With their powers combined, the Golden Gate National Parks encompass more than 80,000 acres and 91 miles of shoreline along the northern California coast, and are home to an amazing array of biodiversity, including over half of the bird species of North America and nearly one-third of California’s plant species.
Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area represent the vast diversity of areas within the National Park System. The diversity of the parks is reflected in the titles given to them. These include such designations as national park, national preserve, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national seashore, and national battlefield park.
How did these incredible units come to be?
National monuments are federal land set aside to protect objects of scientific and historical interest. In 1905, William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent bought a property now known as the Muir Woods. On January 9, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared Muir Woods the nation’s 7th National Monument. Kent had donated it the previous year, 1907, to thwart the ambitions of a water company. Roosevelt’s proclamation was made possible by Congress in the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act gave the President of the United States the right to declare National Monuments, (areas of historic or scientific value) by presidential Proclamation. This designation predated the creation of the National Park Service, which was established by an Act of Congress in 1916, through a bill introduced by Congressman William Kent—the same William Kent that saved Muir Woods.
Although best known for its great scenic parks, over half the areas of the National Park System preserve places and commemorate persons, events, and activities important in the nation’s history. These places can be designated national historic sites, among other titles (including a national monument). Fort Point was built during the California Gold Rush, and was meant to protect California from foreign attack. Over time, it’s uses have included serving as a detention barracks in WWI and as temporary housing in WWII. The Golden Gate Bridge was even specially designed around the fort, as not to destroy it. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1970 after a group of military officers and civilian engineers formed the Fort Point Museum Association in 1959 and lobbied for its creation. Recently, this designation has been the title most commonly applied by Congress in authorizing the addition of such areas to the National Park System.
National Recreation Areas encompass land and water that is set aside for recreational use. It can include major areas in urban centers, like Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established in 1972 as a new urban park. In the 1950s and 1960s, increased development in the Bay area of California was fueled by the departure and sale of many military bases. Local activists and agencies were concerned about the rapid loss of open space to development, and formed the “People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area” and teamed up with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Agency, the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department and Congressman Phillip Burton. Their goal was to establish the land that the military was vacating from both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge as a as a national park. Simultaneously, other changes were rippling through the political fabric of the country. The National Park Service was actively trying to expand the park system and was warming up to the idea of urban parks. And in late 1969, a group of Native Americans, calling themselves the Indians of All Tribes, INC occupied the shuttered Alcatraz for 17 months to protest government injustices toward their peoples. Alcatraz had closed its doors in 1963, and the City of San Francisco was looking to develop the property. The occupation of Alcatraz forced the area into the political spotlight. With a president up for re-election and a government looking to make positive change, Congressman Phillip Burton pushed his bill through and President Nixon signed “An Act to Establish the Golden Gate National Recreation Area” (Public Law 92-589).
Together, the Golden Gate National Parks are the second-most visited of the 396 parks under the National Park Service. And, starting Friday at noon, for exactly 24-hours many of these visitors will be bioblitz-ers!