OCTOBER PARK E-VENTURES
LIFE'S JUST BEACHY IN THE PARKS
While chilly air has settled over much of the country, the Bay Area is basking in warmth. It’s October—and that means it’s beach season in the Golden Gate National Parks!
Here are five tips to help you make the most of a trip to your favorite strip of sand.
1) Find a new favorite beach. When asked to list their favorite beach in the Golden Gate National Parks, 57 percent of respondents to an informal survey on our Facebook page chose either Crissy Field Beach, Baker Beach, or Ocean Beach. Though those beaches, with their million-dollar views of the Bay, Bridge, and ocean, are justifiably famous—we encourage you to explore other ones.
Have you been to postcard-perfect China Beach recently? What about glorious Tennessee Cove Beach, the payoff for a great hike through Tennessee Valley? And don’t forget Muir Beach—where the National Park Service and Parks Conservancy are hard at work restoring the Redwood Creek watershed.
2) Get fired up with a beach fire. Within the Golden Gate National Parks, beach fires are allowed at Ocean Beach and Muir Beach, according to the National Park Service. Fires must be contained within the designated fire rings. There are eight fire rings at Ocean Beach and six at Muir Beach. Fire rings are not reservable and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors must bring their own firewood, and fires should be extinguished with water, not sand.
Fires must be out by 11 pm at Ocean Beach (the parking lot there is closed at 10 pm); Muir Beach closes one hour after sunset, unless posted otherwise.
Permits are required for groups of larger than 25 persons.
Permits for large groups
Rules and guidelines for Ocean Beach fires
3) Snuggle up to some amoeboid protozoa. Next time you’re at Rodeo Beach and you wiggle your toes into the “sand”—take a closer look. The beach is actually covered with little, shiny pebbles of chert (red jasper, green agate, yellow carnelian) that has crumbled from shoreline cliffs and taken on their lustrous beauty because of continued pounding from ocean waves.
And what is chert? It’s the result of countless radiolarians (single-celled organisms) dying and falling to the ocean floor over millions of years. The radiolarians’ silica skeletons eventually accumulated in layers hundreds of feet thick. With pressure and time, the muck hardened into chert beds, which were eventually piled on our shores when the Farallon Plate mashed against the North American continental plate. Erosion then weathered the chert into fragments that washed into the sea, where waves polished them into the fine pebbles you see at your feet.
Nothing says beach fun like throwing a blanket down over the remains of ancient zooplankton, huh?
4) Peep some plovers. The uber-cute Western Snowy Plovers are returning to Crissy Field and Ocean Beach, and they’ll be hanging out at their overwintering grounds until May. Listed as “threatened” at the federal level. When they’re not combing the sands for delectable insects and other beach invertebrates, these diminutive birds like to hunker down above the high tide line along wide coastal beaches.
Observe them from a distance and prevent kids or pets from disturbing the plovers. Too much running or flying can exhaust these birds, and they need all the help they can get. Human use of beaches, degradation of habitat, and an increase in non-native predators have led to a decline in plover populations. In 1993, the Western Snowy Plover was federally listed as a threatened species.
Learn more about plovers and our efforts to monitor and protect them
5) Pitch in for healthy beaches. Help protect the habitat of Western Snowy Plovers and other coastal critters and marine life. Every piece of trash and every recyclable item you pick up will be kept out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so do your part!
While our annual California Coastal Cleanup Day is tremendously successful, we need your participation all year round. Participate in monthly beach cleanups at Muir Beach (second Saturday of the month) and Ocean Beach (third Saturday). Next month’s cleanups are scheduled for October 8 at Muir Beach and October 15 at Ocean Beach. For more information, call (415) 561-3077 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
But why restrict smart stewardship of our beaches to volunteer days? Even more importantly, always pack up all refuse after your day at the beach. A clean beach, after all, is “beachy keen!”
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SCHOOL’S IN SESSION AT CRISSY FIELD CENTER
It’s that time of year again! Crissy Field Center’s education programs for schools around the Bay Area are beginning this month. Nicole Jung-Alexander, the National Park Service Education Ranger at the Center, has already received over 100 program requests for the upcoming school year!
In addition to using the Crissy Field Marsh as a hands-on outdoor classroom, elementary and middle school students can utilize the Center’s art, science, and media labs to learn the function of wetlands, how climate change will affect us, and what garbage says about our society.
Crissy Field Center strives to make its programs accessible to all, ensuring that young people of all backgrounds can experience the Golden Gate National Parks and learn about the environment and how to protect it. About 80 percent of the participating schools are public and 30 percent of schools receive program and bus scholarships. Programs are also available in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
“Our students came back with a wealth of knowledge about their habitats and our environment,” says the principal of Mission Education Center, a school for Spanish-speaking students from recently-immigrated families. “They are more aware of the role that they play in the conservation of our habitats. They also learned that Crissy Field is in a national park that belongs to all of us.”
That moment of epiphany is one of Ranger Nicole’s favorite moments when she introduces kids to their national park. “They want to protect it and take care of it because they have learned that it belongs to them,” Nicole says.
A 5th grader who participated in a program last year wrote this in a thank-you letter to the Center: “I learned many things about all of the plants that live and grow here in San Francisco. Next time I visit Crissy Field with my family I will know how to identify the different flowers and plants.”
Crissy Field Center’s urban environmental education programs are just one more way Crissy Field Center shows its commitment to teaching the next generation to be environmental leaders. It’s a mission that inspires its staff through each and every school year.
“I look forward to seeing the kids’ faces light up as they take a hike around Crissy Marsh,” says Urban Ecology Educator May Tran. “I also look forward to hearing the kids discuss ideas with each other and as a whole group on how to be better stewards of the environment.”
Program registration is closed for this school year, but if you’re a teacher be sure to join our mailing list for the next school year. You can also check out the resources below for other educational opportunities available in the Golden Gate National Parks.
Native Plant Nurseries
Parks as Classrooms
Kids on Trails
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THE EVER-CHANGING PEREGRINE FALCON AND PEREGRINE PEOPLE
By Allen Fish
Director, Golden Gate Raptor Observatory
If you are over 40 years old, then you likely remember the late, great San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen. You might even remember his column from the fall of 1985 where he recounted the story of a commuter driving south across the Golden Gate Bridge. The driver suddenly noticed a Peregrine Falcon stilling in the wind 200 feet over the toll plaza. Just as quickly, the falcon dropped something from her talons—a dead shorebird! It fell rocklike toward the roadway, but the falcon herself stooped faster than the falling carcass, and recaptured the shorebird before it could hit the ground! Wow!
Then the falcon flew right back to its mid-air starting place, and was again releasing the limp shorebird, when I suddenly remembered where I was and swerved to avoid those enormous rubber-buckets that keep the toll-takers alive. I searched for my three bucks in my jeans pocket, all the while babbling “Did you see that?” to the not-so-amused toll-taker.
Oh yeah, it was me. Except that you’d never know it because Mr. Caen changed my name to Allen Fisher. My 15 minutes of fame were snatched from me like a shorebird from the sky.
But let’s get back to the Peregrine. Yes, it was exciting and stunning to see this raptor play with its food, but I was stunned to just see a wild Peregrine Falcon at all. You didn’t expect to see Peregrines in the mid-80s. Most parts of the country were still Peregrine-impoverished from the impact of DDT.
After I drove past the tollbooth, I remember feeling a huge surge of gratitude toward Brian Walton and his staff at the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group. It was the Bird Group that had been responsible for the captive breeding and releasing of Peregrines into the Pacific States for the previous 10 years.
To put this into some perspective, let me give you some Hawk Hill history. In the early 1970s, ornithologist Dr. Laurence Binford from the California Academy of Sciences discovered the raptor migration at the Marin Headlands. From 1972 to 1977, Binford and others counted for a total of 263 hours and tallied just under 8,700 raptors. Just two of these were Peregrines. That’s one Peregrine for every 130 hours of counting. By the time GGRO got underway with a team hawk count in 1986, we upped the Peregrine bar: ten sightings for 554 hours, or one Peregrine for every 55 hours of counting.
In 1970, UC Davis biologist Steve Herman conducted a statewide survey for active Peregrine nests, known as eyries. He found two. By 1975, the Peregrine breeding program at Santa Cruz was underway, and over a 20-year span, the Bird Group released more than 800 Peregrine chicks into the Pacific states. By the early 2000s, estimates for active Peregrine nest numbers in California came in at around 300, with some two dozen of those in the greater Bay Area.
The GGRO count data mirrored this trend (see graph below). In 2009, our annual count was 259 sightings in nearly 500 count-hours—just over one Peregrine every two hours. It happened even today. I was on Hawk Hill with the count team for two hours, and at just about 12:30 pm, someone shouted “Big falcon!” and a blackish streak zoomed across the sky over Kirby Cove. It was the shape of a pulled bow with an arrow in place, and somehow stretched taut without a bowstring.
“It’s circling the top of the south tower,” someone else yelled, and sure enough, the large falcon swept into a soaring position and made a half dozen turns. She fixed on a southeast heading and disappeared into a tiny falcon slit across the sky.
As you know, Peregrine Falcons are one of the great endangered-species recovery stories in human history. They blinked out in the late 1950s and 1960s; we lost all of the eastern US Peregrines. But the really astonishing thing was the speed of recovery, and this part gets debated a lot. Was it the quick response of the Nixon administration outlawing use of DDT? Or was it the ingenious and cohesive response of falconers, already experienced in captive breeding, in creating a continent-wide breed and release program for Peregrines? Maybe it doesn’t matter, except to say that the commitment of thousands of unpaid and passionate falcon-lovers working all sides of the issue, gave us the Peregrine back.
On a local level, one of the great falcon care-givers has been David Gregoire. For three decades, David has worked tirelessly as a volunteer of both the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Group and the GGRO. He has monitored hundreds of Bay Area nests and nesting attempts. He has trained dozens of volunteers on how to watch the subtle shifts in behavior during nesting, and how to hear the difference between a “Cack!” call and an “Eeechip!” He has talked and maneuvered his way into numerous skyscrapers, bridges, and even onto boats in dry dock to confirm active eyries.
With the upward trends of Peregrine nest numbers and migration counts, the species was de-listed at the federal level in 1999, and by California state in 2007. But are we out of the woods yet? Are Peregrine populations secure? Of course not, but today, the chances of seeing a Peregrine fly over the Bay Area are quite good, and perhaps too good.
In June 2011, two Peregrines—an adult female and a week later, her free-flying chick—were shot in the Oakland hills. Amazingly, both birds survived and are undergoing treatment at the Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek, but investigations are continuing to find the shooter.
On Hawk Hill, binoculars in hand, you may see a Peregrine on any day of the autumn season. However, the peak of Peregrine action starts about mid-October and runs through mid-November. So come join us this month for a day of Peregrine spotting, and we’ll toast the falco-philes who brought this superlative species back to the San Francisco Bay Area.
GGRO Hawk Talks and banding demonstrations occur every Saturday and Sunday starting at noon on Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands.
Get details about GGRO Hawk Talks and banding demonstrations
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FOOD FOR THE PARKS MOVES TO THE MAIN COURSE
Following the first Healthy Parks Healthy People US conference that occurred last April, the Institute team is maintaining the momentum of the Food for the Parks initiative in two key areas.
The first involves research and drafting of the next phase of the Food for the Parks report and the second revolves around supporting the implementation of National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis’ Healthy and Sustainable Food Program throughout the NPS.
In April 2011, the Institute at the Golden Gate released the initial Food for the Parks report, highlighting case studies of best practices in sustainable food within America’s most treasured places—our national parks. With the second Food for the Parks report, the Institute seeks to address questions of how to implement sustainable food systems in different regions.
Regional variation, cost and practicality, visitor satisfaction, consumer choice, and education will be key considerations when devising these systems. The new report will serve as a roadmap for achieving incremental improvements in providing healthier food options and establishing sustainable food practices in any geographic region of the U.S.
The vision for serving healthy, sustainable food in our national park system is clear. Through partnerships between the National Park Service and food concessionaires, there is opportunity for each park to replicate proven models and design unique solutions to achieve incremental success. The practices outlined in this report will support parks by providing a toolkit to kick-start new or expand current sustainable food sourcing.
The Institute’s second area of focus has been on facilitating and advising leaders and stakeholders on how to advance the National Park Service’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program. The Commercial Service Program of the NPS is developing and implementing this new program to provide a choice of food for visitors, reduce the NPS’ impact on the environment from its operations, and capitalize on the great opportunity the Park Service has to educate the public on healthy and sustainable food choices.
This effort is the result of a commitment by National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis to increase healthy and sustainable food options to national park visitors across the country. The Institute’s Food for the Parks initiative was instrumental in driving Jarvis’ commitment and is providing facilitation, research, outside consultation and technical review to the NPS. Results of this effort will be published in partnership with the NPS in the spring of 2012.
With each incremental step, our parks will continue to reduce environmental impact, influence existing food markets, improve the health of park visitors, and contribute to local communities. The sustainable food achievements in our parks, when viewed collectively, have the potential to directly influence environmental preservation—the heart of the National Park Service’s mission.
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THE PLANT WITH A SUBTLY BUBBLY PERSONALITY
The results are in from our first ParkQuiz! More than 1,000 people took the plant personality quiz, and the most prevalent answer was… (drum roll please)… SOAP PLANT! Out of 13 possible results, a whopping 34 percent ended up with Chlorogalum pomeridianum. So, what does this mean? Well, according to the team of park-plant experts, it means that soap plant people can describe themselves in the following way:
Unfairly overlooked in a crowd, you’re a shy individual who often surprises others—even friends—with a sudden burst of wit, stroke of brilliance, or ray of beauty and charm.
This understated description no doubt comes from the understated and delicate features of this beautiful native flower. The bloom of the soap plant or Chlorogalum pomeridianum is hard to catch, but once you do it is quite a site to behold! Chlorogalum is derived from the Greek word “chloros” or “green” and gala “milk or juice.”
The species name, pomeridianum, comes from the word that means “of the afternoon”, since its lily-like, white and purple flowers, which show up in late spring, only open in the late afternoon/evening and stay closed throughout the day. While it’s soaking up the moonlight, it also attracts special nocturnal moth pollinators, which will hopefully spread its beauty all over the parks.
Despite its delicate ornamental look, soap plant used to have a robust list of uses for the indigenous groups of the area. Both the Native Americans and the early Spanish-Californians found many uses for the bulb or root of the plant. As you might have guessed by the name, the bulb (when crushed) can be rubbed on hands or clothing in water to create a fine lather for washing. The bulb’s lather is even gentle enough for it be used as a shampoo!
Along with the cleaning aspects of the bulb’s juice, it was also known to relieve rheumatic pains and cramps when rubbed on as a salve. The roots/bulbs were also used to ease the task of netting fish: a crushed bulb could be thrown into pools or dammed streams and the released juice in the water was enough to stun (though, not poison) the fish and cause them to float to the surface.
Finally, the bulbs were actually a good source of food on their own; when slow-roasted in ground pits they were eaten be indigenous groups as a good source of starch. Such amazing uses and features for such a subtle-looking part of our parks’ plant community!
So, keep on the lookout for soap plant on your next evening hike through the parks’ coastal bluffs or grasslands, and remember that there is much more going on with this delicate native than meets the eye!
Take our PARKQUIZ and find out your plant personality
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THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
By Joshua Romero
Opportunity often presents itself when you least expect it. After spending an amazing summer as a participant in the LINC summer high school program (in 2010), I inquired into the possibility of doing a follow-up internship that involved more policy and government relations work.
This simple inquiry set into motion a series of fortunate events that culminated in a Summer Fellow position working for the United States Department of Interior in Washington D.C.! Never in my life did I picture myself working in one of the most important cities in the world in what would be the best experience of my life!
The Golden Gate National Parks have quite a reputation in Washington! Everyone I encountered seemed to know the work that is being done in the Bay Area, and I felt proud to represent both the National Park Service and the Parks Conservancy. I was able to meet new people and make important connections for my future.
As a fellow, I worked on key national initiatives within the Department of Interior such as bringing more youth into the outdoors, and I helped with developing outreach materials to reach and engage a broader spectrum of individuals in the outdoor experience.
In addition, my experience in D.C. helped me mature in several areas in my life, such as being able to live on my own and gaining new responsibilities that came with living independently for the first time. I had to make all my own financial decisions and learn how to spend my money wisely. Overall, I know that this experience was a true blessing.
The highlight of my time in Washington D.C. was having the honor and privilege to meet President Barack Obama in person! Meeting the President and taking in what Washington D.C. represents has further inspired my ambitions to go into public service and the political field when I get older.
I would like to express my extreme gratitude to contributors to the Brian O’Neill Youth Leaders Fund, which helped support this internship. I’d also like to thank numerous mentors at the Parks Conservancy for their guidance. This experience has been totally transformative and I will never forget your support!
Josh is currently serving as a youth development intern with the Park Stewardship Program and will begin college this spring at Seattle Pacific University where he plants to major in Political Science and Public Policy
Contribute to the Brian O’Neill Youth Leaders Fund and make stories like Joshua’s possible.
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FROM OUR TRAIL CREW: TRAIL ANATOMY 101
Over time trails can become eroded by water, ground movement, and visitor use. To remedy this, structures called “check steps” are installed on the trail to help keep dirt in place. Round logs, or “peelers,” are then laid perpendicular to the trail.
Depending on trail width, peelers are a minimum of 6 feet long and secured to the ground by pounding 2-3 feet of rebar through the peeler. We then cover the peeler with drain rock, composed of stones that are each roughly the size of a baseball. The drain rock allows water to seep through the trail tread, away from the top of the trail, and minimizes standing water (we all hate puddles!).
To finish, tread material—chert—is spread on top of the drain rock. Chert is a local, fine-grained sedimentary rock that is typically a rusty red color (think Marin Headlands), due to traces of iron. Take a look on your next outings to the park and you’ll notice that many of the trails you trek over have this small rock as their surface tread.
When complete, the check steps (peelers) hold the drain rock and chert in place as water, hikers, bikers, and equestrians pass over the trail. “Check” it out!
Want to see us in action? Help repair some trails in the Golden Gate National Parks during one of our drop-in trail volunteer workdays.
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