The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established by Congress more than 40 years ago “to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to an urban environment.” Most of the GGNRA lands were transferred by local governments like San Francisco and Marin with the express promise that these lands would be managed by the National Park Service (NPS) to preserve recreation. Today, that promise could be broken. The NPS staff have clearly indicated that they are moving to limit access for local residents from tens of thousands of acres of what is a designated recreation area. This includes restrictions in popular areas where people surf, hike and walk their dogs.
BACKGROUND: The GGNRA includes large swaths of land—upwards of 80,000 acres in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties and includes much-loved areas such as: Crissy Field, Ft. Funston, Ocean Beach, Lands End, Baker Beach, Marin Headlands, Muir Beach, Sweeney Ridge, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
The GGNRA is part of the National Park Service (NPS), which is under the Department of the Interior (DOI). It is a National Recreation Area, not a National Park.
GENERAL MANAGEMENT PLAN (GMP): The National Park Service has put together a new General Management Plan that most Bay Area residents have never heard about. The plan radically changes the management of the GGNRA and is not in keeping with its founding principles.
Under the plan, many areas that were previously high visitor usage zones would be reclassified for low to moderate visitor use levels (moderate levels being expected only at entry points or points of interest). In these areas, public access would be subordinate to other priorities and could be “highly managed (i.e. restrictions on access).”
Ninety percent of the GGNRA would be turned into these special zones, including areas like Ocean Beach, Muir Beach, Ft. Funston, the Marin Headlands, Rancho Corral de Tierra and many others.
It’s unclear how the GGNRA will limit public access to these areas, but the plan lists management methods it has employed in the past including everything from posting informational signs to limiting group sizes, restricting recreation activities to certain locations, closing off certain areas completely, and requiring permits.
The plan also mentions that the GGNRA has additional efforts under way to restrict activities such as beach fires at Ocean Beach, equestrian activities in the Marin Headlands, and dog walking throughout Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco (see below).
The GGNRA’s efforts to inform the Bay Area public and policymakers about its new management plan were wholly inadequate. Only 541 official public comments were submitted in response to the release of the draft plan, compared to input from some 10,000 people that was incorporated into the original 1980 general management plan.
DOG MANAGEMENT PLAN (DMP): The NPS has been trying for many years to stop people from walking their dogs on- or off-leash on GGNRA properties.
In 2011, they proposed a “Dog Management Plan” that would severely limit recreational dog walking in areas where people have walked with their dogs for decades. Despite a mobilization by dog lovers and more than 4,000 public comments, in 2013, the NPS released a revised version of its plan that was nearly identical to the first plan.
The dog and recreation community again mobilized against the planned dog restrictions and some 6,500 public comments were submitted. As a result, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Marin County Board of Supervisors both passed resolutions opposing the plan. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors also called on the GGNRA to rethink their plan.
Most recently, the final “dog rule” for the GGNRA was published. It will cut where people can walk with their dogs by 90%. Keep in mind that dogs have only ever been allowed on 1% of GGNRA land. Below is a summary of the dog rule’s impacts on Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
Recap of Dog Rule
Overall impact in all three counties: reduction of current dog walking recreation space (on- an off-leash) of 90%.
Ocean Beach: 80% will now be no dogs allowed.
Crissy Field: Off-leash dog walking area being cut by 60%. Dogs banned from East Beach.
Fort Funston: Dog walking recreation area being cut by 60%.
Fort Mason: Dogs will be banned from half of overall area.
Baker Beach: Loss of all off-leash area. Some area on leash, some no dogs.
Fort Miley: Loss of all off-leash area. Some area on leash, some no dogs.
Lands End: Loss of all off-leash area and several trails will become no dogs.
Sutro Heights: Anyone with more than three dogs will be banned.
There will be only one location for off-leash dog walking recreation and almost all on leash trails will be eliminated.
Homestead Valley: Off-leash dog walking will be banned from all fire roads and trails.
Marin Headlands: Off-leash dog walking will be banned from all fire roads and trails. Dogs on leash will be banned from all but several trails.
Muir Beach: Off-leash dog walking recreation will be banned from beach and trails. Dogs on leash banned from all surrounding trails.
Oakwood Alta: Off-leash dog walking will be banned from all fire roads and trails.
Rodeo Beach: Off-leash dog walking will be allowed at the north section of this beach, which is remote and where water currents are dangerous.
Stinson Beach: Dog walking is banned entirely from beach.
There will be no off-leash dog walking recreation access anywhere in San Mateo County and people with more than three dogs at one time will be banned. Overall dog recreation area being reduced by 55%.
Milagra Ridge: Dog walking area will be cut by 50%. No loop options.
Mori Point: Dog walking area will be cut by 50%.
Rancho Corral de Tierra: Dog walking area will be cut by 50%.
Sweeney Ridge: Dog walking recreation area will be cut by 65%. Dogs banned from Pacifica access.
New Restrictions on 3 or more dogs
There will be additional restrictions for anyone walking with more than three dogs, and they apply to everyone – not just professional dog walkers.
People with more than three dogs will need to purchase a permit, they will only be able to walk with more than three dogs and a maximum of six during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In San Mateo, there are no locations that will allow a person to walk with more than three dogs.
In San Francisco, people walking with more than three dogs will not be allowed at Lands End, Fort Miley and Sutro Heights. There are also restrictions in certain parts of Crissy Field and Baker Beach.
In Marin, people walking with more than three dogs will not be allowed at Muir Beach, Homestead Valley, Stinson Beach and Oakwood Valley.
A monitoring-based management program is part of the rule. It means that if people do not comply with the new rule, the GGNRA Superintendent may arbitrarily change the status of any area without going through the required public comment period. For example, the few remaining off-leash areas could be changed to on leash or no dogs, and on leash could be changed to no dogs. There is no criteria for what level of non-compliance would trigger a change or how it is recorded. Furthermore, the rule allows the Superintendent to make closures in anticipation of impacts by dogs before they even occur.