Nestled in the foothills of San Francisco, lies one of the United States most beautiful and historic national parks. Dating back to 1776 when Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza established the Presidio as a military garrison under commission of the government of Spain. In 1848 it was transferred by a treaty from Mexico, to the United States. The Presidio has played a major role in the settlement and defense of the West for more than 200 years. It served as a mobilization and embarkation point during several overseas conflicts, a medical debarkation center and a coastal defense for the San Francisco Bay Area. Located on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula the Presidio occupies over 1,433 acres.
During the 1960’s there was increased pressure to develop remaining open spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area. Local environmentalists urged representatives to preserve the beauty and history of the Presidio by including it within the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In 1972, when the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was created, it was mandated that the Presidio be transferred to the park when it was no longer needed by the Army. In 1988 the Presidio was slated for closure by a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closures) commission and thus began the transfer of property to the National Park Service. In June of 1995 the Sixth U.S. Army marched out the Presidio, ending almost 219 years of military presence in the city.
By September 30, 1995 all Army Facilities were transferred to the National Park Service.
The Presidio trust is the first of its kind in the United States. With the closing of many military bases this seems to be an effective allocation of the land. But as with any National Park the Presidio has its fair share of problems. The main on being the extensive cleanup that was needed to restore the land to its original pristine state. In July of 1998 the Trust took charge of an area that included over 600 historical buildings and over 1800 housing units. The national Park Service chose through lack of leadership to keep more than 80 percent of those housing units and buildings vacant for over four years. During this time period major damage was inflicted on prime housing and the historic buildings. The Trust now has to undo this damage and lease the buildings and housing at fair market rate to be self-sufficient.
Today, many trees in the century-old forest are nearing the end of their lifespans and will require extensive management to become sustainable. Ornamental landscape plantings are overgrown and need revitalization. And, years of human use and the introduction of plants from other parts of the world threaten native habitats that once thrived here.
To preserve and restore the presidio’s landscape and native habitats, the National Park Service, in partnership with the Presidio Trust and the Golden Gate National Parks Association, has prepared a vegetation management plan. The plan proposes a variety of restoration activities throughout the Presidio and recommends that changes be made gradually over the next several decades so that visual impacts of rehabilitation are minimized.
The Key goals of the vegetation management plan are to protect, restore and monitor existing plant communities and enlarge the overall acreage or plant communities within the Presidio. Threats to existing habitat, such as invasion by forest trees and exotic plants such as Cape ivy, visitor foot traffic and soil erosion, will be addressed. Methods to increase reproductive success will also be implemented. The native habitat will be restored in areas where trees outside the historic forest zone are removed, where nonhistoric buildings are removed, vistas are cleared and other invasive nonnative vegetation is removed.
The vegetation management plan is all well and good but without proper funding the presidio could never reach it potential. The presidio received this funding when congresswomen Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco took in interest in the relatively new national park.
Congresswoman Pelosi , a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, received full committee approval form the U.S. Interior Department. This includes a total of 44.4 million for the Presidio trust, 24.4 million for operations and 20 million in borrowing authority to rehabilitate property for leasing. In addition the park received 5.8 million to cover its responsibilities on the grounds, including 800,000 for rehabilitation of Crissy Field. The Committee Report also encourages the Presidio Trust and the Smithsonian Institution to explore avenues for affiliation. “This funding,” said Pelosi, ” will enable the Presidio to proceed at all deliberate speed toward the twin goals of preserving the national park and achieving economic self-sufficiency.”
Soon after President Clinton took notice and named the first Presidio Trust Board, installing new management concepts for the Presidio. This Trust will be responsible for all built-up areas of the former Army post and is initially assigned eighty percent of the land area. The National Park Service will manage all visitor services and the coastal areas of the Presidio. The Trust Board is essentially a separate federal government corporation charged with managing a city within a city. This is a first of its kind management approach for a unit of the National Park System.
The Presidio Trust is working though it has its problem and setbacks the park is thriving. The new management is making wise decisions and its beginning to pay off.
Recently the Presidio Trust obtained the right to lease the Presidio’s buildings, borrow up to 50 million from the U.S. Treasury, guarantee up to 75 percent of loan amounts, and hire its own staff. The Trust will receive a large portion of the 25 million appropriated by the Congress to the National Park Service to administer the property. This allowance will gradually decrease over the next 15 years until the Trust is totally self-sufficient.
In my opinion the Presidio Trust is a great new way to start up a national park. The Presidio just proves that if an area of land has the right people behind it the Government has the funding to help with the change over. The fact that The Presidio was a historic army base only adds to attraction of the land. The marketing campaign can use many different angles to get people to visit the beautiful grounds. “The Presidio Trust” Pelosi stated, “brings a new approach to the Presidio that incorporates the best of the National Park Service and the best of private-sector expertise into an alliance to realize the best of the Presidio.”