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Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) | Muir Woods

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)

  • Early 1960s - Connecticut developer Thomas Frouge in partnership with Gulf Oil , bought several southern Marin ranches and proposes, Marincello, a 2,113 acre developement with 30,000 residents between Tennesee Valley and the Marin Headlands Visitors center (Bunker Rd.). It would have single-family homes, garden apartments, high-rise apartments, commercial property, light industry and a hotel on the highest ridge.
    Source: GGNRA, Park Archives, COGA-3380 (colorized)
  • According to Amy Meyer1 "The public opinion was divided. Some said concentrated development like this was better than sprawl; Conservationists, on the other hand, branded the plan "Marinsellout".
  • January 1965 - The New York Times runs an article on the development saying "All Americans have a stake"
  • 1960s - Local Sierra Club groups run numerous hikes in the area to show people what they would be loosing.
  • January, 1971 - People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area (PFGGNRA), consisting of over 60 Bay Area protest groups, founded by Amy Meyer.
    This group, together with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Agency (SPUR), the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department and Congressman Phillip Burton, began to ask the question: What if this land could be set aside and protected for everyone's enjoyment? What if the federal government could purchase the land from the military, which spans both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge, and establish it as a national park?
  • Spring, 1971 - Dr. Edgar Wayburn, past-President of the Sierra Club, John Jacobs, executive director of SPUR, Amy Meyer and others work with Rep. Phillip Burton on proposed legislation for public acquisition of the land.
  • June 16, 1971 - Rep. Phillip Burton introduced an expansive proposal for a 20,000 acre national recreation area in the Bay Area. The plan included Park Service veto power over future Presidio developments by the US Army.
  • October 11, 1972 House approved bill establishing the expanded 34,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • Nixon's Secretary of the Interior, Rogers Morton was called upon to testify before the Senate Interior Committee. No great fan of environmentalists, Morton surprised everyone by supporting the Sierra Club's proposal in full. Morton told the shocked hearing: "The Park Service wants me to support their plan, but I went out there to the site with my friend Dr. Wayburn, and he convinced me otherwise."
  • October 27, 1972 - President Nixon signed "An Act to Establish the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)," (Public Law 92-589), which established the GGNRA. The bill allocated $61,610,000 for land acquisition and $58,000,000 for development.
    William Whalen was given responsibility for administering GGNRA, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods National Monument, and Fort Point National Historic Site. National Park Service acquires Alcatraz Island and Fort Mason.
  • December, 1972 - Gulf Oil Corporation sold Marincello property to The Nature Conservancy.
    Marin Citizens formed the Marin Headlands Association, designed to persuade the state to purchase all surplus lands along the south rim for safekeeping.
  • 1974-1990 - Land is added to the GGNRA expanding it to 80,000 acres
The original 34,000 acres included lands in San Francisco, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Presido (army base) as well as 28,000 acres in Marin County connecting existing parks, Muir Woods National Monument, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Pt. Reyas National Seashore...
All together 120,000 acres from the Marin Headlands to northern part of Pt. Reyas came under public ownership.

1. "New Guardians for the Golden Gate: how America got a great national park" By Amy Meyer, Randolph Delehanty

Muir Woods

In 1905 William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, purchase 611 acres of one the last remaining stands of coast redwoods along Redwood Creek north of San Francisco Bay for the discounted sum of $45,000, to protect the redwood grove from development. Though the Kents are considered wealthy, they do not have much in the way of liquid assets; they secure a loan from a sympathetic banker friend. Elizabeth questions the expense, but is convinced by her husband's (perhaps joking) response: "If we lost all the money we have and saved these trees, it would be worthwhile, wouldn't it?".

In 1907 he donates 295 acres to the Federal Government to keep a Sausalito water company from condemning the land to put a dam on Redwood Creek. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a national monument in 1908 and suggested naming the monument after Kent. Kent demurred and suggested the grove be named Muir Woods National Monument, after naturalist John Muir.

John Muir (left) and William Kent (center) in front of Muir Woods Inn, c. 1908
In his 2009 article, Tom Butler wrote:

"In 1905 William Kent and his wife, feminist Elizabeth Thatcher Kent, purchased 611 acres of wild forest on Mount Tamalpais, in Marin County. Kent wanted to preserve the stand of unlogged redwoods, but also had considerable business interests in the area. After the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, a private utility offered to buy part of the land with the intent of damming Redwood Creek to create a water reservoir. When Kent refused to sell, the North Coast Water Company started eminent domain proceedings.

Capitalizing on the postfire political climate, in which new infrastructure was considered a pressing social need, the developer sought to profit from the virgin grove's timber value as well as to create a local water monopoly. Kent saw the attempt to seize his property as both a threat to the land and bad legal precedent, and politically outmaneuvered his adversary. Knowing that under the 1906 Antiquities Act the president could designate national monuments around "objects of historic or scientific interest," Kent decided to save the forestland along Redwood Creek by giving it away. On the day after Christmas in 1907, he mailed a deed for 295 acres, including the area coveted by the private utility, to the secretary of the interior, and asked that President Roosevelt declare it Muir Woods National Monument in honor of the famous writer and wilderness champion. A few weeks later, Teddy Roosevelt did so. The reservoir scheme was foiled. The redwoods were saved.

President Roosevelt sent a letter thanking Kent "most heartily," and suggested that "all Americans who prize the undamaged and especially those who realize the literally unique value of the groves of giant trees, must feel that you have conferred a great and lasting benefit upon the whole country." He also expressed admiration for John Muir, with whom Roosevelt had gone camping in Yosemite a few years previous, but offered that perhaps the new national monument should be named for Kent, as he was the land's donor. In his reply, Kent demurred, saying, "So many millions of better people have died forgotten, that to stencil one's own name on a benefaction seems to carry with it an implication of mandate immortality, as being something purchasable." "By George! you are right," the president responded. "It is enough to do the deed and not to desire, as you say, to 'stencil one's own name on the benefaction.'" In corresponding with Muir about the new protected area, Kent wrote, "I know the dreams we have will come true and that men will learn to love nature. All I fear is that it may be too late." Muir replied with effusive thanks: "This is the best tree-lover's monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. . . . Saving these woods from the axe and saw, from money-changers and water-changers and giving them to our country and the world is in many ways the most notable service to God and man I've heard of since my forest wanderings began.... Immortal Sequoia life to you."

Source: Muir Woods National Monument: William Kent's Progressive Vision, by Tom Butler at No. 23, Winter/Spring 2009

Bay Area conservationists
The Rebels who Saved the Golden Gate | Sierra Club
Saving San Francisco Bay
Creation of Golden Gate National Recreation Area at NPS
  A detailed timeline of the creation of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, from 1971 to 1994 (PDF file, 18 KB).
Muir Woods History at
Amy Meyer interview on "Establishing The Goden Gate National Recreation Area" in 1981, as part of the Sierra Club's oral history project.

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last updated 6 Oct 2009