SI Vault
Donald Dale Jackson
August 25, 1975
Now that the Park Service has opened up vast and dramatic spaces rimming the city, San Franciscans can take flight and have a wingding time in a 34,000-acre paradise
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August 25, 1975

Gateway To Heaven

Now that the Park Service has opened up vast and dramatic spaces rimming the city, San Franciscans can take flight and have a wingding time in a 34,000-acre paradise

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North of the hawk assembly point is Rodeo Lagoon, where the Park Service has a ranger station. Hundreds of pelicans congregate at the lagoon in late summer, Ranger Jim Lester says. He looked out at the ocean one recent morning and saw several whales within a mile of shore. At the end of the road, past another gun battery site, is a steep incline leading to a tiny, well-concealed sandy beach—a thorn, it develops, in Smokey Bear's paw.

"The road into it is on a 1,200-acre private ranch, the biggest chunk of private land that we still haven't acquired," Wheat explains. The ranch blocks a projected hiking trail that will run from the bridge all the way to GGNRA's northern tip, which happens to adjoin another federal preserve, Point Reyes National Seashore. "We're negotiating with the owners," Wheat says, "but we might have to go to condemnation." This would be a last resort.

Mount Tamalpais State Park, north of the private ranch, is one of the places that California is supposed to donate to Smokey. Small groves of thick-trunked redwoods, looking dark and damp, cluster on the mountainside. Beyond lies the Olema Valley, a little-known and lightly settled belt of lush grassland between coastal hills. The valley, primarily used by cattle ranchers, was not included in the first park proposal offered by the Nixon Administration, but was added at the insistence of conservationists.

Under the circumstances, most Olema Valley ranchers reacted to the park's arrival with remarkably good grace. "Sure I sold. Did I have a choice?" says Earl Lupton. "My ranch had been in the family since 1865, and my main regret is that now I can't pass it on to my son. But I was under some pressure from developers as well as the government, and I think that the Park Service and [GGNRA Superintendent] Bill Whalen were fair and reasonable."

A recent tour of the area ended on the Marin Headlands where a movie company was shooting a scene against the backdrop of bridge and city glowing in the late afternoon sun. The movie, The Killer Elite, starred James Caan and was being directed by Sam Peckinpah. A dozen vans were parked amid the hills and gun emplacements, along with trailer dressing rooms and an idling ambulance. Several camp chairs, labeled with their owners' names, had been set up. Out on the bay the Fisherman's Wharf fishing fleet, homeward bound, was sailing under the bridge. A flock of scavenging gulls cruised hopefully above the horde of Hollywood folk, hangers-on and sightseers. A white-haired man in a fur-lined coat suddenly looked around anxiously.

"Mr. Peckinpah's chair!" a curly-haired man screamed. "Get Mr. Peckinpah's chair." It is a park for everybody.

Quiz time: Golden Gate National Recreation Area would not exist if it weren't for a) Edgar Wayburn's climb of Mount Tamalpais on Sept. 11, 1947, b) the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, c) the Indian occupation of Alcatraz, d) that wonderful gang at the White House—Richard, John, H. R. (Bob) etc.—or e) all of the above.

The answer is e. The creation of the park was due to a mellow mixture of personality, luck and the tides of politics. Also, perhaps, to the arrival of an idea whose time was just beyond the next redwood.

The personality was Ed Wayburn, a San Francisco physician who has been one of the eminences of the Sierra Club for a generation. Wayburn is described by one politician as "a genius conspirator, a man who knows how to work covertly and to make alliances, and who knows from long experience where the power levers are." Wayburn is also, like most passionate partisans of nature, a romantic.

He remembers vividly the September day when he first saw the glorious potential of the area that was to become the park. "I had hiked from Stinson Beach up the west ridge of Mount Tamalpais," he says. "I reached the top just as the sun was setting and the moon rising, and I could see the city and the ocean and forests and hills, and I realized that this was one of the scenic climaxes of the world, one of the climax meeting places of land and sea."

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