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Summer 2007
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Preserving the Golden Gate feature article

The Golden Gate. Perhaps one of the most widely recognized sights in the world. Yet what isn’t commonly known is that it’s the midpoint of a 76,000-acre park called the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). This spectacular greenway, stretching 80 miles north to south, encompasses rugged coastlines, towering redwoods, famous forts, and an infamous prison.

Established as an urban national park by Congress in 1972, the GGNRA is managed by the National Park Service (NPS), with the Presidio Trust managing the historic heart of the Presidio. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is the nonprofit partner to both agencies. With a wide network of public-private partners and a vision of involving the surrounding community as supporters and volunteers, the GGNRA has been called the “archetype of a national park in the 21st century” by the Department of the Interior.

Coordinating efforts among three different agencies at one of the largest urban parklands in the world is no simple task, but the GGNRA has been successful largely because the staff in each agency is committed to the project. And at the middle of those collaborative efforts are a number of Chico alums, including Terry Kreidler, Allison Stone, Abby Sue Fisher, and Cody Fyotek.

A career built on The Rock

Terry Kreidler at Fort Point, her favorite spot in the Golden Gate

Terry Kreidler has worked for the National Park Service since graduating from CSU, Chico (BA, Recreation Administration, ’80). She was hired that August as a seasonal ranger on Alcatraz and kept on through the winter due to an increase in tour boats. Unlike today, when self-guided tours are permitted on the island, Park Service staff then stayed with visitors the entire time.

The 80-minute tours that Kreidler gave were rich in history, not only related to Alcatraz as a federal penitentiary (1934–1963) but also as the site of the first lighthouse and U.S. fort on the West Coast. Alcatraz Island has extensive museum collections, including historic photographs and documents and objects made by notorious inmates. Less well known are the island’s gardens, tended for more than a century by prison officials, guards, and inmates. When the prison closed, they fell into neglect, but through a cooperative effort of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the Garden Conservancy, nearly 500 volunteers have devoted 6,000 hours to their resurrection. Now more than 140 plant types again grace the harsh Rock with their greenery and blooms.

The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project is one of many conservation projects in the GGNRA that exemplify the amazing efforts of thousands of volunteers working in the parks year-round. Last year alone, the GGNRA had a total of nearly 20,000 volunteers serving more than 390,000 hours—more than any other national park. San Lorenzo native Kreidler, who since her initial job on Alcatraz has worked all across the country, is now back at the GGNRA, where she is the volunteer manager and volunteer interpretive trainer for the park.

“I’ve had this job in various degrees for the last 15 years,” says Kreidler. “It has built up to a point where I have regional and national connections as well as park connections.”

Kreidler does trainings in volunteer management all over the country, and she is one of eight Pacific West regional NPS volunteer managers. Fifteen years ago, Kreidler and other National Park Service employees got together to revamp the national training course.

“A group of us at Golden Gate decided the training course being offered nationally was worthwhile, but it was very much book-read; 125 people at a time, in a room, spending two days listening to two trainers,” she says. “Five of us nationally put together the current volunteer management training course, which took about five years. It benefited many parks along with our own.”

The training changed to a hands-on course for about 30 people at a time. “When folks leave the training course, they already have job descriptions, recruitment plans, and needs assessments,” notes Kreidler. “They have everything they need to walk right back into their parks and act.”

Kreidler spends a lot of time in the field with new volunteer managers, whose No. 1 priority is ensuring the safety of volunteers. “In addition to giving them the resources they need, I help them realize it’s really not rocket science—it’s about human interaction,” she says.

While the National Park Service has long been considered a traditional, hierarchical organization, under the guidance of GGNRA Superintendent Brian O’Neill, the Golden Gate has strongly encouraged using the energy and talents of others. Kreidler is one of many employees who has benefited from a flexible organization, she says.

“One of the biggest mistakes that’s made in parks and in many organizations is not allowing employees to make the job their own, which they did allow me to do here,” notes Kreidler. “Golden Gate is well known for that, and that’s probably why, as my boss loves to say, ‘we’re cutting edge’ in so many different ways in the Park Service.”

Kreidler credits her education at CSU, Chico with teaching her to be a steward early on. She said while the program had many excellent professors, two of them will always stand out for her.

“Dr. Fred Brooks and Dr. Jon Hooper were the two that affected me the most,” she recalls. “Fred gave me the understanding of what the process was going to be in parks, and how there was a chain of command, and there was always going to be, and even 30 years later he’s right. Understanding processes was huge. And then Jon—I got the chance to listen to him before I chose Chico, and he had a new voice, a different direction, an understanding of what public speaking and interpretation were going to be in parks.”

Preserving the Presidio

Allison Stone at Immigrant Point Overlook in the Presidio

In addition to bringing in seasonal workers and volunteers, the Golden Gate is making improvements due to some generous funding, such as last year’s $15 million grant from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund to transform the Presidio. The grant will accelerate the rebirth of the former San Francisco Army base as a national park, creating more than 24 miles of new trails and bikeways, new scenic overlooks, and renovations to San Francisco’s only campground.

The Presidio Trust was established by Congress in 1996 to ensure the Presidio is preserved for future generations as a national park, with a catch. It must meet this goal while also making sure that the park becomes financially self-sufficient. The Trust has a 15-year timeline, during which taxpayer support will decrease until it reaches zero in 2012. The Trust is expected to take care of the park with revenues from leasing its buildings and through public-private partnerships.

The Presidio’s 1,491 acres, including 991 acres of open space, hold 768 buildings, with 469 historic buildings listed on the National Register. The Presidio is the largest historic preservation project under way in America; more than half of the park’s historic buildings have been rehabilitated as homes, workplaces, schools, gyms, and visitor destinations.

Allison Stone, senior environmental planner for the Presidio Trust, became involved with the GGNRA years before being employed there. In 1994, during the departure of the U.S. Army from the Presidio after two centuries, Stone (BS, Geography, ’90; MS, Geography and Planning, ’92) was working for engineering firm Dames and Moore. She performed background studies with company engineers on the water treatment plant and storm water management plan for the Presidio. “The Army was still there, but plans for the Presidio as a national park were well under way,” recalls Stone. “That got me interested in the Presidio and its future.”

Stone, who spent her formative years in San Rafael, had been working with the Bay Area engineering firm since graduating from Chico. She helped organizations fulfill California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. A couple of years later, Stone went to work for EDAW, an urban design and environmental planning company.

After five years at EDAW, Stone left the private sector to work for one of her clients, the National Park Service. While with the NPS, she worked on plans for the seismic stabilization of the buildings on Alcatraz, as well as plans to transform the vacant historic buildings at Fort Baker (in the Marin Headlands) into a retreat and conference center.

In 2001, Stone was hired as environmental planner for the Presidio Trust. In 2002, the Trust released the Presidio Trust Management Plan, which lays out the 20-year vision for the Presidio by establishing the framework for preserving the park’s cultural, natural, scenic, and recreational resources. Stone worked on the final management plan and environmental impact statement.

Much of her work with the Presidio so far has been on the Tennessee Hollow Watershed Project. The 270-acre watershed is unique due to its relatively compact size and its location within a national park in an urban environment. “Usually, when you’re talking about watersheds, it’s tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of acres covering multiple jurisdictions and private properties,” says Stone. “Here, all within a national park setting, we have an entire system with two spring-fed creeks that go all the way down to a saltwater marsh that’s recently been restored.”

The Trust embarked on the project hoping to restore riparian habitat deeply impacted by urban encroachment and activities. Along with restoration of aquatic organisms, terrestrial wildlife, and plant life, the project includes opportunities for public enjoyment.

“You can walk from a spring where the creek begins, see the water as it flows from the cracks in the bedrock, and trace the creek all the way down to the saltwater marsh and look out through the Golden Gate and see the Pacific Ocean—and you can do that in an hour and a half,” says Stone. “It’s a pretty amazing opportunity to teach children and adults how the hydrologic system works, and to bring nature into an urban setting.”

As soon as the Trust’s final master plan was adopted, planning for restoration of the upper areas of the watershed began. The work took longer than anticipated, due largely to the concerns of the surrounding community. For example, the plan to remove one of the Presidio’s several ball fields was met with strong public resistance. The project was put on hold, and part of Stone’s job last year was reading 1,000 comment letters and participating in three public workshops.

“In retrospect it was the best thing we could have done because we really rolled up our sleeves with the public and came up with a long-term vision for where the fields will go,” says Stone. “We were able to collectively find a solution, and now plans for the creek restoration, as well as enhancing active recreation, are back on track. I work for the public, and that we can be responsive while also protecting resources gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.”

Taking care of the past

Abby Sue Fisher at her office in the Presidio

A passion for textiles and a weaving class at CSU, Chico gave Abby Sue Fisher the motivation to study the sociocultural aspects of dress and adornment, particularly garments worn by the indigenous people of Latin America. She decided to pursue a special major, getting a bachelor’s in cultural textiles (’76) and master’s in anthropology and Latin American studies (’83). “The wonderful mentors at Chico State and the flexibility to be involved in an interdisciplinary program launched me in a really good direction,” she says.

Along with her textile education, Fisher did museum internships at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., and then volunteered and conducted research at the Textile Museum in Guatemala City. While primarily raised in the Bay Area, Fisher was born in the Midwest and returned there in 1987 to get her PhD from the University of Minnesota. Even though her specialty is Latin American textiles and clothing, her work in museums launched her career. After getting her PhD in 1992, she was hired by the National Park Service as Midwest regional museum specialist.

“I was sent to the parks to identify their museum management needs, whether in storage, environmental monitoring, or pest control,” she says.

Subsequent transfers led Fisher to the position of regional curator of the Midwest region. “I loved being a resource networker for the parks,” she says. “I made a point of going to professional museum meetings, and networking with as many people as I could who specialized in areas such as natural history or metal conservation or glass. I might get a question, ‘I need to top off the alcohol in my ichthyology collection, what do I do?’ I had no idea, but I knew who did.”

As supervisory museum curator, cultural resources division, at the GGNRA for the past eight months, Fisher has taken on the monumental task of supervising the management of a reported 4.6 million objects in the park’s collection.

“The archival collections are very rich at the park: historic photographs, plans for the Presidio, and resource management records,” she says. “When you bring something into a museum collection, the most important thing is the provenience—which is information that authenticates past ownership of an artifact—how it was used and where it came from and how it relates to your site.”

Fisher says that there are three things that are critical for a museum collection: a facility to store or exhibit the objects, documentation, and accountability (where the objects are). The GGNRA, she says, has challenges in all three areas. “We have a project to consolidate our collections under a couple of roofs so they’re not so far-flung; currently collections are stored in 15 structures across 80,000 acres,” she says. “There are many ways to use collections, such as books, postcards, for research, in Web sites, educational programs, and traveling exhibits.”

Fisher notes that “accountability for our museum collection is a big issue for us as we have a huge backlog of uncataloged materials—primarily because it takes so much time. When you catalog an artifact, that is when it gets a discrete number physically placed on it, and its location is documented. Until you catalog an artifact, you rely on tags with control numbers that can fall off. That is when you have to do some serious detective work to find things.”

Fisher says she feels proud to be a part of preserving these historical artifacts. “What I think I’ve brought to the job is leadership and focus,” she says. “My energy combined with the expertise of my staff has helped us tackle some of the bigger issues.”

A voluntary effort—of epic proportions

Cody Fyotek on the Bay Trail at Battery East

Preserving the parks and enhancing the experience of park visitors—more than 17 million each year—is part of the mission of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The other is building a community dedicated to conserving the parks for the future.

Last year, nearly 20,000 volunteers did everything from counting raptors to restoring native habitat to educating park users. Conservancy staff members, among them recent Chico grad Cody Fyotek (BA, Recreation Administration, ’06), work with the NPS to manage park improvement projects, habitat restoration projects, and education and interpretive programs.

Fyotek, who grew up in Chico, learned about an internship with the parks from recreation and parks management professor Emilyn Sheffield, who was planning a sabbatical at the GGNRA. “At first I was a little hesitant, because I’m more of a rural national park kind of gal,” says Fyotek. “But I looked at it as a great learning opportunity, and I haven’t regretted my decision.”

After six months as an intern, Fyotek was offered a full-time position as volunteer coordinator, working under Denise Shea, associate director, volunteer management. They work at the Conservancy’s headquarters in Fort Mason, in a small house that is the hub of stewardship opportunities for the GGNRA. A typical day for Fyotek starts with checking e-mails and voice mails from potential volunteers—often they find her contact information on the Internet through local volunteer organizations.

“I’m the interface for all incoming group and individual inquiries about volunteering in the parks,” she says. The two-member team also works on scheduling special events.

While Fyotek spends a lot of time in the office, she also has many opportunities to be out in the field, working alongside volunteers and project managers. “It’s important for me as a coordinator to get out there and see the impact of these volunteer opportunities,” she says. “I love going out with the volunteers and seeing how meaningful this is to them.”

Volunteers come in all shapes and ages, from schoolchildren to corporate executives to retired seniors. On two recent occasions at Crissy Field, Fyotek worked alongside Levi Strauss employees—the company shuts down their corporate office for a day every year to work in the parks—and a group of preschoolers from Pacific Primary. “The kids love to come out and pull weeds,” she says. “They’re amazing, and they have fun, so at a really early age we’re exposing them to the parks and engaging them in stewardship.”

While some of the work, like planting native species and trails maintenance, involves hard physical labor using pickaxes and shovels, the parks staff are equally encouraging of those who would like to do some light work and have just an hour or two—the Presidio Native Plant Nursery always needs empty planting pots washed.

The support Fyotek has gotten from colleagues Kreidler and Shea helped her make the transition from college intern to employee, and she says she couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of her CSU, Chico mentor-advisor, Jon Hooper, and Sheffield. “I feel like I had an incredible support network that helped propel me to where I am today,” she notes.

Kreidler, Stone, and Fisher agree. “I feel like I received an incredible gift from my professors,” says Stone. “I felt very supported, and I got a really good education on several different levels—through coursework, consulting work with the University Foundation, and learning interpersonal and collaboration skills.”

At different stages in their careers and working for different partners within the GGNRA, these four alums are inspirations to new generations volunteering and working with the parks.