Attempts to Change the Name of the GGNRA


The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) has been trying to change its name to the Golden Gate National Parks (GGNP) for years.  The GGNRA’s original mission, outlined in the legislation that created it, was “to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Over the years, however, staff changed the mission from a recreation-based to restoration-based one. Increasingly large areas were closed to park visitors at Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, and Crissy Field. GGNRA staff claimed that they had to manage the highly-modified, urban recreation area in an identical way to the way they managed a pristine wilderness area like Yosemite. Under this new mandate, recreational open space had little priority, and attempts to ban off-leash dog walking, along with other recreational activities, began. As long as the GGNRA remained, literally, a “national recreation area,” it was harder to justify the changes in the way the area was administered.

In 1998, Ken Ayers, an attorney representing the SF/SPCA in lawsuits over the closure of large areas at Fort Funston to all recreational users, was told by Major Hugh Irwin, then the head of the GGNRA Park Police, that GGNRA staff were pushing to change the name to GGNP “because that would enable them to impose more restrictions on recreation.”

GGNRA staff began referring to the area as GGNP, even though that was not the official name. For example, the official invitation to a ribbon-cutting at a new lodge at Fort Baker in Marin on June 14, 2008, identified Brian O’Neill as Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Parks. Press releases, the website, and items sold at the visitors centers all referenced the Golden Gate National Parks.

However, the name “GGNRA” was created by Congress when it established the GGNRA. That name has not been changed.

On June 19, 2008, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi introduced H.R. 6305 in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the bill’s official description, it was intended: “To clarify the authorities for the use of certain National Park Service properties within Golden Gate National Parks and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and for other purposes.” Indeed, much of the bill covered administrative details, e.g., allowing the Presidio Trust to move their visitor center, allowing a concession contract at the Maritime Historic Park. But Section 2 of the bill was the “other purposes” referenced in the bill’s description.



(a) Name Change-

(1) IN GENERAL- The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is hereby renamed the `Golden Gate National Parks'.

(2) REFERENCES- Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is deemed to be a reference to the Golden Gate National Parks.

(3) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS- The Act titled `An Act to establish the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the State of California, and for other purposes' (Public Law 92-589, approved October 27, 1972) is amended--

(A) in sections 1 and 2 by striking `National Recreation Area' each place it appears and inserting `National Parks'; and

(B) by striking `recreation area' each place it appears and inserting `national parks'.

(b) Change of Unit From Recreation Area to National Park-

(1) IN GENERAL- The Golden Gate National Parks, as so renamed by subsection (a), is hereby designated as a national park and shall be administered as such by the Secretary of the Interior.

(2) CLARIFICATION- This section designates the recreation area known as Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a national park and renames that unit Golden Gate National Parks. Nothing in this section shall be construed as creating a new `national parks' category of designation with the National Park System.

Section 2 went beyond merely changing the name of the GGNRA. It amended the wording of the legislation that created the GGNRA, removing “recreation area” wherever it appeared and replacing it with “national park”. This is important because courts routinely defer to the language in the legislation that created a national park or recreation area to determine what uses are permitted there.

When the GGNRA was created in 1972, national recreation areas, national parks, national seashores, and national monuments could be managed in different ways. Then in 1978, Congress rewrote the laws governing national parks so that all national park units, including national recreation areas, national seashores, and national monuments must be governed in the same way as national parks like Yosemite. As an example of how this has been applied, GGNRA staff have argued that since off-leash dogs are not allowed in the wilderness of Yosemite, they should not be allowed in the highly modified, urban recreation area of the GGNRA.

However, Congress, when it changed the law in 1978, was concerned that the unique purposes of each park unit would be overlooked in the change to uniform management. So they added the following language to the law (16, U.S.C. Section 1a-1):

“The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these areas … shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress.”

H.R.6305 would have provided the explicit authorization from Congress to overturn the enabling legislation’s emphasis on preserving access to recreational open space. It would have made clearthat the GGNRA was to be managed in the same way as Yosemite. Off-leash dog walking and other recreational uses would have been easily banned. 

Given the profound implications of Section 2, people were surprised the name change was not mentioned in the official description of the bill, but was relegated to “and other things.”

Dog advocates found out about this proposed law at the very last minute, through a blog by someone interested in issues in the Presidio. His blog was posted shortly before the bill was scheduled to be heard by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources to which it had been assigned. Dog advocates and other recreational users of the GGNRA immediately emailed, phoned and faxed members of Congress asking them to remove Section 2 from the bill.

A coalition of GGNRA recreational users, including off-leash dog advocates, boardsailers, equestrians, surfers, and kayakers met with Congresswoman Pelosi’s staff expressing theirconcerns about Section 2 and asking that it be removed. Recreational users argued that, because Section 2 amended the enabling legislation that created the GGNRA, this was no cosmetic name change. Rather, the name change would provide the basis to undermine and subvert all active recreation in the GGNRA.  Eventually, the entire bill was withdrawn, without ever being considered by the Subcommittee.