and adapt to their consequences. Fortunately, we have the tools, knowledge, and ingenuity to better understand these changes and make informed choices for coping with them. Prominent scientists are saying that our own survival may be at stake.

Parks and Scientists Provide Hope for the Future

National parks are helping us figure out how to respond to these changes. Parks across the nation are conducting "Climate Friendly Parks" workshops, cosponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, to evaluate energy usage and identify efficiencies that improve park operations. Many are developing alternate energy strategies to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Use of solar and wind energy, fuel cells, electric and hybrid forms of transportation, and mass transportation where high visitation exists, are being developed. Vulnerable resources are being monitored in most parks, and several have researchers who are specifically addressing climate change impacts. And rangers in many parks are being trained and provided the latest reports about climate science in order to answer questions and assist visitors in understanding climate change and its implications.

Many times during our nation's history, citizens have confronted difficult circumstances and found creative solutions. Our parks tell compelling stories about the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, the fight for civil rights, and about countless inspirational personalities who have made a difference for our nation. Many parks convey stories about people's responses over thousands of years to shifting climate patterns. These stories are now part of a call to action for all visitors in the stewardship of our resources for future generations. It is important that all of us participate in answering that call.

Scientists tell us we already possess the technologies needed to reduce the abundance of CO2. They've also created strategies to do so within 50 years. Many of these actions involve choices that individuals can make to conserve and reduce energy use. One of the best strategies for coping with climate change on a personal level is to become "carbon neutral." Because we exhale carbon dioxide and need energy for our daily activities, we're unlikely to eliminate all impacts. However, if we reduce our energy use to a basic level, and offset the emissions we do generate by investing in clean alternatives, we may achieve balance and not further compromise global resources. Changing to energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, unplugging computers and electronic devices when they're not in use, and using public transportation whenever and as often as we can are good examples of conservation practices. There are many more. To find out more about becoming carbon neutral and to become better informed about climate science, here are some helpful references:

Regardless of the causes, taking action to manage the impacts of changing climate will have positive benefits for our resources. In the future, national parks may tell the story of our collective success in dealing with climate change, moving to a way of life in greater harmony with the natural processes that operate on our planet. After all, Earth is the only planet we can call home.

Local "weather" is often confused with global "climate." Specific park records may reflect periods of warming or cooling depending on regional circumstances. Global mean temperature, on the other hand, is based on surface and atmospheric temperatures from thousands of locations, and from satellites worldwide. Global mean temperature has risen 0.8 degrees C, since 1880.

Soundscape / Noise

Some areas of the park provide visitors with natural quiet. This is the condition attained when a person with normal hearing can hear nothing but the sounds produced by natural components of the park. It may include "silence" — the apparent absence of any sound; or the rush of air over the wings of a soaring bird; the gentle swish of the wind in the trees; or the overwhelming crash and roar of the ocean on a stormy day. Most often, it is thought of as a mixture of mostly low-decibel background sounds, punctuated by the calls and clatter of wildlife. While much of the park is no longer "naturally quiet," it may be critical to the wildlife to minimize anthropogenic sound. Aircraft, watercraft and road traffic outside the park all contribute to noise levels within the park. Noise generated inside the park includes not only visitor noise (such as vehicles, dogs, and voices), but noise generated by park staff (vehicles, power equipment, and voices). Studies to quantify ambient noise within the park, and the value of natural quiet need to be incorporated into park planning, operations and interpretation.