Battle for the Soul of Point Reyes National Seashore

by Douglas Nelson, ASLA, LEED AP

B Ranch, Point Reyes
The Point Reyes Peninsula Dairy Ranches Historic District’s B Ranch / image: Doug Nelson

Public Comments on the Point Reyes National Seashore Plan

The public review and comment period is open until September 23, 2019. To learn more or comment, visit parkplanning.nps.gov or write to:

GMP Amendment, c/o Superintendent Point Reyes National Seashore, 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

The National Park Service will host two public meetings to share information and gather public feedback:

  • Tuesday, August 27, 2019, 5 to 7 p.m., at the West Marin School, 11550 Shoreline Highway, Point Reyes Station.
  • Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 5 to 7 p.m., at the Bay Model Visitor Center, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito.

A multi-year battle for the future of Point Reyes National Seashore may soon be coming to a head—however, the controversy is likely to persist into the park’s future. The future of historic ranches and their cultural landscapes within the park is at stake. The National Park Service (NPS) has recently released an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the future management of the ranches. The public review and comment period is open until September 23.

The 71,000-acre national seashore is located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in California’s Marin County, north of San Francisco. The park was established in 1962 and is administered by the National Park Service. Starting in 1970, existing dairy and cattle ranches within the park’s legislative boundary were purchased from willing families by the National Park Service with a guarantee to lease-back the lands to the families to continue dairy and ranching operations for at least 25 years. The ranches were established beginning in the 1850s and the early settlers found areas of rolling grasslands that were likely the result of thousands of years of landscape management by Native Americans using fire to keep lands open. Without the use of fire, and now grazing, the lands would quickly revert to the densely-vegetated coastal scrub plant community. In 2018, the 17 ranch properties were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, collectively as the Point Reyes Peninsula Dairy Ranches Historic District.

Continue reading

Taking Action to Defend Historic Landscapes – McKinley Park Case Study

by Douglas Nelson, ASLA, LEED AP

Rose Garden
McKinley Park Rose Garden / image: Douglas Nelson

Historic parks and landscapes are regularly viewed as opportunities for one good development idea or another. As landscape architects we must defend historic landscapes. The first step is to ensure that they are recognized as historic by their managing public agencies. We will look at a current threat facing McKinley Park in Sacramento. It is California’s second oldest urban park and is under threat by the city that is supposed to be its steward.

Is that an old, tired landscape in need of redevelopment, or is that a cultural landscape with historic significance? That would seem to be a simple question, but, as is too often the case, parks, often historic parks, are seen by some as open land waiting for a good idea. Think of the Metropolitan Museum in New York’s Central Park, or the proposed Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park. While these may be worthwhile institutions, using valuable and historic park lands may not be the best way to manage parks.

In Sacramento, California, historic McKinley Park was selected as the best location, not for a cultural institution, but for a sewage holding tank that is more than an acre in area and 40 feet deep. Sacramento is one of only two cities in California that has a combined stormwater and sewage system. That means heavy rains can overload the system and flood, with sewage, various neighborhoods including those around McKinley Park. No doubt this is an important infrastructure project, but why in the park? While the city gave many technical reasons, in reality it came down to being the easiest and cheapest solution. But to do this, the city turned a blind eye to the fact that this park, the city’s oldest, is an important historic resource. At a minimum, the city should have recognized it as such.

Continue reading